In the first weekend of June we were lucky enough to get an invitation from our friends at Fuji Bikes to check out the Philly Cycling Classic in their hometown of Philadelphia, PA. Although this race has changed names a few times over the years, it’s remained one of the richest and most prestigious one day races outside of Europe. Beyond the world-class international field, and high caliber bike racing, the Philly Cycling Classic also brings a party atmosphere for the communities of Philadelphia along the 12 mile route from Manayunk to Fairmount Park. With a ride open to the public, then a professional women’s race, and then the pro men’s race all taking place on the same day, it’s a smorgasbord of cycling fun that should be on your agenda at least once in the future – plus Fuji puts on a great house party at the top of the wall, just past the finish line!
CLIMBING THE MANAYUNK WALL
If there is one feature that defines the lore of the Philly Cycling Classic, it’s got to be the fearsome Manayunk Wall. It’s one of those climbs where the numbers don’t really do it justice – it’s a little over half mile long, with a average grade of 8%, and an ascent of 226 feet. No problem right? Well, that’s what it feels like after you turn on Levering Street and then make a quick right on to Cresson Street, then turn left back on to Levering Street and face the Wall proper.
When you first see the Wall itself, you are feeling good, the cranks are turning over fast, and you start to think that this whole Manayunk Wall reputation is overrated. Sure, it’s a hill, but you’re still flying up in the big ring.
But about halfway up it hits you – this isn’t getting any easier! The street starts tipping up to 18% and you start shifting to an easier gear, and then shifting again. Once you make the slight left onto Lyceum Avenue, you start to understand why they call this the Wall. It feels like you are in a canyon, with a rock wall on one side and houses on the other, and there is nothing to do but keep pedaling until you get to the top.
The steep section doesn’t last long, but it seems like it takes forever. As Lyceum Avenue straightens out, the grade starts to relent and you can put your head down and churn out the last few hundred feet to the top. This is where the strongest riders can put in their final attack – but for most of us it’s just a matter of surviving.
Finally you make it to the top and the right turn on to Pechin Street – the fall from the Wall. It’s all downhill from here – but did that climb only take 3 minutes (the record is just under 2)? Now remember, you just climbed the Manayunk Wall only one time – the pro men have to climb it 10 times!
PHILLY CYCLING CLASSIC COURSE
The route of the Philly Cycling Classic has changed over the years, but its current incarnation is as a 12 mile circuit course that connects the communities of Manayunk, East Falls and Fairmount Park. It races through neighborhoods, past restaurants, and along the scenic Schuylkill River via Kelly Drive. The course is bookended by Lemon Hill at the far end, and of course the Manayunk Wall at the other. One of the major changes to the race was to make the finish line right at the top of the Manayunk Wall – creating a finish line atmosphere not unlike a Spring Classic in Europe. Another change in the Philly Cycling Classic this year – the prize money is split evenly between the men’s and women’s fields! They both ride the same course, so they both have the chance to earn the same cash!
FANS OF MANAYUNK
Of course no race would be complete without fans to cheer on the riders and create a party atmosphere. While there were crowds all along the entire route of the Philly Cycling Classic, the biggest and loudest spectating spots were Lemon Hill and the Manayunk Wall. And it is Manayunk that has acquired almost mythic notoriety over the years – there are tales of epic house parties with live house bands and a hundred thousand people packed in to a half mile of Philadelphia rowhouses. While the atmosphere and crowds are more mellow these days (no doubt thanks to the overwhelming, but very polite, police presence), it’s still a great crowd many thousands strong that is not shy about getting loud when the race comes flying by. We may even have spotteed a few beer hand-ups for riders who were going to drop out of the race a few laps early, their jobs done for the day (don’t tell the UCI).
FUJI’S BIGGEST PARTY OF THE YEAR
We would also like to say thanks to Fuji for hosting us during the race weekend – since this is their hometown event, they put on a great party and cookout at the top of the Manayunk Wall. With nearly endless supplies of food and drink, and ample bike parking – the Fuji party was the place to be on race day! Even the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, dropped by and hung out for a few hours!
Check out our race day photo gallery on Facebook.