The sixth round of the UCI Women Road World Cup series has been billed as a new addition to the women’s calendar, but those who have followed cycling beyond the last decade know that the Philly Cycling Classic has a long-standing history in the sport. Previously known as the Liberty Classic, the circuit race in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has been one of the biggest women’s races in the United States for well over two decades. The Liberty Classic was one of six races part of the original World Cup series in 1998 and held World Cup status for four years (through 2001).
“It’s one of the big traditional races,” said Ina-Yoko Teutenberg.
She should know. The German’s prolific career includes five wins in Philadelphia. She supported a teammate to Liberty Classic victory an additional six times.
“Most people who haven’t raced that long won’t know the history of the race,” noted Teutenberg. “It has always been an important race in women’s cycling. It has a good atmosphere in a great city. It’s a really fun race.”
The fun is epitomized atop Manayunk, which now serves as the start and finish. It also serves as party central. Fans crowd both sides of the hill and blast music, ring cowbells and get their drink on (because it’s five o’clock somewhere) as the peloton digs deep to power up the short but steep climb affectionately known as ‘The Wall’ amongst locals.
When Teutenberg snagged her five wins, the race finished with a flat run into the city. It suited the sprinter’s strengths. In 2013, race organisers modified the course. While they left much of the circuit intact, they moved the finish line to the top of Manayunk. Teutenberg’s former teammate, Evelyn Stevens, has won twice atop the Wall, and with a strong Boels-Dolmans team to back her up, Stevens will like her chances of a three-peat – which would make her the only winner on the new course.
Ina Teutenberg has raced in Philadelphia 14 times over 16 seasons, missing out only twice due to injury. Without hesitating, she calls the race her all-time favourite. Her first win in Philadelphia is her most memorable.
“The first one was pretty special,” said Teutenberg. “I was with T-Mobile. It was the first year that I worked with Bob Stapleton. I had always been on the winning team, working for teammates. That was special and really fun, too – but for me, winning the first time. That was a great feeling.”
Teutenberg will watch the live stream out of Philadelphia on Sunday. Like us all, she eagerly anticipates the throw-down show down up Manayunk that this course invites.
The Philly Cycling Classic is run over a 19.8 kilometre circuit that includes climbs over Lemon Hill and Strawberry Mansion and flat sections along Kelly Drive. Each lap takes the peloton over Manayunk, which has served as the start-finish for the previous two editions of the race. The women’s peloton will race six clockwise laps (one more than the past two years) for a total of 115 kilometres. The UCI 1.2 men’s event is held on the same course.
Manayunk is the main feature of each lap. The Wall runs around 800 metres with an average gradient of eight percent, but it’s not a steady climb. Mid-climb there is a leg-breaking section that measure 15 percent gradient.
Ina Teutenberg says:
It’s different now than when I raced. We used to finish on Benjamin Franklin Parkway right in the middle of the city. They don’t do that anymore. Now it finishes on the Wall. It’s the same circuit but after Lemon Hill, they go back to the park on a big straight road instead of going into the city.
This change makes the course a bit shorter, which should normally make the course harder because the hills come quicker. There’s not much time to recover.
It’s a really technical approach to Manayunk. It’s all about having teammates who can bring you into Manayunk towards the Wall. It’s a finish sprint like Flèche. You have to make sure you’re not going too early, but you also can’t let the others go if they go early. You can really, really blow up that hill if you’re not careful.
Every ascent of Manayunk is technical, not just the finish. It’s always about the approach. If you’re really far back, you know you can make it back, but you’re going to waste a lot of energy. It’s normally always important to be up front for the wall. Even when it was a flat finish, it was still a big deal having teammates bring you up the wall without you wasting energy.
The Philly Cycling Classic serves up the best American racing has to offer. The large American city has embraced the sport and the race, which has enhanced the experience for the riders. The circuit is spectator-friendly, giving the fans that crowd along the course an opportunity to see the women sped past six times or twice an hour.
Ina Teutenberg says:
Back in the day, when I first started racing, Philly was part of the National Tour for the men. We would pull into the airport, and it was a huge scene. Everyone was so into the race. They welcomed you everywhere in town. It was an amazing atmosphere. The finish right in the centre of town was special. Going up the wall, it’s crazy loud. There’s nothing else like it. It used to be bigger and have more spectators than at the European World Cups, but more people come out to the World Cups in Europe, so that has changed.
For the Europeans, it’s something extra special. It’s nice racing on a different continent. Things are just a little bit different. It’s a really cool city separate from the race, and that just adds to the atmosphere. I think it’s amazing for a European to see how big it is.
Women Take Centerstage
This race belongs to the women. The World Cup is the top event of the race weekend and enjoys the prime position on the race schedule. The men have the early slot. Their race starts at 8:30am. The women’s race follows at 12:30pm.
In previous editions of the race, men raced nine laps of the circuit while women raced five laps. Race organisers wanted to increase the women’s race to six laps this year. As a result, they shortened the men’s race to eight laps.
The men and the women will race for an identical prize purse – a prize purse that puts prize money at European World Cups to shame. The women’s peloton will duke it out for their share of $35,000 USD (approximately €30,000 or $46,000 AUD). Compare that to the €5,130 up for grabs at the Flèche Wallonne World Cup.
Both the men’s race and the women’s race will be broadcast live via online streaming. You can watch the women’s race here on Ella.
Ina Teutenberg says:
This is all great because it brings women’s cycling forward, but for me, none of this would be motivation to win. I’m happy that the race organisers see women’s cycling as equal in importance to men’s cycling, but I would want to win because it’s Philly and because it’s a World Cup and because it’s a amazing race. I never raced for the money.
I don’t think you can look at the prize purse before you can start a bike race. You don’t know what’s going to happen out there, so you can’t count out the money you’re going to win before you race. I think it’s great to have more money, but it’s the prestige of the race that matters. If you have the prestige and after there’s a bigger pay day, that’s great because everyone gets a bigger piece of the cake.
While it’s the strongest field in Philadelphia we’ve seen for years, Evelyn Stevens stands out as the clear favourite. If she falters in her quest to three-peat, she has teammates more than capable of rising to the challenge. The course suits both Megan Guarnier and Lizzie Armitstead.
Wiggle Honda has won three of five World Cups, and Elisa Longo Borghini may be their ticket to World Cup win number four. The Italian had targeted Flèche Wallonne and could not contain her disappointment at her inability to contend come race day. With Manayunk reminiscent of the Mur d’Huy, expect Longo Borghini to challenge for the top step of the podium.
Ina Teutenberg says:
Evie and Lizzie are the obvious choices, but I think Megan Guarnier has a pretty good shot, too. She proved at Flèche that she’s good on these kinds of course, and she had a good Nationals.
Elisa is normally good at a finish like this, so I would keep her in mind. Maybe Karol-Ann (Canuel) from Velocio or Alena (Amialiusik). She’s been riding really well lately. Leah Kirchmann (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) is another one. She was so strong at the Tour of California. She can win hard stages with hard finishes. It would not surprise me if she does really well.
I would not be winning this race anymore. No way. I was good enough to make it over Manayunk and not lose any time. I probably came over just behind the first group every time – but doing that is different than being able to finish up there. I don’t think I could do that. The riders that are racing this Sunday, they specialise in this sort of finish. I wouldn’t have a chance.
Additional Philly Cycling Classic resources: