I apologize for another lengthy interval between updates. I have spent the last few weeks travelling throughout the country, from St Louis, to Washington D.C., to Minnesota, to Cincinnati. The racing has been fun, and I’ve managed to stay fresh despite the onslaught of races, week after week. During that time, I also raced in Philadelphia, at the TD Bank Philadelphia International Championships, or, as they call it in Philly, “The Bike Race.” Philly is a unique event in the United States. At 156 miles, it is easily the longest single-day race in the country, and with 10 trips up the fabled, “Manayunk Wall,” the race always selects a deserving winner. For many years, the race served as the US Professional National Championships, and the healthy prize-list and UCI designation drew a high-caliber international field, replete with ProTour talent.
This year was my second opportunity to compete in Philadelphia. Last year’s brutally hot race was thrilling, and it served as a sort of coming-of-age in my cycling career. I had never completed so much as a ride of 150 miles, and I had failed to finish the few races of over 200k that I had started. In 2010, I was given the green-light to conserve my energy for the finish and follow each successive selection. By the last lap on the finishing circuits, there were only 30 riders left in the field. Every muscle in my legs was cramping, and in any other race, that would have been enough to stop me in my tracks. On that day, the thousands of spectators lining Martin Luther King Drive and the throngs cheering on the field as we climbed Lemon Hill willed me to continue. While I lacked the strength to muster much of a sprint in the final 400 meters, finishing 21st felt like an accomplishment that I could be proud of.
I knew that the race this year would be different. Having made the jump to a team with riders who had a realistic chance to win the race, my responsibilities would include shepherding them through dangerous parts of the course and riding on the front to pull back any threatening breakaways. Because we missed the initial breakaway of five riders that separated itself from the peloton on the second lap, we found ourselves in the unenviable position of having to join a few other teams in the chase. About halfway through the race, our director sent me to the front as the first representative of Jamis-Sutter Home to join the chase. I would continue to chase for the remainder of the race, finally getting dropped on the last ascent of The Wall.
Unfortunately, the race took a turn for the worst when our sprinter, Anibal, punctured on the final short circuit with only 3 kilometers left in the race. The field was traveling so fast at that point that there was no hope to rejoin the peloton in time to contest the sprint. While the race may have ended in misfortune, we were happy with the way the team raced. No matter what the result, racing in Philadelphia is always an incredible experience. The level of professionalism is unmatched in the United States. From the tents assigned to each team the morning of the race, to the full Philadelphia Police Department motorcade for the final circuits, everything has that professional touch. The televised broadcast of the final two hours on Versus is the icing on the cake, and I can tell you from experience that many of the domestic pros tune in that evening to watch themselves in one of the few televised events of the season.
After Philadelphia, I travelled to Arlington, VA to compete at the US Air Force Cycling Classic, which was sponsored by the Boeing Corporation. With a reduced roster at that race (the other half of our squad was busy winning the Tulsa Tough Omnium in Oklahoma) we were outmatched by a full United Healthcare Crit Squad, fresh off a Spring of racing in Europe. They dominated both days of racing, and the other teams came out of the weekend licking their wounds and nursing their wounded egos. Much to the chagrin of many, we received word that the United Healthcare squad had received a special exemption from the UCI rule restricting Pro Continental Teams from competing in non-UCI sanctioned stage and road-races. This meant that in addition to NRC Criteriums, they would be able to compete in the Nature Valley Grand Prix, which was taking place just two days after the races in Arlington. Needless to say, riders were not looking forward to getting dominated by the same team for yet another week.
For the first four stages, it looked like it would be the same script in a different venue. United Healthcare went 1-2 in the opening time trial, 1-2-3 in the first criterium, 1-2 in the next day’s road race, and 1-2 in the second criterium. By the end of the first four stages, they occupied every podium spot on the general classification as well. However, things were about to change on Saturday. Check back in the next few days for my next update, where I’ll describe how we managed to bring the domination by United Healthcare to an end.