Early breaks dominated the race clock at the Philadelphia International Championship and Liberty Classic in Philadelphia on Sunday, but once again, the sprinters came to the fore when it mattered.
Bunch sprints are a staple for both events, and the 2011 editions delivered exactly that, with hectic gallops out of the Logan Circle roundabout deciding both races. Giorgia Bronzini (Colavita-Forna d’Asolo) proved the fastest in the Liberty Classic, delivering the first Italian win in the event. In the International, Alex Rasmussen continued a three-year winning streak for his HTC-Highroad team, adding to victories by Matthew Goss in 2010 and Andre Griepel in 2009.
Though both won their races by fractions of a second, the men’s and women’s winners in Philly came by their victories by different paths. Bronzini, the reigning world champion, who earned her title in a bunch sprint in Australia, was always a primary option for the Colavita women, along with the team’s American sprinter Theresa Cliff-Ryan.
“I speak with Theresa all the time in the race, so for our team we have two chances, my sprint and the sprint of Theresa,” Bronzini said. “She said to me, ‘OK, you can choose the best wheel for your sprint because I’m not too good today and you should go for the win.’”
Bronzini chose the wheel of Shelly Olds (Diadora-Pasta Zara) and came around the American in the final 150 meters for the win. Jennifer Purcel (Team Danbury Audi) finished third.
Rasmussen, on the other hand, wasn’t HTC’s top candidate in the morning, or even as the race entered its final throes. That honor went to the team’s young Australian, Leigh Howard, who’s been in the United States since his impressive Tour of California performance in May.
Howard was still in good position coming into the race’s trio of three-mile finishing circuits, and teammates Caleb Fairly and Patrick Gretsch were looking after him by bringing the final break attempt of the day back into the fold.
But in the rapid final laps, when there is no room for error, another rider swung into Howard’s rear derailleur — not stopping him entirely, but taking him out of contention in the finale. In the lead group of approximately 20 riders still in contention, Rasmussen swung into action, jumping early and coming from the rear of the group to pull off the win.
“We couldn’t go out and control the race like we normally would,” Rasmussen said of the reduced five-man HTC squad that earned the win. “It wasn’t exactly what we planned, but it worked out good. We had to count on the other teams like Liquigas and UnitedHealthcare to work as well, and luckily they did. It would have been nice to have more guys, but if you can win with five, that’s enough.”
In the long drag to the line, Rasmussen was able to draw on his extensive track experience.
“There was a big fight [for position], and I used my seated track sprint because I had so much acid in my legs. I had to sit down a couple times in the sprint.”
That seated spin allowed Rasmussen to hold off pre-race favorite Peter Sagan (Liquigas), who was second for the second consecutive year. After taking charge of the sprint in the finale, UnitedHealthcare delivered its German sprinter Robert Forster to the third spot on the podium.
Philadelphia International: Early break, late catch
Glen Chadwick (Trueblack Racing) kicked off the race’s long move, escaping alone at the tail end of the second of 10 laps of a 14.9-mile circuit between the start/finish area at Logan Circle and the infamous Manayunk Wall climb at the far end of the course.
Chadwick’s move attracted the attention of Bruno Langois (SpiderTech), Alex Hagman (Jelly Belly), Quinn Keough (Exergy), and Roman Kilun (Kenda-5 Hour Energy), who quickly bridged up to the Kiwi and set to work.
The break yo-yoed around the one-minute mark while the field assessed the danger and rode out to an advantage of four and a half minutes after being given a tentative green light. As the race settled in and nature breaks, clothing drop-offs and early feeds commenced, the gap ballooned to a maximum advantage of over nine minutes on the third lap.
There is a long, well-respected tradition at the Philadelphia International Championship of leaving the early break out to cook in often-searing heat and humidity for many of the race’s 156 miles. By those standards, and those alone, this year’s early move had it easy. Overcast skies kept start-time temperatures to just 65 degrees, with riders donning arm warmers on the line as the mercury took until noon — some three hours into racing — to creep over the 70-degree mark.
But cool weather aside, the tradition of leaving the break out continued, and the five remained on their own through the eighth ascent of the Wall, fighting out KOM points but regrouping each time to keep their steadily dwindling advantage alive.
The effort out front was enough to land Jelly Belly’s Hagman the victory in the King of the Mountains battle, beating out break-mate Keough by a single point at the finish.
“At first I thought guys would just be content letting me grab some points, but then (Keough) rode really really strong and he kept just pipping me at the line. But I got enough early points that it worked in my favor in the end,” said Hagman.
But while Hagman won the KOM battle, it was SpiderTech’s Langlois who proved to be the race’s iron man. When a chase group of Frank Pipp (Bissell), Francisco Mancebo (Realcyclist.com), and Andres Miguel Diaz Corrales (Exergy) finally made contact with the leaders, only Langlois could hang on to the new arrivals on the ninth trip through the raucous crowds on the Wall.
The new leading four — Langlois, Mancebo, Diaz Corrales and Pipp — proved the last hurdle for a sprint finish that seemed otherwise pre-ordained. Pipp fell victim to the 10th and final climb of the wall, but the remaining three powered on, with Mancebo doing the bulk of the grunt work.
Entering the three finishing circuits, they held a 36-second advantage over a chase of Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies), Scott Lyttle (PureBlack), and Alex Howes (Chipotle Development), and a minute on the chasing field, led by Sagan’s Liquigas squad, Forster’s United Healthcare, and HTC.
The three-man chase was swallowed up at the start of the first finish circuit, while it took until the midpoint of the final circuit with just a mile and a half of racing left, for Langois, Mancebo, and Diaz Corrales to look back, pat each other on the back and call it a day.
With the stage set for the sprint and the race steaming around the final roundabout at Logan Circle, it was Team Type 1’s Slovenian Jure Kocjan who launched first at 350 meters, while Forster’s lead-out man Hilton Clarke launched at 250 meters and Forster soon struck out on his own.
“I think today I had the legs to win the race,” said a disappointed Forster. “The boys did perfect work for me and did a perfect lead-out, but after 260 kilometers, it’s a different race. We started a little bit too early with this headwind and the little uphill. If I’d waited 10 meters more, maybe they wouldn’t catch me five meters before the line. It’s nice to be on the podium, but in sport, if you feel like you could win. …”
Sagan, following Rasmussen’s rapid progression from the rear of the group, had enough to get around Forster, but lacked the kick to get around the Danish trackie, and had to settle for second place to an HTC rider again.
“We were only six riders, and one rider crashed, and after we were only five riders,” said Sagan of his Liquigas squad, which lost American Ted King to a crash caused by a gap between a storm drain and the pavement early in the race. “So that’s a complication for 260 kilometers. So I’m very happy for second place. After the miles, I just didn’t have the legs to come around.”
King was taken to the hospital for examination, where X-rays showed a broken collarbone.
Liberty Classic: Solo act, bunch finish
At the Liberty Classic, held over four laps of the 14.9-mile Manayunk loop, it was Canadian Lex Albrecht (Juvederm-Specialized) alone who assumed the role of the hunted, attacking her way clear over the first of four ascents of the Manayunk Wall.
By the top, she had carved out more than a minute’s advantage and stretched her lead an additional 30 seconds before HTC-Highroad and Colavita began riding to control the gap.
Though she was never a threat for the race win, Albrecht’s tenacious ride allowed her to claim first-place Queen of the Mountains points over the first three ascents of both the Manayunk and Lemon Hill climbs, netting her more than enough points to claim the QOM title over Evelyn Stevens and Adriana Visser (both HTC-Highroad).
Stevens claimed the top points on the fourth and final ascent, when her tandem attack with teammate Amber Neben finally gave the field the impetus it needed to bring Albrecht back to the fold. Olds marked the move, and the “fall from the Wall” descent back to the race’s main drag along the Schuykill saw a regrouping of the top contenders.
HTC led the peloton back down the Ben Franklin Parkway with four riders on the front and led into the often-chaotic final turn around the Logan Circle Fountain. Neben was first out of the circle, but HTC’s efforts to set up young sprinter Chloe Hosking and continue the team’s Liberty winning streak were swamped by the efforts of Diadora and Colavita.
“I had a teammate there at the end who jumped and kept it clean in the last 500 meters,” said Olds, who, like Sagan in the men’s race, finished second for the second consecutive year. “I followed a wheel and tried my own sprint with maybe 250 meters to go, and Bronzini was on my wheel and came around me at the end.”
For her part, the day’s escapee Albrecht was happy with the QOM title, and a bit of vindication after a tough introduction to Philadelphia last year.
“I just decided to give it my all, I didn’t have much to lose, and I knew my team was behind me ready to counterattack if I got caught early on,” she said of her early-race gamble. “(The KOM) was my goal for the day, but I didn’t really think I’d get it from being solo at the front after 70k.
“I crashed really badly here last year and I was really, really disappointed because I’d been looking forward to the race so much, and I didn’t even get to finish. So I’m super happy. This is only my second time here, but it’s not my last time.”
Philadelphia International Championship
- 1. Alex Rasmussen, HTC-Highroad, 5:59:04
- 2. Peter Sagan, Liquigas-Cannondale, same time
- 3. Robert FÖrster, Team UnitedHealthcare, s.t.
- 4. Ken Hanson, Jelly Belly Cycling-Kenda, s.t.
- 5. Jure Kocjan, Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis, s.t.
- 1. Giorgia Bronzini, Colavita Forno D’asolo, 2:28:28
- 2. Shelley Olds, Diadora Pasta Zara, s.t.
- 3. Jennifer Purcel, Team Danbury Audi, s.t.
- 4. Joelle Numainville, Tibco-To The Top, s.t.
- 5. Chloe Hosking, HTC-Highroad, s.t.