The 156-mile (250 kilometers) men's race and the 57.6-mile (90.56K) women's race featured exquisite scenery as well as excruciating climbs. There were also jockeying and jostling for position, and plenty of teamwork and tactics. Neither race was decided until the final, frantic 250 meters as a parade of neon colors whooshed around Logan Circle to the finish on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Ventoso, 22, bolted into first with 100 meters remaining and won by a wheel over Italy's Antonio Bucciero in 5 hours, 53 minutes, 13 seconds. The Spaniard, riding for Prodir Saunier Duval, said the famed Manayunk Wall - which the cyclists must tackle 10 times - sapped his strength.
"I wasn't having good legs on the hills, and I fell back on the last hill," said Ventoso, who earned $40,000 for the win. "I made it up at the right time. I just went and felt strong. My team did a great job of controlling the race in the last laps."
Fred Rodriguez of Whittier, Calif., placed fourth overall, finishing near the front of the same 44-person pack as the winner. As the top American, he won the U.S. pro championship.
"It was a big group and a lot of people had fresh legs," Rodriguez said after donning the red, white and blue jersey that goes to the U.S. champion. "I wanted to win. I felt I had it. I spent too much energy in the last kilometer trying to get back on top. It would have been tough to beat [Ventoso] either way."
A two-time overall champion here, Rodriguez said that winning the U.S. pro title was special.
"For me, it's very important," he said. "It recognizes my country. [The jersey] is respected in Europe and people are always excited to see it."
Rossner's victory was equally dramatic. She began her sprint with 250 meters to go, and Gina Grain of Victoria, British Columbia, was less than a bike-length behind in second. The lead pack of 74 riders was credited with a time of 2:25:55.
"It was my last try," said Rossner, 37, who rides for Team Versicharung/Lietzsport. "I'm going out with a victory. I have a lot of things to do in my life. I'm happy with my career."
It's a career that includes Wachovia crowns in 1996 and every year from 1998 to 2002.
"It's changed my career," said Rossner, who earned $12,000 with the win. "It's special to me. Philadelphia will always be special."
Philadelphia also holds special meaning for third-place finisher Laura Van Gilder, a native of Pocono Pines, Pa., and a Genesis Scuba rider. She has ridden in every Liberty Classic since the race's inception in 1994.
"I feel that it's my hometown race," said Van Gilder, who was second in 2002. "I know so many people in the Philadelphia area, and so many people from Philadelphia vacation in my hometown."
Placing sixth and earning the award as the top finisher under 23 was Perkasie resident and Pennridge High graduate Sarah Uhl.
"It was a brawl at the end," said Uhl, 20, who rides for Team Quark. "It's just an incredible feeling to come into the [Logan] circle in the top 10. Philadelphia is an incredible race. The course suits me very well."
Last lap. The women's race included 126 finishers from an original field of 184, while the men's race had 113 finishers from an original field of 167. . . . Ventoso won the award as the top male finisher under 23. . . . The men's King of the Mountain (top hill climber) was Doug Ollerenshaw of Jelly Belly, while the women's Queen of the Mountain was Erinne Willock of Equipe Cycliste Rona.
Contact suburban staff writer Ira Josephs at 610-313-8002 or firstname.lastname@example.org.