The 2015 edition of the Philadelphia Cycling Classic sees the return of the UCI Women's World Cup to the city for the first time since 2001. The race takes on a similar route as its previous incarnation, with one notable exception: the finish is no longer the flat, fast, wide-open Benjamin Franklin Parkway, it is now the top of the fearsome Manayunk Wall.
World Cup leader Anna van der Breggen's Rabo-Liv team has chosen to opt out of the race, and Bigla arrives without second-placed Annemiek van Vleuten. Similarly Wiggle-Honda has not chosen to send Jolien D'hoore, third overall, but Elisa Longo Borghini, fourth, will be racing. She and Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) have a prime opportunity to move up in the rankings. With 120 points on the finish line for first place, either could be in the World Cup lead come Sunday afternoon.
Her Boels Dolmans teammate Evelyn Stevens has back-to-back victories on the new course, but will the team sacrifice her chance for a hat-trick to put Armitstead into the World Cup lead? The team could have their cake and eat it, too - Armitstead only needs to finish second to unseat Van der Breggen.
The Dutch team will of course face plenty of competition, in particular from rivals Velocio-SRAM, who recently won in Winston-Salem with Alena Amialiusik, and in California with Trixi Worrack. Wiggle-Honda's Mara Abbott cannot be discounted whenever the road goes uphill, though the Manayunk Wall isn't quite long enough to suit her. Other riders showing good form of late are Bigla's Joëlle Numainville, a runner-up in 2013, Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Alé-Cipollini), Carmen Small and Lauren Komanski (Twenty16/Sho-Air), last year's runner-up Lex Albrecht and teammate Leah Kirchmann (Optum), and UnitedHealthcare's Coryn Rivera.
The women will face six laps for a total of 115km on a course that starts and ends atop the Manayunk Wall, including the climbs of Strawberry Mansion Drive and Lemon Hill. Because of the importance of the race, the women start in prime time at 12:30 p.m. EDT, after the men's finish. The event can be viewed live streaming on Cyclingnews.
UnitedHealthcare's Kiel Reijnen has the finish of this race dialled - he followed his 2013 triumph with a nearly identical victory last year, and he has the team strength and the form, as witnessed in the US Pro championships, to repeat again this year. There will be plenty of teams eager to ruin his three-peat.
The Hincapie team has been on an incredible string of performances, most recently in Winston-Salem where they took first and third, and they are on flying form after leading the Tour of California for three stages with Toms Skujiņš. The Latvian made his debut in Philadelphia last year in sixth place, and showed he has the legs to crush the competition last weekend in North Carolina. His teammate Dion Smith was sixth and third in the past two years, and is another prime podium candidate in Philly.
Team SmartStop, after such a dominant 2014 season, has been struggling to live up to expectations, but Jure Kocjan's second place in Winston-Salem demonstrated his form is coming around, and they will be inspired to get the better of Reijnen this year after he edged Kocjan out in the 2014 Philly Classic.
Jesse Anthony (Optum) had bad luck in the form of an ill-timed puncture in Winston-Salem, but he rode like a demon on the final lap to come in fourth place, and he will have a belly full of anger propelling him up the final climb.
There are a few riders of note down the start list including Chris Horner (Airgas-Safeway), who showed improving form at the US Pro championships, Drapac's Lachlan Norris, GP Saguenay winner Matteo Dal-Cin (Silber), and Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) who could be genuine contenders, as well as a number of international riders who could leave the crowd saying, "who?!" on Sunday.
Caja Rural-Seguros RGA comes with Tour of Norway stage winner Ametx Txurruka, a former winner of the Tour de France most aggressive rider prize. Expect to see the Basque rider on the attack, while his teammate Peio Bilbao, winner of the uphill Tour of Turkey stage in Selçuk, could fight for the win. The Danish Team Trefor-Blue Water comes with a number of talented young riders as well as former Philadelphia Classic winner Alex Rasmussen, winner on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 2011.
The men face nine laps for a total of 173km, starting at 8 a.m. (EDT) on Sunday.