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Preview: Changes mark a new-look Philadelphia Championship

PHILADELPHIA (VN) — Yes, things have changed in Philadelphia.

There is not a single UCI ProTeam lining up on Sunday at the TD Bank Philadelphia International Championship. The race doesn’t crown a national champion as it used to. The course has been shortened this year, in part, to make way for a gran fondo on Sunday morning. And, most notably, one of the most familiar faces of the race, Jerry Casale, will not be at the finish.

To pretend things are still the same in Philly would be wrong. But to hear one of its co-founder’s tell it, that’s the way it has to be.

Dave Chauner, co-founder and executive director of the race, said the changes to the event are for two reasons: sustainability and participant involvement.

“It’s become such an iconic course that people have really just expressed a lot of interest in doing it. It’s a unique experience,” he said.

“Our mission is also to develop American bike racing. We’re not going to go crazy to bring all the top teams over here; it just isn’t worth it… We want to create an American reality.”

This year’s field is mostly made up of domestic Continental squads, with the Danish national team, Canada’s Spidertech-C10, an American-Swedish mashup of CykelCity and Pure Energy Cycling, and the China-registered, American-run Champion System squad amongst the international teams on the 17-team roster.

But objectively, the Philadelphia International Championship is still an enormous U.S. bike race — one of the largest one-day races in the country. And the Continental teams coming to Philly don’t play nice, even when they’re touching shoulders with the WorldTour crews.

The absence of Goliaths, including the defunct High Road squad that owned the race from 2009 through 2011, in this year’s running has made unlikely favorites. UnitedHealthcare is top-to-bottom the strongest team in the race, while teams like squads like Team Type 1-Sanofi, Bissell and Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies will certainly look to animate the day.

Philly is a storied race. Its first winner was Eric Heiden in 1985. Lance Armstrong won it in 1993 with a brash move over the final climb of the Manayunk Wall. The rider to write his name in the race log as 2012 winner may do so with a diminished field and a shorter length, but he will still be a champion of one of America’s biggest one-day races.

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