If Chattanooga was a last minute, impulsive decision, the decision to go to Philly to watch the newly rechristened Parx Casino Philly International was one I made a while ago. Philly is only two and a half hours from DC and I was really interested to see how the race course change would affect the race. In addition, I wanted to ride the Bicycling Open, which is basically just an opportunity to pre-ride the course the day of the race. I was terrified of “the Wall”, but was excited about the challenge!
“The Wall” is the Manayunk Wall, named after the Philly suburb it runs through. It’s a climb that is only .5 miles long, but it has sections of 17% gradient and it is BRUTAL! This year, instead of a start/finish downtown in front of the Art Museum, and a mix of short circuits and long circuits (which include the Manayunk Wall), the Philly Classic started and ended at the top of the Wall. It also cut out the downtown short laps, opting instead for 10 laps straight up. While this meant the overall lap length was shorter, it also meant the racers had to ride up the Wall 10 times!! In addition, because the start/finish was now at the top of the Wall, the race wouldn’t end in a sprint but would most likely reward a solo move made within the last few laps, if not the last lap, and maybe even the last climb. So it was shaping up to be an awesome race!
I was staying with a friend of friend in Manayunk. When I told him I was driving up (I rented a car), he said “Well, parking can be a bit difficult around here, so call me when you’ve found a spot.” And, damn, he wasn’t joking. The lower half of Manayunk is a maze of narrow streets, made narrower by all the cars parked on one side. They should all be one ways, but only half of them were, so I just prayed no would come up as I was going down. I drove around for about a half hour before I found a spot that wouldn’t require me to parallel park- those skills are pretty rusty!
My original intention was to ride down to the art museum and spend time there before I met up with my Twitter friend, Heidi (@heidimo6). They have a great bike trail that follows the Schuylkill River on either side. But I got a late start and it was fucking HOT and HUMID. I got not even halfway there and it was clear I was not going to make it downtown! So I backtracked a bit, rode over to the other side of the river that had a trail next to a closed road (similar to Beach Drive in DC), rode for a bit, then laid down to take a nap. It was glorious! I did have someone shout at me to make sure I was still alive, and I appreciated that. Eventually I got up to meet Heidi at her hotel. The trip there was all uphill and it was still disgustingly hot. So that was fun.
After dinner with Heidi and a few drinks with my hosts, I crashed, ready for an early morning.
The ride started at 7:15 and I was glad we got our ride out of the way before the sun got too high. Our ride started a little bit before the Wall, instead of on top of the Wall, like the real race did. So, after biking through the town, we started up the Wall. I think the Wall can be divided into 3 sections. The first section is the longest, steep-ish, but pretty steady. I was feeling pretty strung out by the time i reached the end of that section. Even though as I think back on it, I don’t have an exact memory being so wiped that it justified stopping for a rest, but I did. I don’t remember feeling like my legs were burning or I was hyperventilating, so I’m not sure why stopped for a breather. But I did, and then I started up the 2nd section.
That section was A LOT steeper, though not as long. I was able to ride most of the first section seated, but that was not an option for the 2nd section! As I was riding, I kept my gaze focused on the 200m to go sign- I was telling myself, just make it to the sign, then it flattens out! Because it definitely looked like it flattened out! However, once I got to the 200 meters to go sign, hyperventilating, wheezing, and burning, it was clear it did NOT flatten out! I was so demoralized, I had to stop again.
Once I caught my breath and helped a girl fix her chain, I started up the last section. It was medium steep and pretty short. I felt pretty good going up it, because of my nice break.
Once you make it to the top of the Wall, there is a LOVELY downhill! It just goes on and on. And because it was on a closed course, we could just buzz through all the stop signs and lights!
The rest of the course is pretty flat, except for a little bump we thought was Lemon Hill and the climb that was actually Lemon Hill! Lemon Hill is pretty steep, but not long. I was pretty wheezy at the top, but my legs didn’t feel too bad.
After the ride, I took a shower, and then watched most of the women’s race from a Mexican restaurant. Heidi was supposed to join me, but she got lost. So I made friends with the mom and her daughter next to me, drank lots of margarita’s and did jello shots with them.
Eventually I made my way to the finish line on top of the Wall where Heidi was. It was wicked watching the guys come over the top of the hill. With 7 laps left, they pulled about half of the guys out of the race (they often do that if they’ve been dropped so far, there’s no chance of catching up). The guys were just SHATTERED- total death ride faces on them. However, many of them still had enough energy to slap the hands of those of lining the barriers, hand off water bottles, or pull a wheelie. The crowd went crazy every time a rider came over the top. I suspect the enthusiasm had something to do with the fact that it was about 25 minutes between laps, and maybe we were a bit bored.
Like Chattanooga, I really had no idea what was going on with the race. I didn’t even realized who had won until they announced him on the podium. Turns out it was Kiel Reijnen, who had come in 3rd in Chattanooga! He had a disappointing race with a mechanical right at the end, so it was super exciting to see him win.
It was another fun weekend of race watching. I’ll definitely be back to ride the course again next year, and hopefully I can make it up the Wall without stopping! Plus, I really wish I had tried to ride the Wall a second time. Hopefully next year I can make that happen!