By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal professional cycling team
Each season I look forward to going back to Philadelphia for the Wachovia races. I like the city, the races are the best in North America, and the crowds are incredible.
This year the trip to Philly was my first to America since the start of the year. I have been watching the results in America from overseas but have yet to race against all the new stars of the U.S. peloton. Lining up for the start in Lancaster was a bit strange as there were all sorts of new jerseys and new faces on the line.
The race in Philly almost always unfolds in the same manner. A breakaway, sometimes quite a large one, gets away on the first ascension of the Wall. From there, they will be given some rope off the front as the peloton rolls along at a comfortable speed. Once the gap gets large enough and teams start to worry about the break making it to the finish, the chase begins. The break is caught in the final laps, the contenders on the Wall make vicious attacks, and the race for the victory unfolds.
Whenever the weather in Philly is cool, the race tends to be fast but not as hard. The hot temperature kills the field on Manayunk as one attack or effort zaps heaps of energy. This year’s event was only one minute off the record and we averaged around 44 km/h. Considering how slow the first hours of the race were, the last were certainly quite fast for us to get up to that average speed. Despite some very hard attacks in the final laps of the races, and small breakaways coming from those attacks, the peloton still came into the last kilometer complete.
I had a first-time experience in a bike race – I was knocked off my bike by a Saeco rider with four laps to go. The run into Manayunk is always a bit hectic, and this Italian’s nerves got the better of him. Two corners from the Wall, I was on his right side, and he turned, yelled at me and then whacked my handlebars with a fist. I went down immediately. My bike was fine, and I only sustained a few cuts so I was back up in no time. Gord Fraser and Henk Vogels saw the whole thing – they stuck up for me and threatened the Italian. Thanks to them for the support.
The race for our U.S. Postal team was frustrating. All went according to plan until the last meters as we headed back up Kelly Drive towards the finish line. The team had ridden on the front to control the race and bring back the breakaway, I had followed the attacks on the last lap, had refused to pull in a breakaway with Fred Rodriguez, Kirk O’Bee and Chris Horner as Max van Heeswik was a nearly certain bet for the victory in a field sprint. I was uncertain of making it to the line first with these four, so I didn’t pull through.
The sprint up Kelly Drive was ideal for Max. It is slightly uphill with a headwind making the sprint all the better for him. He has won several races this season in finishes exactly like it. All our efforts went into getting him to the line first, but it all went wrong in the last 500 meters when he had two mechanical problems that put him out of contention.
In the hotel after the race we were all frustrated and disappointed. All had gone according to plan, everybody had ridden very well, giving it all they could, and in the end we were going home with nothing. It is also embarrassing for a team of our stature to go home without a victory.
Soon after the race we were all packed up and heading towards our next destinations. For me it is Tour of Catalunya, a weeklong hors categorie race in northeastern Spain. It is a race I am looking forward to as it is close to where we live, Girona, and the racing is usually quite hard and mountainous.