There I am in the starting gate for the Manayunk hill climb time trial, I’m watching the clock tick, tick, tick as the USCF official is counting down the seconds, “cinq, quatra, trois, deux, un...” Wait a minute, he’s counting down in French, or is it the 2 double espresso (with double sugars) I drank as my warm up for this 1 kilometer time trial up the famed Manayunk wall? I was in Philadelphia to watch the most famous one-day bike race in America and figured I’d take my turn up the infamous 17% grade.
My problems were two-fold. One, I am a contemporary of Greg Lemond, and while he retired nearly 15 years ago, I have only been racing for three years now. As a Cat. 4 rider I get in line with some polite teenagers and twenty-somethings who have the nasty habit of calling me “sir,” as if I was one of their father’s friends. Even my cycling coach, an ex-pro is younger than me! Second, I’m from central Ohio where the terrain is so flat that I’ve recently pitched a coffee table book idea to a local publisher entitled “The Cols of Columbus” with fine art photography of freeway overpasses complete with the locals riders names painted on the roadways by the rabid fans.
But I just could not pass up a chance to race up this cycling landmark. I remember the decisive moves made here last year by Danny Pate, Chris Horner, and the eventual winner Chris Wherry and another year, my cycling hero Ernie Lechuga, former Mexican national champion, leading the break up the wall lap after lap to win the KOM prize.
Sunday there will be thousands of mostly intoxicated fans screaming at the cyclists each time up the wall, tonight there’s only a few locals come out to see the amateurs.
The offical chimes “go” in 30 seconds interval. The rider who started in front of me turns left instead of right under the train tracks, and by the time he gets back on the course I was rolling onto the climb and chasing him down. A few spectators thought for a second that I must be a really fast climber having bridged this gap in such a quick manner. What the hell, let them think I was Lance passing Jan in the prologue. The climb felt like it was over before it started. I heard a few “allez, allez, allez” while my oxygen debt eventually turned into that head spinning buzz. It was offical, 01:59.75, about twenty seconds behind the eventual winner. My fellow competitors waited at the top each granting me their personal ‘chapeau,’ as I to them.