Repeat winners at Philly cycling race

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Kiel Reijnen joyfully crosses the finish line as a repeat champion.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Kiel Reijnen joyfully crosses the finish line as a repeat champion.
Posted: June 03, 2014

KIEL REIJNEN and Evelyn Stevens each came into the Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic with targets on their back. This time, as defending champions, the proverbial target took a tangible form. They both wore the No. 1 on their backs as they whizzed through the streets of Manayunk and Lemon Hill.

The number they wore on their jerseys turned into the position they both finished. Both Reijnen and Stevens were able to repeat as champions yesterday afternoon.

The win was a special gift for Reijnen, a resident of Boulder, Colo., who turned 28 yesterday. He credits his team for carrying him the bulk of the race, and trusting him to get the victory for team UnitedHealthcare.

"I finished the job," he said. "If it is a 198-kilometer race, for 197 1/2 they did everything. We took control with one lap to go. The guys rode the front and made sure everything stayed together, which is the way we wanted to finish. Coming down the final straight, they had more energy. They kept rollin'."

Reijnen finished in 4 hours, 28 minutes and 35 seconds, beating Jure Kocjan to the top of the Manayunk Wall on the 10th lap for the $5,000 cash prize. Needless to say, he is a fan of racing in Philadelphia, and has been for a while.

"I love this race," Reijnen said. "I loved this race before I could win it, when it was the old course and I was in more of a helping role. I still love it, coming here. I wouldn't miss this race. It is very important to me. The fans are amazing."

The fans were screaming and ringing their cowbell-type instruments as he crossed the finish line and put an index finger in the air. The fans give him inspiration, and he aspires to ride inspired every time he gets on the bike.

"Race with your heart," Reijnen said. "That is what my wife always tells me to do."

It was even sweeter for Reijnen because he and Stevens are friends. In fact, they train together with Neil Henderson in Boulder. Their styles of racing are conducive to the way the course is laid out.

"We both love similar things about the sport," Reijnen said. "Part of that is the vibe on this course. The finish suits our style of racing as well. It is also the feel of the race and the fans, the weather, the course, the length, all of it adds together."

Stevens jumped off her bike and immediately collapsed with her back against the steel railings outlining the course after she crossed the finish line. She exhausted all the energy she had, outsprinting Lex Albrecht up the daunting Wall.

"This is such a special race," Stevens said. "To win last year was special, but it is always hard to follow up when you are the one that is the favorite. It is nice. It takes a little weight off your shoulders."

Stevens crossed the finish line in 2:28:57, just ahead of Albrecht, who is from Canada. In a race that covers 60 miles of road, there are plenty of ups and downs. Cycling is a team sport, and Stevens credited a total effort by her Specialized-lululemon teammates for taking home the title, even if it did come down to the final stretch.

"The team, if you watched the race, they laid it all on the line for me," Stevens said. "When Carman [Small] went, and I went off of her, I knew I had to completely empty my tank. This year I thought I lost the podium in the last 25 meters. I was not going to look back or give up until I was over that line."

Earlier in the day, the plan for the team was not for Stevens to have a shot at winning. In fact, she was supposed to be one of the ones laying it on the line for another teammate to capture the title. Karol-Ann Canuel was the cyclist believed to have the best shot at winning because of one skill that bodes well on the course.

"Karol-Ann is a great climber," Stevens said. "She was actually supposed to be the one saved. I was going to go early and she was going to fall off for me. It changed up. Taylor [Wiles] and I got stuck behind a crash second to last lap and Taylor any Ally [Stacher] dug in deep to get me back on."

National champion Alison Powers was in the lead for much of the day. She created more than a minute gap between herself and the field for two laps, but could not sustain the energy level to stay in front.

"Four laps by yourself on this course would be pretty [tough]," Stevens said of Powers. "Part of me was like, 'Gosh, maybe she could do it because she is so good right now.' "

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