While the TD Bank Philadelphia International challenge has traditionally been the bastion of the sprinters, with the winner crowned from a breakaway just once during the most recent 10 editions, nevertheless the peloton's rouleurs regularly go out on the attack in the hope that perhaps a break will beat the odds and stymie the sprinters' squads.
In both the 2012 edition, contested yesterday, and the 2011 edition a three-man break, the product of a larger escape whittled down to the strong men, flirted with reaching the finish line ahead of the peloton only to be neutralised on the last of the short finishing circuits between Logan Square and Lemon Hill inside of two kilometres remaining.
There was remarkable symmetry to the moves as each year as the final selection contained representatives from US-based Continental teams Competitive Cyclist and Team Exergy as well as a rider from a foreign Pro Continental squad, in 2011 it was Spidertech's Bruno Langois and this year Champion System's Clinton Avery. Francisco Mancebo flew the flag for Competitive Cyclist in 2011, followed by Thomas Rabou this year but the one constant was Team Exergy's Andres Miguel Diaz Corrales, a 28-year-old Colombian, whose bid for glory in Philadelphia once again came up tantalisingly short.
"I was looking to get in the breakaway, so I took a chance," Diaz told Cyclingnews. "I started feeling pretty good so I attacked on the [Manayunk] Wall to see how the other guys were feeling."
This occurred on the fifth of seven ascents of the Wall, not long after a large group of approximately 30 riders were brought back into the peloton after about 47km of freedom. Joining Diaz in the escape were Clinton Avery (Champion System Pro Cycling Team), Thomas Rabou (Competitive Cyclist Racing Team), Scott Zwizanski (Optum Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Bobby Lea (Team CykelCity.se p/b Pure Energy Cycling-ProAir HFA). Unfortunately, horsepower was lost as over the next two ascents of the Wall as first Lea then Zwizanski would be dropped.
"In the break I was working really hard, but then one guy left and another guy left. Then I see the other teams working really hard [in the chase] and I thought 'man, I've got to keep going to the end'."
The trio of Diaz, Avery and Rabou had at one point enjoyed a lead of more than three minutes, but entering the final five 5km finishing circuits their lead had shrunk to 2:10. The out-and-back circuit provides a chance for the escape and chasers to see each other as they negotiate the 180 degree turn around the fountain at Logan Square on Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Diaz group could see the intense pursuit being conducted by Team Type 1-Sanofi and UnitedHealthcare.
"On the last few small laps I figured that unless something happened [to disrupt the chase] then they were going to catch me, but I tried. I felt that I was really strong so I committed 100 percent. I thought we had a chance."
As the bell rung for the final circuit their lead stood at a tenuous 20 seconds. Avery soon fell off the pace, but Diaz and Rabou pushed on over Lemon Hill, but were ultimately swept up with 2km remaining.
For the first time in the 28 year history of the US's premier one-day road race, the distance was shortened from 250km to 200km and prognosticators weren't sure if the slightly shorter distance would lead to more animated racing, or perhaps the sprinters' teams would be able to have an even stronger stranglehold.
Team Exergy director Tad Hamilton thought a break might go to the line this year, but of course the squad also had a very solid sprint contender in Fred Rodriguez to cover all the bases. Rodriguez would ultimately deliver a podium finish in third place behind Team Type 1-Sanofi teammates Aleksandr Serebryakov and Aldo Ino Ilesic.
"This was going to be the year that a break could maybe work so we definitely had to be in it, and with a good guy, not just represented but driving it," Hamilton told Cyclingnews. "Andres was keen on having another shot at this race after getting caught on the last lap last year. But we also have Fred and a couple of good sprinters in there, so it was plan A and plan B.
"Andres was good, he hasn't had great legs this spring, but it's nice to see him coming along. He was fantastic last year all year and I think [Amgen Tour of] California brought him back to where we expect him to be. I know he's disappointed today but he's also very happy. When you're a good rider and you go through a drought it's tough."
Diaz is in his third year with Team Exergy, with the latter two years in the professional ranks as the squad made the jump from elite amateur to UCI Continental in 2011. Diaz first came to the United States from his home in Cartago, Colombia late in the 2009 season on a hunch, and quickly made an impression which ultimately led to his tenure at Team Exergy.
"One guy told me that there was a team here [in the US], Mengoni, that needed one guy so I wanted to take the chance to race in the US. Then I won [Vermont's] Green Mountain [Stage Race] and then the next year I started with Team Exergy."
Diaz made his mark in the 2011 season with results such as a second place overall finish behind Francisco Mancebo at the Sea Otter Classic, a fourth place GC finish at the Redlands Bicycle Classic plus another fourth place overall results at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Diaz enjoyed a stint of world class competition at the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado where he finished 29th overall, with only Chris Baldwin (Bissell) finishing higher from the US Continental ranks amidst a peloton chock full of WorldTour and Pro Continental talent.
"I like to race when big teams are coming, that's pretty exciting for me," said Diaz. "I'm very good friends with [Francisco] Mancebo and I always try to be aggressive. I'm not a sprinter, I like climbing and to fight for the GC at races."
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