By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The expected sizzling temperatures forecast for today's Philadelphia International Championship did not disappoint, as the mercury rose from the low 80s (30 Celsius) in the beginning of the race to 98 degrees (36 Celsius) by the finish more than six hours and 156 miles (251km) later. This resulted in one of the slowest races in the 24 year history and seemed to doom any breakaway from surviving.
Back in the peloton the CSC team kept their cool – both literally and figuratively – making sure their riders were topped off with fluids and not working too hard, gambling that it would be a field sprint. And the plan worked, as the young Matti Breschel was set-up ideally coming into the long final straightaway. The 23 year-old Danish rider held-off his sprint until the perfect moment, keeping Kirk O'Bee (Health Net-Maxxis) and Freddie Rodriguez (Rock Racing) from coming around him on the line.
"We only had six riders and not such a strong team," said Breschel about his team's strategy for the day. "We know this distance from racing in Europe and we know to take care of ourselves – and wait, wait, wait the whole time. In the end we put one guy in front to pull with the other teams but otherwise everybody took in easy.
"It's a really hard sprint, and it's not my style to wait the whole day," Breschel continued. "I tried it out a couple of times on the wall but I knew when we went on the three last laps it was coming down to a sprint, so I took it easy and prepared myself. I was by myself on the last lap and I didn't have a good position over Lemon Hill, so I struggled to get a good position before the roundabout. I got a good position on the right side and took it easy for a few meters."
From there it was only Health Net-Maxxis able to have any organised effort with John Murphy leading-out the US criterium champion Kirk O'Bee. "Going into the last kilo I saw him [in front] but he was on the left and I was on the right," Murphy told Cyclingnews. But as soon as we hit the fountain he got to the outside and I said, 'Let's go!' It was awesome, I don't know if he saw me or what, because as soon as we connected I took him all the way."
But the infamous finish stretch in Philly is deceivingly long and with a stiff headwind Health Net was one rider too few, and with 200 meters to go Murphy's thermostat redlined. "We were going and I think [Kirk] was waiting but I started to die. The CSC guy jumped us and then [Kirk] went, but I was tunnel-vision at that point!"
Despite coming up just a few meters too short, O'Bee was all praises for his team's efforts. "I was in the totally wrong position until 1km to go. I was just sitting at the back conserving [at 3km] but luckily Frank [Pipp] was back there with. Frank took me up Lemon Hill all the way into the roundabout. Then Murphy was behind me and gave me a perfect lead-out! He was a little bit short by like 50 meters but the CSC jumped with a strong jump, so what can you do?"
In third was former winner Freddie Rodriguez. The veteran champ got an easy ride early in the race with team-mate Tyler Hamilton in the first break. But coming into the final time up Manayunk and into the finish, he knew from experience he had to be clever on the front. "With 2km to go over Lemon Hill we got a gap with about five guys and I had to make sure I was there. I did that and then coming into the last kilo it is always a little sketchy, but once you hit the corner it always is smoother."
Continue to Cyclingnews' complete coverage here.