Cyclists geared up for Phila. race Fred Rodriguez will go for his third straight win. Team Saturn is in the driver's seat for the women.

Posted: June 09, 2002

No fewer than 300 cyclists from the United States and 19 other nations will race through the streets of Philadelphia on today.

Starting at 9 a.m. from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, 177 men will have at it for about six hours in the 18th First Union U.S. Pro Championship.

The 156-mile race will require 10 ascensions of the exhausting 17 percent grade of the Manayunk Wall.

The winner will pocket $40,000 from a $133,250 purse and, if he is an American, he will earn the national road-racing title.

A field of 123 women, starting 10 minutes later than the men, will race in the ninth First Union Liberty Classic, which has been shortened from 72 miles to 57.6 miles this year because it no longer carries a World Cup classification. The women's champion will receive $12,000 from a $51,250 purse.

The nation's biggest and richest one-day cycling event is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of spectators, as it usually does, to viewing spots near the Art Museum, along Kelly Drive, at Lemon Hill, and especially on Levering Street in Manayunk.

That's the site of the infamous Wall, close to several watering holes where folks dart out to cheer loudly as the cyclists roll by.

Fan attention likely will be focused on the defending champions, Fred Rodriguez among the men, and Petra Rossner in the women's group.

Rodriguez is a Californian who has won the U.S. champion jersey the last two years riding for the Domo-Farm Frites team of Belgium.

A four-time world champion road racer and a U.S. Olympian, Rodriguez rode to a pair of runner-up finishes earlier this year, one in his first try at Belgium's Gent-Wevelgem Classic, the other in the Milan-St. Remo race in Italy.

"To me, the most difficult challenge of [the Philadelphia] race is the distance," Rodriguez said last week. "It's very long. I'd like to win this race again, but it gets harder every year."

Rodriguez can expect an all-American challenge from George Hincapie, his friend who rides for the top-ranked U.S. Postal Service, and from Chris Horner, the six-year pro who rides for Prime Alliance.

An exceptional sprinter and a two-time Olympian, Hincapie beat the Philadelphia field in 1998. Horner took the Redlands, Sea Otter and Solano Classics in California this spring, but broke his foot in early April. It remains to be seen how fit he is for Philadelphia.

"In bike racing, there are no past stats or percentages to tell you who's going to win or where someone is going to make the big move," Rodriguez said. "It's unpredictable. My advantage is I'm fast and I have a European [racing] background. I'm racing week after week, and I'm comfortable doing six hours on the bike."

Other contenders include:

Henk Vogels. An Australian who rides for Mercury, Vogels, 28, set the course record at 5 hours, 52 minutes and 11 seconds when he won in Philadelphia two years ago.

Tom Boonen. Boonen, 21, from Belgium, signed with U.S. Postal as heir apparent to Lance Armstrong.

Trent Klasna. The 2001 national time-trial champion, Klasna, 32, is an eight-year veteran who finished fourth overall at Redlands. The Team Saturn rider was runner-up to Rodriguez last year.

Kirk O'Bee. At 25, O'Bee is another up-and-comer who took two classic victories five days apart in Europe this spring. O'Bee rode for U.S. Postal as a beginner last season, and found out that he would be dropped from that team when he read about it in Velo News, the cycling journal. He is now with the Navigators team. If O'Bee remains resentful about such ill-mannered treatment, it hardly will help Hincapie.

It will be no less interesting to see how Marty Nothstein, the 2000 Olympic gold-medal winner in track cycling, does in his first big road race.

"I don't know what to expect," Nothstein said last week. "I know the atmosphere is incredible."

Nothstein, a Trexlertown native, has lost 20 pounds since his gold-medal performance in the 2000 Olympics, but he faces a huge change of discipline in moving from 1,000 meters (0.62 miles) to 156 miles.

Rossner, a German who rides for Team Saturn, is shooting for her fifth straight victory, and sixth in nine seasons, in the Liberty Classic.

Her chief competition likely will come from Saturn teammates Anna Millward and Ina Teutenberg and from Rosalind Reekie-May, a two-time Olympian who has ridden in the Tour de France. Tina Mayolo of Diet Rite also could contend for a podium finish.

As for the shorter distance, Rossner said: "It could be the fastest race ever, if people ride it that way. For me, it's easy to do a long distance. It should be a good team race."

Contact Ron Reid at 215-854-4469 or

U.S. Pro Championship

Where: Philadelphia

(Map of route is on Page D4)

When: Today at 9 a.m.

Distance: 156 miles

Riders: About 140

Total prizes: $133,250

Live coverage: Channel 6 and WMMR-FM (93.3).

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