USA, One-day Road Race, 96.6km
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Despite looking like it might become the future home of women's cycling when a total women's prize fund of $100,000 was offered at the 2012 Exergy Tour - the largest ever in a women's cycling event - the USA almost didn't make it into the list UCI Elite Women's races this year with all the events to have taken place in 2012 coming to a halt for various reasons, most commonly difficulty in securing sponsorship; Philadelphia's famous Liberty Classic, run in conjunction with the men's Philadelphia Cycling Classic, was among them. Civic leaders eager to make sure enormous crowds of cycling fans continued to visit their region stepped in, wanting to keep their city on the international cycling map and make sure that fans bringing spending money with them kept visiting - it looked like the race might have been saved after all. Until January 2013 that is, when an official announcement brought the sad news that they'd been unable to find the financial backing they needed and the race had been cancelled again as a result.
However, those civic leaders didn't give up, which suggests they genuinely care about the event as well as the revenue it brings. Eventually, they managed to persuade local firms Parx Casino and New Penn Financial came on board as sponsors (Parx Casino have promised half a million dollars over two years, hopefully safeguarding the race for 2014 too) and the race was back on.
Changes needed to be made. Some local residents opposed the race and didn't want it to go ahead (it had an "escalating party scene" that attracted "unwanted, often alcohol-fueled, activities," apparently - wonder what they'd make of Dutch Corner on the Alpe d'Huez?), so organisers have slightly reduced the length of the parcours, making it 4.35km shorter than last year, and redesigned the course to make it more compact so that it can be more effectively policed (policing also becomes cheaper, as does paying local authorities for road closures and the clean up operation afterwards). The most important parts have been preserved with the same fast straights, tight 90-degree corners (the roads are set out according to a typically American grid pattern) and the notorious Manayunk Wall climb all remaining part of the route, so hopefully this year the race will prove to be a success with fans as well as acceptable to those locals who didn't like it in years gone by. In fact, the organisers are so certain that their changes will prove to be improvements that they claim this isn't a continuation of the Liberty Classic, insisting that it's an entirely new race - hence the new Philly Cycling Classic name.
One of the biggest changes is that the women's race will now begin before the men's, rather than both races being on the parcours at the same time - a logistical nightmare in previous years whenever one peloton came close to catching up with the other. Another big change, welcome among riders and fans alike, is the introduction of prize fund equality - the pot for the women's race is the same as for the men's at $30,000. "Equal pay for equal pain" say the organisers, and as far as I'm concerned they deserve our full support just for that.
View 2013 Philly Cycling Classic course map in a larger map
The parcours is 19.3km in length with the women completing five laps to finish the race. Other than the reduced length, the biggest change is that the race both starts and finishes at the top of the Manayunk Wall, a climb that gains 71m in 0.64% at an average gradient of 11.1% with a steepest point at 17%. Riders set out from Lyceum Avenue and turn right onto Pechin Street, beginning a straight section leading downhill for 370m which should ensure a fast start. The hill is gradually steeper towards the 90-degree right corner onto Roxburgh Avenue at the end - there's plenty of room, but still plenty of scope for an early crash if the peloton turn at full speed.
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The parcours changes nature once on Reservoir Drive, climbing (but without GPM points) during the first half-kilometre of a 2.25km section. It flattens as it passes by a baseball field on the right and a reservoir on the left, then descends steeply over the last 0.6km after turning away from the lake to return to Kelly Drive through the tunnel at the bottom of the hill, where the riders turn left at the statue of Ulysses S. Grant - the corner isn't tight but could be dangerous for any rider who fails to scrub off speed at the bottom of the descent. Ahead is a 0.74km flat section that starts off picturesque, running between the trees and the river, then gets even better after passing under a grand stone bridge and through a tunnel cut into a rocky outcrop. The left turn is 70m beyond the tunnel, just before another bridge, and presents no challenge; however, once around it the riders begin climbing Sugar Hill, the first GPM ascent on the parcours. For the first 0.25km it's very steep, then it flattens out and even descends briefly for 130m before a final climb over the next 0.25km to the highest point where the road emerges from the woods. The average gradient isn't particularly steep at around 6%, but it becomes much steeper at several points on the way; the remaining 0.61km along Sedgeley Road promises to be very fast indeed - fortunately the right turn back onto Kelly Drive at the bottom has plenty of room, allowing the peloton to get round en masse if need be.
The return journey follows Kelly Drive for 6.35km back to the access road used earlier to get from Ridge Avenue to Kelly Drive, passing through the feeding zone just prior to the Reservoir Drive turn. This time the peloton passes by the access road, continuing straight ahead to follow the road as it begins to bend right - the first part after the access road is wide but, just beyond the bridges 270m after it, the parcours uses a narrow cycleway leading for the final 120m to the left turn onto Ridge Avenue. This is the best opportunity for riders who can't compete with the climbers on the hills to form a break because the limited space will make it difficult for rival teams to organise chase groups and get them to the front of the pack ready to pursue any escapees.
200m ahead, the race arrives back at the Main Street/Ridge Avenue junction and stays left, taking Main Street for 1.6km to the start of the intermediate sprint at the Cotton Street intersection. A sharp right turn at the end leads onto Levering Street, passing by a shop with a large mural on the wall before coming to a section underneath an elevated section of road. The riders turn right here, following the road as it passes underneath the elevated section for 40m on worn Victorian cobbles, then turn left. The following 740m are what this race is all about: climbing steeply as soon as the elevated road is left behind it arrives after 225m at the Manayunk Wall which, perhaps in the final lap and perhaps earlier on, is likely to decide the outcome of the race - if a rider makes it to the halfway point on Lyceum Avenue by the junction with Fleming Street with a big lead over her nearest rivals, she'll only have to hold off her rivals over the last 300m to the finish line. However, a rider who has expended too much energy picking up points on the climbs in earlier laps might find that a rider who sat in the pack, allowing domestiques to make the climbs easier, now has sufficient strength reserves to overtake on the final stretch and take the victory.
Women Cycling Fever has an up-to-date list.
How To Follow The Race
Action from the race will be streamed live online (though how much of that action will be from the women's race remains to be seen - with the sheer amount of work organisers have put into making it happen, we may be pleasantly surprised). The official site has more details.
If you can get to the race, the most obvious places to watch from are the climbs at Reservoir Drive, Sugar Hill and the Manayunk Wall; one of the advantages of the new, more compact parcours is that it becomes far easier to see the race go by from a different point during each lap, then to get to the Wall to see the riders battling for position on the final approach to the finish. Organisers will be providing a guide for spectators on the race website.
If you can't, Twitter is likely to be the best way to find race updates - Specialized-Lululemon and Vanderkitten team officials do a fine job of providing fans with live, up-to-date information. Parx Casino has a Twitter feed too, as does the district of Manayunk.