Professional bicycle racing in Philadelphia is officially back on the calendar with the Philly Cycling Classic scheduled for June 2. Organizers confirmed this week that the men's and women's UCI 1.2 races will take place separately on a shortened course that starts and finishes at the top of Manayunk Wall.
Race Director Robin Morton promised a more dynamic course back in January when a new organizing group announced plans for a revived Philly race, and the Manayunk-focused route with a finish up the iconic 17 percent grade that rises sharply off the banks of the Schuylkill River should radically shake up what has often proved to be a sprinter's race.
"I think it will have much more of a European classic kind of feel, more of a festival and less of an expansive start/finish area," Morton told Cyclingnews. "It's going to be exciting."
Although further details and an official course map will not be released until next week, the new route will be a big change from the 23.6 kilometre International Cycling Championship course, which began on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway around Logan Circle, then took riders north along Kelly Drive, up the Manayunk Wall, back down to Kelly Drive and over Fairmount Park's Lemon Hill before heading back to the finish line on the Parkway. This year's half-mile blast to the finish on Manayunk Wall will provide stark contrast to the former race's closing circuits on the wide-open Parkway.
Women will race for equal prize money
Changes for the women's UCI event include equal prize money for the first time in race history and an early start so that the women can have the course to themselves. The women will start their 60-mile race at 8:30 a.m., with the men's 120-mile event following at noon.
"That was something that we really pushed for," Morton said. "Obviously when they run at the same time it makes the day shorter and is better for the city in terms of resources and having police out there, but it was really important for us to have the events separately."
Morton said the increased focus on the women's race along with equal prize money should help enhance the women's event as well as mitigate many of the logistical problems that occur when two races are on the circuit at the same time.
"I know that there was always concern every year that the men would catch the women or the women would catch the men or the men would get mixed up in the women's sprint," Morton said. "So it was always very problematic. And this year, especially with the course being shorter and more Manayunk-centric, we really didn't want to have two caravans out there at the same time."
Sponsorship in place for two more years
The Philly Cycling Classic has come together quickly after organizers of the 28-year-old Philadelphia International Cycling Championship and its NRC women's race, the Liberty Classic, announced in January that the events would not return this season. The website Philly.com reported earlier this year that the relationship between International Cycling Championship promoter Dave Chauner and the city had soured, with Chauner still owing the city $300,000 from the race.
But immediately after the International Cycling Championship bowed out, a new group spearheaded by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Brady – along with experienced triathlon promoters Alan Morrison and Richard Adler – stepped up to fill the void. Morton said the city was determined to host a pro race again this year, but it was no longer willing to carry the tab.
"They've put a lot into it over the past 28 years and didn't want to see it go away," Morton said. "That being said, city services have to be paid for, so in light of what's happened in the past, moving forward they needed to make sure that component was taken care of."
Last month organizers announced new sponsorship for the race, with Parx Casino contributing $250,000 each of the next two years and New Penn Financial committing to contribute $100,000 in both 2013 and 2014. Philadelphia Federal Credit Union and Sunoco will contribute $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, this year. The race appears to be on solid footing for at least two more runs, and Morton said organizers hope to upgrade to a higher UCI ranking in the coming years. The International Cycling Championship was a UCI 1.HC race.
"It's taken a little bit of time to work through the process," Morton said. "Obviously we got a late start. We didn't really begin working on the event until January. So, at least for this year it's on the calendar and hopefully we can upgrade once we've had the new event with the new organization."
International teams already committed
Despite the name change, the Philly race will maintain its international nature moving forward. Morton said the race hopes to have 16 teams in each of the men's and women's fields, including handful of foreign teams, several of which have already committed to the 2013 event.
"We'll probably have four or five international men's teams and probably the same for the women, especially with the cancellation of the Exergy Tour there will be a lot of women's teams looking for a UCI event," Morton said.
Spectators will also get a chance to ride the new course during a recreational event before the pro races. The charity ride will benefit the Cadence Cycling Foundation, a locally based non-profit that encourages cycling in Philadelphia and promotes youth cycling.
"We're also encouraging people to ride their bikes to the race, because Mayor Nutter is a big proponent of cycling and has a lot of cycling initiatives that are centered around getting people fit and getting people out on their bikes," Morton said. "The city is all about sustainability and green initiatives, so we're really pushing people to ride to the bike race. We're offering all kinds of bike valets and parking."