The longest race I have ever done was a stage of Jelajah Malaysia. It was 221km long but with 13km of neutral, it was 234km in total. At the time, I thought it would be the longest race that I do for a while. After arriving in the United States, I discovered that we would be doing the Philadelphia International, what I thought at the time was a 155km race. A week and a half out from the race, I found out that it wasn’t 155km, it was 155 MILES! That’s 250km!!
This normally wouldn’t be that big of a problem, however, to make the race just that little bit harder, there is a short but VERY steep 800m climb aptly called ‘the wall’. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you need to do it ten times over 250km, it gets harder and harder every time.
In the early stages of the race, a small breakaway of 5 riders went clear, making the first 3 climbs up ‘the wall’ relatively easy. The gap ballooned out to almost 10 minutes and no team had taken control of the race. At this point I made a decision. Sure, it was probably not the best decision but I did it anyway. With such a long distance to cover and a steep climb to make every lap, I was pretty sure that my legs would not make the length of the race and even if they did, I would not be much use at the end. So with a lull in the peleton, I decided to go off the front and get some promotional time and hopefully, get the bigger teams to start reeling in the breakaway.
One of the greatest things about the Philadelphia International is the huge crowds that they get every year. With riders going the slowest as they climb ‘the wall’, most people accumulate there and as the race wears on, the hill turns into one giant beer fuelled party. As I climbed ‘the wall’, the screams from the crowd was deafening and it was an amazing feeling to have thousands of people cheering for you. After two laps stuck between the breakaway and the peleton, the Protour team of Liquigas decided that it was time to step up the pace and we were brought back into the bunch. A lap later and the wall got the better of me.
Fortunately, Matthias, our sprinter for the race, was well positioned for the final laps and still had enough in his legs for a final sprint. After 250km, the race came down to a sprint between a small group of riders. At the line, it was HTC’s Alex Rasmussen who took the honours followed closely by Liquigas rider, Peter Sagen. Matthias, crossed in a very close and very respectable 7th place. Not a bad result in America’s biggest one day race!