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From the pages of Velo: Heiden’s Best Race (the first Philadelphia Championship)

  • By Cheryl Lindstrom
  • Published Jun. 1, 2012
  • Updated Jun. 1, 2012 at 12:44 PM EDT

Where were they?

Still, the question was: Where were Phinney and Kiefel? They didn’t bridge when the chase group caught the leaders and the distance to them was increasing. As it turned out they were mired in a pack of wheelsuckers, to hear their description later.

“We were so marked, it was incredible,” Kiefel would say at the race’s conclusion. “We spent so much energy trying to get away,” Phinney added.

“They would let the little groups just walk away,” Kiefel said. “But when Davis and I tried to go, they were right on us.”

“We finally gave it up,” Phinney recounted. “We had 10 guys sitting on us and it was Ron and I and Chris [Carmichael] and Andy [Hampsten] who were doing all the work. Finally Ron and I talked between the two of us and decided to let them (the leaders) go.”

Throughout the time Heiden and Schuler were in the lead, 7-Eleven manager Jim Ochowicz had been passing the message “Don’t work” to the two, who indeed were keeping a pace, but not forcing one. And they were continually looking over their shoulders to see the progress of their teammates behind them.

“We were waiting for Ron and Davis to come up,” said Heiden. “They were the guys who had the best chance [of winning].”

For one brief moment on the next to last push up Manayunk, it looked as though Phinney and Kiefel would bridge. But those two had already decided against it, figuring the odds were better with two out of five (only Heiden. Schuler, Broznowski and the two Danes were now left in the break), than five out of 20.

Phinney, too, was cramping, but still was stronger than most of the others in the chase group. “The last time up the hill we dropped them all anyway,” Phinney said with a shrug. “It turns out they were all fried.”

Once it became obvious that Phinney and Kiefel were not going to bridge, Heiden and Schuler started plotting the last lap and a half to the finish. Heiden was c1imbing well, there seemed little chance he would fade in the final stretches. Schuler was protecting him on the flats. His sprint? Well, he had just won a series of hot spot sprints at the Giro, edging Switzerland’s Urs Freuler for one of them.

”The last time up the Wall, I came off the back and Broznowski attacked. Schuler and a Dane stayed with him and another Dane stayed with me. Right about that time Och didn’t say anymore to wait for those guys,” Heiden explained.

Though the two Danes tried to shake off both the 7-Eleven riders, the strategy didn’t work, and the five stayed together with Schuler and Broznowski setting the pace.

“Tom (Schuler) did a lot of work for me,” said Heiden later. “He let me sit in. I didn’t do any work those last 20 miles.”

And in the chase group, Phinney and Kiefel were blocking to re-open up the gap they had previously closed, so there was no chance for a late bridge to the leaders.

Five laps on the finishing loop were all that remained and by this time the race organizers had pulled all but the last two groups. (Riders who were pulled were given whatever placing they had as they came onto the finishing loop.) For those five mini laps, Heiden’s group stayed together; it seemed unwise for anyone to try and solo it.

The set-up for the sprint had Schuler in the second position and Heiden at the back of the group. The two aligned themselves for Schuler to give Heiden a leadout, but just as the sprint started to wind up, Schuler pulled his foot completely out of his shoe and was left to straggle in for fifth. Heiden picked his line along the left curb and blew by the two Danes and Broznowski by more than a bike length. The Danes were second and third and Broz fourth. All were given the same time while Schuler finished in 6:26:53.

“Man, when I came across that line I couldn’t believe it,” said Heiden. Heiden’s teammates were both surprised and yet not so. They had seen his strong riding, but had never seen him orchestrate a finish so well. “I’m really happy for Eric. This proves that Eric is a good pro, that his sprinting in Italy was no fluke,” said Kiefel, who won the bunch sprint for sixth while Phinney followed in seventh. Collectively the team took $40,000 home and probably would have had another $10,000 were it not for Schuler’s shoe. All five riders were in the top 11.

“It didn’t surprise me because he’s such a super athlete,” said Phinney. “This is such a great personal victory for him.

“This will he so good for the sport.”

Indeed, the next morning Heiden’s look of shock was plastered on the front of USA Today’s sports section and was carried in many papers across the U.S. The Philadelphia Inquirer, which carried little until the day of the race, had a shot from the victory stand on its front page.

As a whole, the race came off well, drawing national and local attention. Simes and Chauner admit the work that lies ahead is in the area of refining and paying closer attention to small details.

“A first time event is always a lot looser,” admitted Simes. “There are a lot of little things that have to he tied up.”

Simes says there is a three-year contract to run the event in Philadelphia and a 10-year agreement with World Sports Group, for which Chauner works, to promote the event.

“I’m so happy for the sport,” Simes said of Heiden’s victory. “I thought the race itself was great the way it orchestrated itself.”

“The crowd up on Manayunk Wall was delightful. That was real bike racing,” Simes said. “There’s no way we’re going to give up Manayunk Wall (for future races), I can tell you that.”

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