The 16th annual UCI 1.1-ranked Liberty Classic has attracted an international peloton ready to contest the challenging circuits over Manayunk Wall on Sunday, June 5 in downtown Philadelphia.
While four-time winner, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg will not be present to defend her title, there are a series of high-quality sprinters and climbers raring to take her place atop the podium.
"I think this is one of the best fields out there this year," said Lisa Hunt, TIBCO-To the Top directeur sportif. "The racing in the US has become very aggressive and all the squads are very strong. It will be a hard race, which is good because we like that."
The women's race will start outside the famed Art Museum on Benjamin Franklin Parkway and will take in four 23.2km circuits for a total distance of 92.8km. The course features the challenging Manayunk Wall, a steep and decisive 800 metre ascent mid-way through the lap.
The race predominantly follows Kelly Drive, passing alongside the scenic Schuylkill River and college rowing houses on the way out, and the field will make a quick pass over Strawberry Mansion and Lemon Hill on the way back, before returning to the Logan Square finish line.
The Logan Square sprint contenders
The race has typically been determined by a field sprint and, this year, the peloton will include an array of strong sprinters including reigning world champion Giorgia Bronzini (Colavita Forno D'Asolo). The 27-year-old Italian will take on her first-ever Liberty Classic on a course that is well-suited to her capabilities
"For many years I have wanted to make this race and finally I have the opportunity," said Bronzini. "I think that this race will be very exciting. I hope to arrive there with super form and make one of my best sprints."
Also amongst the speedsters is Bronzini's teammate Theresa Cliff-Ryan who recently won the Tour of Somerville for the second consecutive season.
"Liberty Classic is probably my favourite race, I've based myself in Philly for five seasons now so it is a hometown race for me," said Cliff-Ryan. "I love the atmosphere, the fans and the competition."
While InaTeutenberg will not be in Philadelphia to defend her title, teammate Chloe Hosking, who will be looking to keep the championship within the HTC-Highroad team on Sunday.
Others likely to be jockeying for position in the bunch kick are Joanne Kiesanowski (TIBCO-To the Top) and Shelly Olds (Diadora-Pasta Zara) who captured second and third place respectively in the 2009 edition.
One woman who would no doubt love to add a Liberty Classic victory to her long list of more than 300 wins is Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom).
Other notable sprinters include Joelle Numainville (TIBCO-To the Top), Kacey Manderfield (Pure Energy), Jennifer Purcel, Liza Rachetto and Lindsay Myers (Danbury Audi), Emily Collins (Vanderkitten) and one of the newest and most successful sprinters on the domestic circuits Christina Gokey-Smith (Now Cycling).
The Wall's leg breakers
Manayunk Wall will host a wild group of local cycling fans out to BBQ, drink beer and offer a little friendly heckle at the peloton as they suffer up the climb on each circuit. While the Liberty Classic has typically ended in a field sprint due to the lengthy run-in to the finish from the top of the Wall, the ascent provides an opportunity for climbers to whittle down the field each lap with aggressive racing.
HTC-Highroad had brought a series of accomplished climbers into the mix with Amber Neben, Evie Stevens and Amanda Miller. There is no doubt that these women will play a major factor in breaking up the field on each lap over the Manayunk Wall and any one of the trio is more than capable of winning the race from a small breakaway.
Legendary Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo (Human Zoom) is one of the most prominent climbers in the sport and will return to contest the one-day classic. Other strong climbers that will use the mid-circuit climb to their favor are Giro Donne winner and US National Champion Mara Abbott (Diadora-Pasta Zara), Erinne Willock and Carmen Small (TIBCO-To the Top), Cath Cheatley and Andrea Dvorak (Colavita Forno D'Asolo) as well as Lex Albrecht and Denis Ramsden (Juvederm Specialized).
"We've brought our climbers with Carmen Small and then Meredith Miller is a great all rounder," said TIBCO-To the Top directeur sportif Lisa Hunt. "We could win this race out of a sprint or a breakaway. The chances are always better with a breakaway so we would love to have a breakaway."