“In the old days this would have played out a bit differently…”

Travis Bickle made an appearance at the USPRO race this past Sunday afternoon.A few years ago when I came to Philly to watch the USPRO race I received some words of wisdom from a Philadelphia native who I was staying with, “Whatever you do, don’t mess with the cops.” Late in the men’s race, in the midst of the 3 short laps, some crazy Travis Bickle-esque character nearly took out the front of the men’s chase group while he mosied across the street by the art museum. Mere seconds later, a very large Philadelphia cop was in his face and they both started screaming at each other and bumping chests. I thought, damn, there’s going to be a good old fashioned police beat-down right in front of my face. They were going at it for a good 30 seconds, not giving an inch, when 3 more cops showed up. Now, I thought, is where Travis Bickle gets his ass kicked inside out. Even my wife was getting riled up spouting, “Boo, stripe shirt man. Boo!!!”. I guess these are more PC times and the situation diffused itself once the other cops showed up. After Travis Bickle strolled off into the sunset, back across the street just to rub it in the cops’ faces, I heard one of the cops utter “In the old days this would have played out a bit differently…”

The theme for this years trip to Philly was everything’s just a little bit off.

Saturday
Drive to Philly in a torrential downpour…just a little bit off
Dumbasses who drive 90mph in a torrential downpour on I-95…just a little bit off the road in a mangled car
Smarty Jones…just a little bit off
Cell phones that don’t work north of Virginia…just a little bit off
Blood stains on our hotel bathroom wall and counter…just a little bit off
Sketchy hotel elevator…just a little bit off
$6 bottles of Bass at the Wyndham lobby bar…just a little bit off
Tongue tied when I spied Phil Liggett in the Wyndham lobby bar…just a little bit off
Being without my trusty Sharpie in the Wyndham lobby bar when Bjarne Riis sits down 8 feet away from me…just a little bit off
Being without my trusty Sharpie in the Wyndham lobby bar when Sean Yates sits down 8 feet away from me…just a little bit off

The industry players, media, teams with big budgets, and stalkers like me hang out in the Wyndham lobby bar Saturday night. Besides Phil Liggett, Bjarne Riis, and Sean Yates there was Fast Freddy holding court, Frankie Andreu, Tom Schuler, Dave Towne, Richard Fries, a bunch of chain-smoking Euro mechanics, and a flurry of reps and product managers pushing product and schmoozing. E. and I were chatting with fellow Durhamites D. and J., as well as Chris Wherry’s mom whom they know from living in Colorado, and were just soaking in the ambience. Riis was sipping a brandy snifter, munching pretzels, and getting interviewed by someone from dailypeloton.com. Our hotel eventually beckoned around 11:30pm and we walked back down to Walnut Street and called it a night.

Sunday
Not realizing ’til it’s too late that our breakfast companions were parents of a Subway pro…just a little bit off
It never rains on USPRO race day, but the cool, dreary weather…just a little bit off
Saeco lied to me! No Mirko Celestino or Gerrit Glomser in Philly…just a little bit off
Dead batteries in our digital camera…just a little bit off
Can’t get to Erik Saunders for a pre-race chat…just a little bit off
2×4-iolli still running the show for Monex…just a little bit off
Dead batteries in our portable TV…just a little bit off
Snow fencing on Lemon Hill zip tied together with no gaps to cross the street…just a little bit off
Fast Freddy a sure bet to win the whole shebang…just a little bit off
Max Van Heeswijk’s cheap-ass Dura-Ace 10 chain in the final sprint…literally just a little bit off
Phil Liggett and John Eustice declaring Mike Jones the 2004 US Pro Champion…just a little bit off
Being without my trusty Sharpie post-race when Bobby Julich is standing about 3 feet away from me…just a little bit off

The men’s race played out like it normally does: early break stays away for about 110 miles, lots of attacks at gruppo compacto, field erupts the last time over the Manayunk Wall, moderate sized group sprints for victory, unheralded Euro pro steals the show, perplexed crowd tries to grok how the newly crowned US champion pro champion didn’t cross the line first. The women’s race played out like it normally does: big field splits up each time over the Manayunk Wall, fairly large field sprints for victory, Petra Rossner wins. This year I had the good fortune to watch my local women’s team, Spin Cycle/Duke Sports Medicine, uncork a major can of whupass and put their sprinter into a stunning 4th place finish. Becky led out the sprint and came oh so close to a podium spot. This is a team of Cat 1/2 women with full-time jobs who went toe-to-toe with seasoned professional athletes in the richest one-day race in the world. Pretty damn impressive! They came there to win, not be spectators, and it makes me proud.

About half-way through the men’s race I had to make a quick trip back to our hotel room. For the first time in our 8 years of visting CorestatesFirstUnionWachovia, we brought along bikes since we knew we’d be based a bit further from the action than previous years. Even though I only had a beater, singlespeed mountain bike with a 32×16, I found you can haul ass in city traffic if you can spin like nobody’s business and follow Lance Armstrong’s traffic light manifesto “No cop, no stop”. What struck me was that as soon as I got a block or two south of the race course into center city there was no sense of such a monstrous sporting event occurring in close proximity. People crowded the streets and it seemed business as usual like any other weekend in Philadelphia. Outside of the local ABC network’s live start to finish coverage and an hour long broadcast about a month from now on OLN there’s no mass-market tv coverage. The Hard Road creator Jamie Paolinetti was on site making a film about Philly week which I’m sure will be excellent, but who’s going to see it? Maybe he’ll get a break at a documentary film festival and create some buzz, but sadly I’m not holding my breath. Even the local print media puts the race in the back of the sports section. Nobody else in the country, except the scant, dedicated minority of cycling fans, knows the richest single day bike race in the world took place in Philadelphia two days ago. We had a Tour de France podium finisher in Bobby Julich, Olympians, world champions, national champions, Euro-classic winners, grand tour stage winners, but the media doesn’t seem to care. The New York Times had nothing on Monday but had a sizeable story about the NASCAR race taking place in Dover, DE the same day. And even though it’s great that hundreds of thousands of fans line the streets of Philadelphia, probably all too many seemed as perplexed as the man standing next to me along the fence at Lemon Hill. The woman’s field was on its closing lap and he couldn’t figure out if the groups of stragglers were actually duking it out for first. While we watched the closing little laps play out while standing at the end of feed zone row, spectators around us couldn’t figure which of the two groups left in the race was the lead and chase group. Professional cycling is a difficult sport to watch in person if you don’t understand the nuances and tactics, especially since it’s not confined to a stadium like every other professional sport that our country loves. The USPRO race places out over a 14 mile loop for 6 hours. Unless you’re by the finish line jumbo-tron or a portable TV, it can be a real mystery what’s going down out of site elsewhere on the course. Admittedly, it’s much easier to watch a sport played out on a basketball court, a football field, a hockey rink, or a baseball diamond since the whole course of action plays out in a tiny, closed venue, but the beauty of cycling is that it plays out in much more dramatic settings in the elements. It never ceases to take my breath away when I see the majestic setting in Philadelphia acting as a backdrop to the cycling.

After our post-race trek to Manayunk, a visit to gawk at the current MTV Real World house on Arch St, and freshening up at our hotel, we headed out to the sort-of-official post-race bash at a city center Irish pub called Tir na Nog. It was nice to kick back a few pints of Guinness with a bunch of the men’s and women’s teams. I’m amazed that riders who went the full 156 mile distance still seemed relatively fresh and still on their feet slurping down beers. A bunch of Colavita, HealthNet, and Jelly Belly riders were there and the first person I saw and chatted with was SoPro Mike Jones. He was feeling no pain and I hope he’s still not wandering the streets of Philadelphia in search of the Best Western. The Spin Cycle women’s team was rightly still savoring their stellar ride and I got to hear the whole play-by-play from Laura, Kate, Mandy, Cara, plus the support entourage of Emory, Joey, and Jake. My conversation with a young, 23 year old woman who was the masseuse for Colavita probably best exemplifies everything that’s wrong and right with professional cycling in the US. Here is a woman who was taking care of the legs of defending USPRO champion Mark McCormack and company and she was doing it pro bono. Not only was she not paid for her work, she had to fly here on her own dime from Chicago. Still, she was bubbling with enthusiasm and the riders, such as Ivan Dominguez, really appreciated her efforts. Our sport is long on passion and short on cash. And once the Lance Armstrong bubble bursts pro cycling in the US will be long on passion and even shorter on cash. I, too, am long on passion and rather short on cash. We dropped a good chunk of change in Philly, but it was more than worth every cent. We’ll be back next year and hopefully Philadelphia will renew the race contract that expires after the 2005 USPRO rendition.

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