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Riders had good crowds to look forward to on the Lemon Hill climb.
The TD Bank Philadelphia International Championship, taking place this coming Sunday, June 3, remains one of the grand fixtures on the US road calendar. The UCI 1.HC-rated race, the highest ranked one-day race in the United States, marks its 28th edition in 2012 with some changes which Pro Cycling Tour CEO David Chauner is confident will add to the drama and action on the streets of Philadelphia.
For the first time in the esteemed history of the men's professional race, extending back to 1985 when Eric Heiden won the inaugural event, the distance will be reduced from 250 kilometres to 199.8 kilometres. The route for the race will remain the same, but for 2012 there's a change in the amount of main laps and finishing circuits.
As in previous editions, the men's race opens with parade laps on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway around Logan Circle, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, before tackling the 23.6-kilometre main circuit that heads north on Kelly Drive along the Schuylkill River toward the Manayunk district.
In Manayunk awaits the race's signature feature, a steep, 800-metre hill known as "The Wall", followed by a descent back onto Kelly Drive for a return trip along the Schuylkill, with detours for the climbs of Strawberry Mansion and Lemon Hill, before rounding back onto the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The men's race concludes with short, 5.4-kilometre laps around Lemon Hill and Logan Circle.
The first change to the race format is the reduction in the number of main circuits, from 10 to seven, while the number of finishing circuits has been increased from three to five resulting in a new race distance of 199.8 kilometres.
From 1985 through 2005 the race served double duty as the most prestigious one-day race in the country as well as the US professional road championship. Chris Wherry was the last US champion crowned in Philadelphia, also the last time the race was won from a breakaway, while from 2006 through 2012 the stars-and-stripes jersey has been awarded in Greenville, South Carolina instead in a separate championship event. Nonetheless, world-class racing has continued in Philadelphia, although in 2012 the men's peloton will not feature any domestic or foreign WorldTour teams.
It has never rained on race day in Philadelphia and for the 28th straight year it looks like the weather will once again cooperate on with sunny skies and high temperatures in the upper 70s Fahrenheit forecast for Sunday creating perfect weather for racing.
Seventeen teams will vie for top honours at the TD Bank Philadelphia International Championship featuring four UCI Pro Continental squads, 12 UCI Continental teams as well as the Danish national team.
The top two finishers from 2011, Alex Rasmussen and Peter Sagan, will not compete on Sunday leaving third-placed Robert Förster (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) as the highest returning finisher from last year. The German's UnitedHealthcare squad, a US-based Pro Continental team, looks to be the strongest top-to-bottom team to toe the start line with additional sprint talent in Jake Keough and Boy Van Poppel plus plenty of horsepower via riders such as Karl Menzies, Jay Thomson and Jeff Louder to set tempo and work for their team's fast men.
Canada's Spidertech powered by C10's sprint train was derailed last year with a crash inside the closing kilometre which took out three of the team's riders, but Martin Gilbert has notched a seventh place finish in 2010 and returns to North American racing battled-hardened after a European campaign this spring in such esteemed events as Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Three Days of De Panne, Scheldeprijs and the Presidential Tour of Turkey.
The China-based Pro Continental squad Champion System Pro Cycling Team fields a pair of strong finishers in Matthias Friedemann, seventh in last year's edition, along with Aaron Kemps who finished ninth while competing on the V Australia team. Australia's William Clark has claimed the team's two UCI victories this season, stage 2 of the Tour Down Under in January while more recently winning the Tour of Japan prologue on May 20.
The final Pro Continental squad, the US-based Team Type 1-Sanofi, brings a solid roster to Philadelphia including fast finishers Alexander Serebryakov, winner of stage 5 at the Tour de Korea, and Italy's Daniele Colli, who has notched six podium finishes earlier this season in Italy, France and Turkey. Kiel Reijnen finished third at the US professional championships this past Monday while Russia's Alexander Efimkin, the 2011 Tour of Turkey champion, returns to US soil following a sixth place overall result in Turkey this season.
Ten of the 12 Continental teams are US domestic squads, all eager to land a top result at the country's premier one-day event. Several of the teams competed at the Amgen Tour of California in May and look to parlay their good form into victory. The Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies team is deep with talent, including Ken Hanson, just shy of the podium in last year's TD Bank Philadelphia International Championship with a fourth place finish, plus road captain Alex Candelario, who twice placed in the top eight in Amgen Tour of California sprint stages. Jesse Anthony finished a heartbreaking second place to Francisco Mancebo earlier this spring at the Tour of the Battenkill, the first UCI-ranked race on US soil for 2012, and the 26-year-old American is no stranger to going on the attack in long road races.
Speaking of Mancebo, the 36-year-old Spaniard will lead the Competitive Cyclist Racing Team. As stated, Mancebo won Tour of the Battenkill in upstate New York this past April from a three-man break with Jesse Anthony and Jeremy Vennell (Bissell), and he currently leads the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar. Mancebo was part of a dangerous three-man break in last year's TD Bank Philadelphia International Championship which was swept up only in the last five kilometres of racing and the Spaniard, with a wealth of European Grand Tour experience, is always a threat to win any road race entered on US soil.
The ever-aggressive Bissell Pro Cycling team, with the aforementioned Jeremy Vennell plus Ben Jacques-Maynes, who were fixtures in breakaways at the Amgen Tour of California, has riders willing to go on the attack in addition to team members with good finishing speed, including reigning US pro criterium champion Eric Young as well as Frank Pipp, fresh off his silver-medal performance at last Monday's US professional road championship in Greenville, South Carolina.
Only one previous champion in Philadelphia will start on Sunday, and that rider is veteran professional Fred Rodriguez (Team Exergy), winner in 2001 and a three-time US pro road champion. Rodriguez returned to pro racing after a 1.5-year hiatus at last year's event, finishing a solid 12th place, and with a year of racing under his belt, including the Amgen Tour of California where he finished third behind WorldTour sprinters Peter Sagan and Heinrich Haussler on the opening stage, Rodriguez looks like a solid contender to add another Philadelphia victory to his palmares.
Additionally, look to riders such as John Murphy (Kenda-5 Hour Energy), Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis-Sutter Home), Charles Bradley Huff (Jelly Belly) and Jonas Ahlstrand (Team Cykelcity.se) to factor into a field sprint finale.