It’s been a quiet week for the international peloton, but if we didn’t have quantity, we certainly had quality!
The Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic on Sunday, once again showed us how the USA cycling scene can lead the way for women’s racing.
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There’s been a bike race in Philadelphia at this time of the year since 1994 for women and 1985 for the men. The Liberty Classic, which was known as a sprinters’ race, with a great atmosphere for crowds, was originally cancelled back in January by race organisers due to financial problems, so the fact that this race went ahead at all is a triumph.
There were so many stories about this race – the legendary atmosphere, with a huge party among spectators on the course’s climb, the Manayunk Wall, a short, viscous ascent, that gets up to 17%. The time in 2009 when the women’s peloton passed the men on the course, and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg called them “pussies", shouting at them to ride faster as she lead the women past. Then the fact that in the 18-years it ran, an American woman never managed to win the race.
When it was announced as cancelled in January, it was definitely the end of an era – leaving the USA with no UCI-registered races. Thankfully, the city of Philadelphia didn’t take the cancellation lying down, and a not-for-profit company was set up to make sure it continued. With a strong political backing for the race, and Parx Casino committing to a two-year sponsorship deal, it has come back stronger – with an equal prize purse for both the women and men’s winner – a phenomenal $30,000 each.
It’s been a rebirth in more ways than one. Rather than have the Manayunk Wall in its traditional point in the middle of the route, making it a tough obstacle for the sprinters who’ll win the race. The course has been changed so the climb is featured at the end of the lap, transforming it into one for tough, punchy climbers.
One of the best parts of the race on Sunday was being able to watch it live, on Swagger. It was very interesting, contrasting the reaction to the quality of coverage of the women’s and men’s races, because there were real problems with the media for both – the motorbike camera losing connectivity, or sitting at the back of the race, the commentators not having much information. While for the men’s race this caused endless frustrations, the women’s cycling fans took a different approach.
Part of the reason for this is that getting to watch women’s racing live, is so rare. There are perhaps seven road races streamed live a year, so it feels like a luxury, regardless of quality. Looking at the wider picture, it’s also worth noting how much the women’s cycling Twitter community adds to the ‘racing’ experience. In fact, we were really lucky on Sunday, because two riders who weren’t racing were watching and providing some insightful ‘commentweeting’.
Both Amber Pierce, of Cogeas-Pasta Zara, and five-times winner of the race, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg were Tweeting away throughout the whole race. With their knowledge of the riders and of the course it added a wonderful dimension for those following. For example, when time trial star Alison Powers attacked in the final lap, watching Pierce and Teutenberg and multi-disciplinarian Meredith Miller Tweet about how she probably didn’t have a chance to make it to the end – but it’s far better to die trying than just sit on – gave such an extra layer to the race. They didn’t stop with just commentating, but also answered questions and interacted with fans. The conversations with other fans, journalists and riders showed how the women’s cycling community can be so special. Everyone loves the sport, and people are delighted to be able to share their enthusiasm.
Having Teutenberg Tweeting was bittersweet. On the one hand, the 38-year-old German rider is always pithy and fun to read – but the race wasn’t the same without her. The Specialized-lululemon rider has been very much the patron of the women’s peloton, as well as the queen of the sprinters – known for her no-nonsense, “take no prisoners" attitude on and off the road. Never one to be afraid to speak her mind – she’s also been a mentor and a support to generations of new riders.
Teutenberg had been dabbling with the idea of retiring at the end of last season, so when she announced she was back for another year, sprint fans rejoiced, but it was short lived, when a hard crash in the Acht van Dwingeloo left her with concussion and head injuries that mean she might not be on the bike at all this season. It must have been so frustrating for her to be sat at home, watching the race online instead of being in the bunch. Although she was the first to say the new course wouldn’t have suited her, she would have relished making it hard for everyone else.
On the road, the race gave us lots to see, with the peloton making it very tough indeed. The USA domestic teams like Optum Procycling, NOW and Novartis, Exergy TWENTY16 and Vanderkitten attacked like crazy, while the pro teams, Tibco and Specialized-lululemon never stopped working. Five laps of the course meant five times over the Wall, where Team Tibco’s former Giro Donne winner, Claudia Häusler, won the Queen of the Mountains prize – but it all came down to the final climb.
For a moment it looked like it would be an unbroken run of non-American winners, as Optum’s Canadian power-sprinter Jöelle Numainville attacked hard, cresting the climb first – but then Teutenberg’s team-mate Evelyn Stevens roared up the climb, catching and overtaking Numainville just before the line. The lululemons had played the race perfectly, and the new era of the Philly race started with a homegrown win!
The podium – Stevens, Numainville and Häusler in third – was one of the smiliest in pro cycling, each rider known for her massive grin – and the organisers had a lot to smile about too. Once again, cycling in the USA has thrown down the gauntlet, it will be interesting to see how Europe can respond.
If you want help following women’s races on twitter, you can always ask Sarah for help through her Twitter account at @_pigeons_ You can also follow her list of accounts that tweet live from the European races.