Pro cycling is dead in Philly. Long live cycling in Philly.
As you may have read here or elsewhere yesterday, the organizers of the Philadelphia International Championship—known colloquially to many of its drunken spectators as “the bike race”—have announced that the 2013 installment is off. Done. Dead.
In a statement, organizers said, cryptically:
“The event is expected to return to the calendar in 2014, giving the event owners and their sales and planning teams the best possible opportunity to again make the event the centerpiece of American cycling that it has been known as throughout its glorious history.”
You can read that any way you want. I read this way: Sponsors would rather do the breaststroke through viscous pig shit than put their name anywhere near cycling in the immediate aftermath of the great defrauding of Lance Armstrong, the only cyclist Americans have ever bothered to give a fuck about*.
Though to put this all on Armstrong is perhaps giving him too much credit. Yes, he’s admitted to being the world-class prick those of us who’ve followed pro cycling have heard rumored for more than a decade. And yes, as a result, cycling’s credibility has, shockingly, found a level beneath rock bottom. But let’s not forget that, with regard to this particular race, we’ve been here before, and sadly not so long ago.
It was 2006, after Wachovia dropped out as the race’s title sponsor (and, incidentally, the year after Armstrong first retired from pro cycling) that organizers needed an assist from Gov. Ed Rendell to bring in Commerce Bank (which became TD Bank) to save the day. And the Philadelphia race, it seems, has been in decline ever since. It lost its designation as the U.S. Pro Championship in 2006 to Greenville, S.C. It’d been whittled down from the crowning event in a week-long, three-race triple-crown series known in the sport as “Philly Week” to a stand-alone event. This has all coincided with the cementing of pro cycling as a cesspool of PEDs, at least during the era when most Americans were paying attention.
Understandably, Manayunk business owners are bemoaning the hit to their bottom lines, and Congressman Bob Brady is throwing his meaty paws into the fray. Meanwhile some Manayunkers are singing hallelujah to a reprieve from what they see as a drunken, fratty nuisance. If Brady et al are ultimately successful in saving the 2013 installment, or if 2014 proves to be a better year for cycling sponsorships, there are a couple of secrets about this race that potential sponsors should know:
1. The vast majority of Philadelphians who attend the race couldn’t care less about the actual cycling taking place. Sure, it’s fun to yell as the racers zoom by, but it is by and large an excuse to hang out outside all day, get ripped and holler till your hoarse.
2. The people who do care about the cycling generally couldn’t care less if the cyclists are on EPO, testosterone, Adderal, horse tranquilizers or Feminax.
3. The people who watch on TV are either cycling fans with severe seasonal allergies or agoraphobes who think “Manayunk Wall” sounds badass.
When it comes down to it, sponsoring the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship isn’t so much sponsoring a race; it’s sponsoring Philadelphia’s equivalent of a company picnic, or hosting class on the quad.
So let’s hold out hope that Congressman Brady can make it rain, because we’re certainly not getting any help from Gov. Corbett. Maybe Lance Armstrong can shell out some of the $125 million or so he’s expected to still be worth to keep this race afloat as cycling weathers its latest crisis of confidence. But if it comes to pass that this is the death knell for “the bike race” as we know it (we’re waiting to hear back from G4 productions who, last year, were reportedly organizing a new race called The Keystone Open), that’s simply no reason for us all to not go outside in the middle of June and have ourselves an outdoor party. There’s a clothing-optional ride that’s becoming quite popular in these parts.
* Did you know that Lance Armstrong won “the bike race” in 1993 and placed third in 1995? If you remember seeing him in those races, tell me about it in the comments section.