More than 200 pros will toe the start line in Philadelphia Sunday as the TD Bank International Cycling Championships and the Liberty Classic roll out, and only one of those riders has stood atop the podium at the Eakins Oval.
Defending champion Ina Yoko-Teutenberg (HTC-Columbia) will chase her fourth Liberty title, which would put her over halfway to matching countrywoman Petra Rossner’s record of seven. The prolific sprinter is fresh off three stage wins at the Tour de l’Aude and the last time the American peloton saw her, the German national champion won the overall at the Redlands Classic.
Not one previous champion is on the men’s startlist. 2009 winner Bernhard Eisel (HTC-Columbia) is absent, as is the Saxo Bank team of 2007 and 2008 winners J.J. Haedo and Matti Breschel. In all, the men’s roster lacks the top-end strength of previous editions of the 26-year-old event. With the other two Philly Week events missing from the schedule since 2008, the trip to Philadelphia for one day of racing is a tough sell to European-based teams.
Two ProTour teams – HTC-Columbia and Liquigas-Doimo – headline the men’s race Sunday, with Pro Continental BMC Racing Team and a contingent of Continental and National teams filling out the field.
As is tradition, the men will face 156 miles over 16 laps: 3 on the inner circuit, which includes the Lemon Hill climb; 10 on the 14.4-mile main circuit over the Manayunk Wall and Lemon Hill; and 3 again on the inner circuit.
Again, as is customary, the women roll a much less selective route, completing just four laps of the main circuit for a total of 57.6 miles.
The main feature of the 14.4-mile main circuit is the infamous Manayunk Wall. The wall is known as much for its 17-percent average gradient as the rowdy locals that line the climb on race day. While the last few editions of the championships have ended in a bunch sprint, the half-mile power climb at Manayunk has been the scene of race-winning attacks over the years.
Lance Armstrong jumped away to the race win on the wall in 1993. The last successful breakaway – a three-man move in 2005 with Danny Pate, Chris Horner and Chris Wherry – launched on the final trip up the wall. Wherry attacked his breakmates ahead of Lemon Hill on the final short lap and took the last USPRO Championship to be held in Philadelphia.
The King of the Mountains competition begins on the first lap over the wall, 17.4 miles into the race, and continues through the final time over Lemon Hill. Point primes of five, three and one points will be on offer atop the wall and Lemon Hill each lap until the peloton reaches the closing circuits. On those final laps, double points will be up for grabs at Lemon Hill.
The women will contest the Queen of the Mountains competition every lap over Manyunk and Lemon Hill, with double points on both climbs in the last lap.
Break for the Men, Bunch for the Women?
Without a truly dominant team on the men’s side – like CSC in 2008 and Columbia-HTC in 2009 – the wall may again see a break go free and hold on to the finish, less than 20 miles later. With the Tour of California fresh in the memory, the peloton will likely turn to Liquigas-Doimo, with its twin leaders Chicchi and Sagan, to play the lead roll. Whether the team has the firepower to head a chase after 130 miles is a question mark.
In stark contrast to the men’s race, where they will start a younger roster, HTC-Columbia arrived in Philadelphia with their “A” women’s squad and will most likely try for the bunch sprint, where Teutenberg is nearly unstoppable. Teutenberg and Stevens are the tip of a world-class iceberg that includes Kim Anderson and Emilia Fahlin. Unless a group of strong domestic riders like Amber Neben (Webcor Builders) and Alison Powers (Vera Bradley Foundation) can initiate a move with an HTC rider in-tow, a bunch sprint is nearly guaranteed with a 56-mile parcours.
If the ladies do go into the finish gruppo compacto, Teutenberg should see her biggest challenge coming from Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita-Baci), Shelley Evans (Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12) and Brooke Miller and Joanne Kiesanowski (TIBCO-To The Top). Evans (then Olds) and Kiesanowski joined Teutenberg on the podium in Philadelphia last year and are both on good form; Evans has followed her breakthrough season up most recently with a Pan-American Games road race title and Kiesanowski spent the spring in the European trenches with TIBCO.
In the men’s race, Chicchi and Sagan are the odds-on favorites to take a bunch sprint at the end of the day. The 156 miles may end up being a bit long for the latter; Sagan is just 20 years old, though he’s won stages at Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and California this year. Matthew Goss (HTC-Columbia) will bring the new confidence of his Giro d’Italia stage win to the line, while U.S.-based sprinters like Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis-Sutter Home), Jonathan Cantwell (Fly V Australia) and Karl Menzies (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis) could each conceivably nip the ProTour boys. If they play the right cards, Kelly Benefit Strategies has the strength to crash the front of the leadout and position Zach Bell or Alex Candelario for a run at the top prize.
After an early exit from the Tour of California, Mike Friedman (Jelly Belly-Kenda) should be eager to wave his team’s flag off the front of the race near his old stomping grounds. If a late move on Manayunk goes to the line, names to look for in that group include Luis Amaran (Jamis), Alex Howes (U.S. National Team), Francois Parisien (Spidertech-Planet Energy), Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) and David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit Strategies). Each have big, motivated motors that could drive a group around the closing circuits and a finish kick that could close the deal.