PHILADELPHIA (VN) – As it did for years at the Philadelphia International Championship, the break at the new Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic came back together with just kilometers to go. But this year, rather than a loop around the Logan Square fountain and a sprint to the line, the race all came down to a final, torturous ascent of the Manayunk Wall.
After a close third-place performance at last weekend’s USPRO championship, UnitedHealthcare’s Kiel Reijnen finally claimed his big win, timing his final jump to perfection and soloing to a comfortable victory over second-placed Jesse Anthony (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies). Hincapie Development rider Joey Rosskopf finished third.
“I really wanted nationals,” said Reijnen between hugs from teammates. “I came here hungry. I love the new finish. I knew I was going to love it.”
For each man on the podium, the accolades were the product of 120 miles of teamwork. The first move of the day saw Dion Smith (Predator Carbon Repair) and Tom Zirbel (Optum) go a few seconds clear before being joined by David Williams (5-Hour Energy) and Logan Hutchings (Elbowz Racing-Boneshaker). That move gained 45 seconds at its best, but was brought back by the fourth of 10 ascents of the Wall. In the brief rainstorm that followed, a group of 24 that would shape the day’s racing rolled clear.
Zirbel made the cut again, along with Optum teammates Scott Zwizanski and Mike Friedman, and size and broad representation lent seriousness to the move. Jamis-Hagens Bergman was also in with three men. Equipe Garneau-Quebecor, UnitedHealthcare, Champion Systems, and 5-Hour Energy each had two. And nine other teams put a single set of wheels in the move. Rosskopf’s teammate Oscar Clark was there, while Reijnen’s UnitedHealthcare had Jeff Louder and Danny Summerhill.
With the standouts of last weekend’s national championship — winner Fred Rodriguez (Jelly Belly- Kenda) and Bissell’s Phil Gaimon — caught in the second group, Zirbel went to the front to drive the pace. The break split, reshuffled, and shed riders several times over the next five laps. A seven-man iteration, made up of Zwizanski, Clark, Bruno Langlois (Garneau), Eric Marcotte and Andres Diaz (Elbowz), Chad Beyer (Champion System), Dan Holloway (Amore & Vita), passed over the Wall with two laps and 24 miles remaining.
Behind, the loss of Louder from the move set a UnitedHealthcare-led chase in motion, and by the penultimate climb of the Wall, a field that had once looked out of touch was only 24 seconds adrift. Langlois and Zirbel led over the top, with Marcotte and Beyer linking up, and the surprising Kennett Peterson of the Firefighters elite squad bridging from the field.
“I thought that was the last lap,” Peterson said of his jump to the front of the race. “Then I saw them keep going over the top and I thought, ‘Oh, shit.’ I thought if we could keep 30 seconds by the base of the Wall we had a shot, but we just didn’t have it.”
After letting the break dangle for a last few agonizing miles, the field made the catch with just over a mile and a half remaining. Optum took control with a five-on-the-front leadout that would have looked at home in any flat Philly finale of the past.
“Zwizanski came out of the breakaway and did one last suicide pull, which was unbelievable. Zirbel, who had been off the front most of the day, took a massive pull going into the Wall,” said Anthony. “Then Ken Hanson, who’s one of the best sprinters in the country, so when he hits the front 500 meters before the climb, nobody’s going to be able to come by that.”
In the first year of the top-of-the-Wall finish, everyone knew timing would be critical, but nobody knew what that timing would be just yet. Go too early, and get swarmed; go too late, and watch a UCI 1.2 win ride up the road.
Anthony followed the wheel of teammate Alex Candelario, whose appearance beside Reijnen marked the start of the race winner’s endgame.
“Cando came by me, I hesitated, waiting for guys coming up so I could latch on. But I looked back and the gap was already huge. I knew I had to take advantage of it,” said Reijnen. “It was a lot longer out than I wanted to go, but I’m glad I did. I didn’t feel anything.”
Behind, Anthony came around Candelario to secure the second step on the podium a few seconds behind Reijnen, while Rosskopf worked his way through the crowd for third.
“I think a lot of guys went too early so I was trying to avoid that,” said Rosskopf, whose canny ride in the final turned in a huge performance for his development team. As Reijnen and Anthony did, Rosskopf chalked his result up to the groundwork his team laid, from the big break straight through to the final slopes.
“[Clark] came back from being in the break and towed me around the entire last lap,” he said. “I don’t know how he had the energy after being in the break.”