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Philly’12: The Photographer’s View
This year’s Philadelphia International cycling Championship was a slimmed down version of the longest single day cycling race in the US. Typically held at 156 miles, the new format was cut down to a less crippling 124 miles. The race only made 7 trips up the infamous Manayunk wall instead of tackling its unrelenting 17% grade 10 times as in years past. Three less trips up the Wall didn't make the racing much easier though - let's take a closer look through the lens of Darrell Parks!

- Photography and words by Darrell Parks -

The other course change had the riders doing an extra two of the 3.3 mile long closing circuits which would mean five times up Lemon Hill and around Logan Circle before screaming down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the finish. The shortened course resulted in a later start time which meant I could sleep in an extra hour and not leave the house until 6:30 for the 3 hour drive to Philadelphia!

The new race format would clearly have an effect on the race dynamics and it would change the way I shot the race as well. The shortened course made for an easier day for the cyclists, but had the opposite outcome for the shooters. Fewer big laps and more short closing laps meant racers would have more gas in the tank at the end of the race and a bit more time to catch the break. I now had less time to get the same number and type of images I had in years past and would not have the luxury of hanging out on the wall for 5 or 6 laps!

Getting around the course by media van worked well on the longer parcours as you had plenty of time to catch the shuttle to various points on the course. On each lap the shuttle heads out behind the race, dropping photogs off in Manayunk and Lemon Hill. This meant you would end up missing a lap on the wall, which in the past wasn’t a big deal as they climbed it 10 times. If you happen to get back to the shuttle pickup and miss the shuttle, you then ended up missing two laps up the Wall which was now significant with only 7 big circuits on tap.

As usual, I shot the start and a few of the opening circuits by the fountains at Logan Circle then made the trek back to the start area to catch the shuttle. Sure enough, the media shuttle had left before I got to the pick up site meaning the next shuttle would not go out until after the riders came through. Not wanting to miss 2 series of shots in Manayunk, a little persuasion allowed me to secure a motorcycle ride to Manayunk ahead of the race.

And they hit the Wall in 3...2...1...

I was dropped off at the usual spot at the bottom of the wall on the cobbled street that runs under an elevated road. The crowds seemed to be bigger than usual for this early in the race, though the later start time may have accounted for some of that. I like to shoot from this location as it makes the turn onto the first climb. The "Wall" is basically made up of 4 sections. The lower part is the longest but is not quite as steep as the others. At the top of the first section is a slight left turn onto the steepest stretch which tops out at 17% grade. After slogging up the middle section a slight right turn gets you onto the next and slightly easier pitch where O'Briens Watering Hole provides the famous sprinkler to cool down the riders. The actual KOM is on the fourth section which is shorter and the least steep of all but still packs a punch as it comes at the end of the 3 leg burning sections.

An early attack from a Champion System rider on the Manayunk Wall.

Up, up, up!

Typically an early break is established on the opening circuits or the first couple times up the wall. The shortened version meant teams were more attentive and didn't readily allow anything to go up the road in the early going. The days break finally materialized on the fourth lap. The four man group consisted of Scott Zwizanski (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), Andres Diaz (Exergy), Thomas Rabou (Competitive Cyclist) and Clinton Avery (Champion System). They were kept on a fairly short leash with the time gap never getting above 4 minutes.

As always, the fans were out in force along the Wall.

How about a track stand in the watering hole?

So far, I had missed the Wall on the first lap, shot the bottom section on the second lap, captured the first and second steps on laps 3 and 4 and was now waiting at O'Briens for lap 5 to arrive. It was now decision time. I would usually shoot 2 trips through the watering Hole section and then a last trip through the KOM at the top and grab the shuttle for a ride to Lemon Hill. But now, instead of the usuall 5 big laps left, I only had 2. I needed to grab a ride in the shuttle after they came through if I wanted to shoot Lemon Hill.

Larger crowds lined both sides of Lemon Hill than in the last few years or at least it seemed that way as there were fewer barriers lining the course as well. Legend has it that no significant rain fall has come down on the race during its entire history. After big lap number six came through Philly's weather luck had changed. The sky opened up and though it wasn't raining hard I sought shelter in one of the fans pop up cabanas mostly to protect my camera gear. They were kind enough to offer me food and drink (Never turn down a Chicken Parmesan with Broccoli Rob Sub when in Philly!) while we waited for the rain to subside and the final big lap to arrive. Local photographer Anthony Skorochod was hanging out on Lemon and was nice enough to score me a beer hand up as well. You don't want to have to shoot the finish of a bike race malnourished and dehydrated!

Bobby Lea.

The rain had just about stopped when the break came through Lemon Hill on the final big lap. Local boy Bobby Lea (Team p/b PureEnergy Cycling-ProAir HFA) was causing a commotion in the crowd as he was trying to bridge to the break but was clearly stuck in no mans land about a minute back. Another minute or so went by before the peloton came screaming up the hill. They now had 16 miles left to reign in Lea and the break of four on the final five circuits. The time had come to make hast to the shuttle stop for a fast ride to the finish.

Clinton Avery gives it some gas on Lemon Hill.

SpiderTech chases.

The view from the finish line in Philly allows you several different vantage points to watch the race come together on the finish circuits. The course folds back on itself so you get to see the riders enter the finish area and go past you, go under the start/finish line and out of view as they go around Logan Circle, then come barreling at you towards the finish line, and finally exiting the finish area back towards Lemon Hill.

UnitedHealthcare had control of the field in the waning moments, but a late crash put paid to their efforts.

The gap on the first lap of the finishing circuits was down to just over 2 minutes. Scott Zwizanski (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) was the first to pop followed by Andres Diaz (Exergy) shortly after. UHC went to the front on the bell lap and reeled in Thomas Rabou (Competitive Cyclist) and Clinton Avery (Champion System) to make it another sprint finish at Philly.

Avery and Rabou were impressive, but there was nothing they could do to stop a bunch sprint.

In the end it was all Team Type 1 - Sanofi as they dominated the sprint and Alexander Serebryakov of Russia took the win. If it wasn't for Fast Freddie Rodriguez (Team Exergy) snatching 3rd place Team Type 1 - Sanofi would have swept the podium as they took second with Aldo Ileљič, and fourth with Daniele Colli as well. Rounding out the Team Type 1 - Sanofi Domination was the King of the Wall classification win by Kiel Reijnen. Keep an eye out for Team Type 1 for the remainder of the domestic racing season as I'm sure all the other teams will be!

Not a bad day for Team Type 1!

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