Photos by Scott Schaffrick.
"Philly Week" culminates in the most prestigious and potentially
career-defining race in the US calendar. Celebrating its 20th
anniversary this year, the Wachovia US Pro Championship is the
longest-running and richest single day event in the country, and one
of the richest in the world. It's also a yearly celebration of summer
in the streets of Philadelphia, a spectacle that regularly draws over
half a million spectators, and is so much a part of the life of the
city so that even those Philadephians who don't follow the non-stop
thrills and drama of the sport of professional cycling know the names
and faces of our hard-working heros like no where else in the country.
First run in 1985, and won by Eric Heiden, known better as an Olympic
gold medal winning speed-skater, the Wachovia US Pro Championship is
the flagship of Threshold Sports' Pro Cycling Tour, boasting the
longest running sponsor relationship in American cycling - although the
sponsor and with it, the race, have changed names twice over the
event's 20 year history. The race will cover 156 miles (250 km) on a 14.4 mile
course beginning and ending at Benjamin Franklin Parkway, in front of
the steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. From there, it
heads north along the Schuylkill River, through the residential
neighborhood of Manayunk before heading back over Lemon Hill, and the
Click for larger image.
The course features 10 slogs up the infamous "Manayunk Wall," a short,
steep climb that wears the pack down and often makes the selections that
decides the race in the final laps. With over six hours of racing, the
other main difficulty is the sheer distance, which challenges US pros,
who traditionally ride short, fast criteriums and circuit races.
The race's most defining feature is that it decides which of our worthy
contenders will wear the stars and stripes, as the first American over the line
is crowned the US Pro Champion. The International flavor of the race, with Americans marking each other in pursuit of the
championship, and Europeans looking to take advantage of the race
within the race to bid for the win, makes it a tactically complex,
with, essentially, the potential to produce two victors - one who takes
the prize overall, and one who steps into the jersey of the US Pro
We've got a bumper crop, here in Philadelphia, too. Looking especially
good this year is former two-time US Pro Champion Fred Rodriguez, who
has to be the hot favorite. Freddy will be a marked man, and he is, I
would say, the most obvious choice; but he knows how to win here, and
he's been showing all week that he has the legs, and his team will be
dedicated to one purpose: getting him the jersey. If Fast Freddy makes
it to the line, I wouldn't want to bet against him against any other
Which is not to say he won't be up against a tough field. Right after
Freddy, I'd have to tap the CSC Team. With only one American, Bobby
Julich, who is returning from the shadows this season, they have a shot
at the jersey, but Bobby J. himself told the Daily Peloton that the
team's first priority will be the race win, and even if his Danish
teammate wins the race, Julich could still win the race within the
race. Since that's the case, they have a lot of cards to play. Jakob
Piil has always ridden well here, and won the race in 1999. He'll be
supported by a hard team with the likes of Tristan Hoffman and Lars
More than one guy this week has told me that defending Champion Mark
McCormack is flying right now, and though he's been quiet all week,
he's one that can surprise you. He's been a deserving US Pro Champion,
and he could hang in. He's supported by some good horses in guys like
Nathan O'Neill and Will Frischkorn, and McCormack's Cuban teammate Ivan
Dominguez is one of the few who might be able to challenge Fast Freddy
in a field sprint, should it come to that.
The US Postal service, as always, is nothing to shake a stick at. The
first year I came to this race, the rider who impressed me most was
Canadian Michael Barry who rode so hard that he collapsed over his
handlebars. Barry is one that could hang on for victory while the
Americans fight it out behind him. Among them, his teammates Tony
Cruz, Dave Zabriskie, Damon Kluck, Pat McCarty and Michael Creed - are all
strong riders; and let's not forget the unstoppable Max Van Heeswijk.
Postal wants it outright this year, and they certainly have the
manpower to make that happen.
Health Net is America's toughest team, with a roster that reads like a
who's who of American cycling. Danny Pate is always a strong motor, and
word is that Chris Wherry and Jason McCartney have excellent form. Gord
Fraser is another sprinter who could punk F-Rod if the chips fall his
way, and you can't shake a stick at Mike Sayers or recently crowned
track World Champion Greg Henderson, but I'm going with my sentimental
favorite, and that's American cycling legend John Lieswyn. He's been
riding like a man on fire all week long, and reports that he's still
got some juice in the tank. Seeing Lieswyn crowned US Pro Champion
would truly be justice for a man with a career like his, and we may not
have him for much longer.
And then, there's Chris Horner. It feels ridiculous to be mentioning
him so late in this article, but Horner has been saving up all week for
Sunday. He's had a tough time getting prepared for this race. It's not
the best time of the year for him to be on top form, and he's
disadvantaged by a team that can't match these others in strength, man
for man; but if he wants it, it never pays to underestimate Horner's
chances. Horner is a tough, determined customer, and he's pretty darned
savvy on a bike. He will be able to key off of the other favorites, and
a well timed attack from him would be tough to bring back.
I can't call this a preview of the race without mentioning Henk Vogels,
who's had an amazing comeback from potentially career-ending injuries.
It's not your everyday guy who can go from not being able to walk six
months ago, to riding the US Pro Championships. Henk won here in 2000,
setting the all-time course record at 5:52:11, riding for Mercury. It's
been a hard road back from his devastating crash at the end of last
season, but Henk is a powerhouse, and his team is always in the action.
Also strong is Jelly Belly's Adam Bergman. He'll be underestimated by
most of the field and he could do some damage. He's got strong
teammates in Alex Candelario and Ernie Lechuga, and you can't get a
better lead out into the Manayunk Wall than Jonas Carney. Trent Klasna
says his form isn't what it was, but he could still find it, maybe
"under a rock" somewhere. He could suprise us, and his teammate on the
Sierra Nevada Team, Eric Wohlberg, is never far from the top.
That's a lot of trouble right there, and I'm not even mentioning most
of the European riders. Freddy Rodriguez told us the other day that it
was his belief that it would be the Americans who would animate this
race - these guys are hungry for this one - and I think he's right.
The posters for the race around here say "For the 20th straight year,
brotherly love takes a day off," and I think there are a lot of tough
guys around here gearing up for a battle. It should be a brilliant 20th
anniversary edition of the Wachovia US Pro Championships!