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Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: Memories of Philly

So here I am, back in the office after a great week of racing on the East Coast. I know, I know, Wachovia Week, culminating with the Wachovia USPRO Championship in Philadelphia, was almost two weeks ago – which equates to several light years in Internet time – but that’s about how long it takes me to unpack, catch up on riding, sleep and e-mail, and get through the magazine assignments that follow a trip of that magnitude. In addition to punching out my race story – here’s a sneak peek of the cover for issue 11 - I’ve also been working on a feature profile on USPRO second-place finisher

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By Neal Rogers

Wherry was justifiably thrilled... so were a lot of us.

Wherry was justifiably thrilled… so were a lot of us.

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So here I am, back in the office after a great week of racing on the East Coast. I know, I know, Wachovia Week, culminating with the Wachovia USPRO Championship in Philadelphia, was almost two weeks ago – which equates to several light years in Internet time – but that’s about how long it takes me to unpack, catch up on riding, sleep and e-mail, and get through the magazine assignments that follow a trip of that magnitude.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: Memories of Philly

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In addition to punching out my race story – here’s a sneak peek of the cover for issue 11 – I’ve also been working on a feature profile on USPRO second-place finisher Danny Pate, who put in a hell of a ride, beginning with his audacious attack on the final 10-mile lap.

Other than the surliest hotel staff I have ever encountered at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel, the week was a smooth-sailing affair. (I’m not usually one to criticize those in the service industry, having worked as a waiter for years, but man, that hotel staff could use a refresher in customer service.)

As anyone who was at the USPRO Championship – or caught the coverage on OLN last weekend — will tell you, it was about as thrilling of a race finish imaginable, with three Americans in the winning break and a nail-biting finale that was undecided until the final seconds. It was the singular most exciting race finish I have seen in my almost-four years covering racing with VeloNews, and yeah, it was cool seeing Boulder native Chris Wherry take the win.

An all-around likable guy, Wherry (Health Net-Maxxis) is one of the most widely admired riders in North America. When he won the Saturn Cycling Classic in 2002, just days after his father’s passing from Leukemia, there wasn’t a dry eye at the finish line in Breckenridge. And after he outfoxed breakaway companions Horner (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Danny Pate (Jelly Belly-PoolGel) in the closing three-mile circuits to take the biggest win of his career, Horner was first to congratulate his former Mercury teammate.

“If it couldn’t be me, I’m glad it was Wherry,” Horner said. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s worked for me many times over the years, and he’s a fantastic guy.”

Waiting for the podium presentation to begin, Wherry got on the mobile to call his family while he and Horner answered questions and talked about the race. In the background, behind the podium and sitting by himself, was Pate.

Pate’s an interesting character to be sure, and in my upcoming story I think you’ll learn a few things about the former U23 world time trial champion. (For instance, at the start in Philly, he was joking with Health Net’s Mike Jones that he was going to have his ass handed to him over the next six hours. Instead, Pate came up just short of the biggest win of his career.) The full Danny Pate profile is slated for issue 12, on newsstands and in mailboxes in about 10 days time.

Also slated for issue 12 is a look at the future of the USPRO Championship. There was a lot of discussion flying around in Philadelphia about the future of the race. CSC’s Bobby Julich told me he was looking forward to next year’s national championships being held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and being an Americans-only event.

It’s an idea that’s been tossed around in the past, but with race promoter Threshold Sports looking to renew its contracts with both Wachovia, the event sponsor, and USA Cycling, the owner of the national championship entity, there’s plenty that could change.

While the USPRO Championships has historically been an open international event, apparently the U.S. Olympic Committee has pressured USA Cycling to get in line with other sports – and other national cycling federations – and create an American-only national championship. With that the case, the question begins, would Philadelphia remain in international event, on the same level as the San Francisco Grand Prix, or would it be held as an American-only national championship?

Robin Morton, Threshold Sports technical director, could only tell me, “I can’t get too detailed about our negotiations with Wachovia to renew the contract, or with USA Cycling on the contract with the federation. Suffice it to say Wachovia is interested in keeping the championships as part of the series. We have the intention to meet whatever the specifications put forth by USA Cycling. If that means one of the Wachovia races needs to be for only Americans, then that’s what we’re prepared to do.”

More on this and the other race promoters that might be interested in acquiring the rights to the national championship in issue 12. As for the future of the San Francisco race, which is scheduled for three months from now without a title sponsor yet named, Morton could only say, “[Threshold and co-promoter Tailwind Sports] are moving forward. We have sponsors, but we don’t’ have a title sponsor. The race’s name will be the same as year one, the San Francisco Grand Prix. We’ve reached a great accord with the city in terms of its services, and we are negotiating with the foreign teams. Everyone within our company is moving forward as if the event is happening.”

Other highlights/memories from Philly Week:

Riding along the banks of the Schuykill River bike path with the Mavic Special Service Course crew on borrowed Scott CR1 neutral support bikes. Thanks to John Berlinger, Chris Zigmont and all the guys and gals in yellow.

Seeing said guys in yellow being booed on the Manayunk Wall by a surly bunch of locals while trying to assist a rider with a bike change. Tough crowd, eh? In a town known for sports hooliganism — at an Eagles game in 1968, fans booed and pelted snowballs at Santa Claus! — even America’s favorite Discovery Channel team wasn’t immune to spectator abuse; team rider Mike Creed was knocked off his bike amidst shouts of “Go home!”

Discovery Channel’s chief mechanic Julien DeVriese standing in the feed zone at Lancaster, hoisting up soft Philly-style pretzels for his riders. I never did find out if any actually grabbed one for a feed.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: Memories of Philly

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This custom bike, parked outside of a shop on Manayunk called Pacific Rim.

Standing at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum , where Sylvester Stallone infamously did his triumphant workout dance in “Rocky.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t grow up on Rocky movies, and it was pretty cool to see the outside of the museum in person. It would have been nice if I’d had time to see the inside of the museum as well, but between writing Web race reports, magazine race features and Web race previews, there was barely time to get out and enjoy Philly by bike, let alone browse museums.

Mr. Rogers hitches a ride

Mr. Rogers hitches a ride

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Riding with Health Net-Maxxis team director Jeff Corbett and mechanic Chad Grochowina at Trenton. Health Net’s impressive sweep of the week was even more impressive given that they won with three different riders. And while Gord Fraser was the winner in Trenton, team workhorse John Lieswyn was a star in his own right, as the only guy to make the breakaway, and once absorbed, one of the riders driving the chase group to bring back Mark McCormack and Julich. Although it wasn’t the first time I’d ridden with Corbett and Grochowina in the race caravan, it was an insightful view into how every guy on the team played a role in making the win happen.

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