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Cyclists, spectators brave the heat in Manayunk

WITH A BAGPIPE and drum band jamming on his front porch and an elaborate sprinkler system jutting over his sidewalk, Gary Brett's house was far from another brick in the Wall yesterday.

WITH A BAGPIPE and drum band jamming on his front porch and an elaborate sprinkler system jutting over his sidewalk, Gary Brett's house was far from another brick in the Wall yesterday.

In fact, it epitomized the Wall, that 285-foot climb in the Philadelphia International Championship of cycling where beer, bikes, barbecue and (cow)bells rule.

Thousands of people braved scorching temperatures - upwards of 97 degrees - to cheer and drink as they watched others exercise yesterday in the final leg of the Commerce Bank Triple Crown of Cycling.

The word "crazy" was bandied about by fans to describe the intense athletes who competed in the 156-mile competition, the toughest part of which comes at the Wall, a 17 percent grade incline on Levering Street and Lyceum Avenue in Manayunk.

When Brett, 28, moved into his house on Lyceum Avenue near Fleming Street two years ago, he bought into the Manayunk tradition. The home was previously owned by William O'Brien, who turned his pad into "O'Brien's Watering Hole" every race day since the event began in 1985.

Brett has continued O'Brien's tradition of using hoses, showers and PVC piping to pump water from his house onto the street so passing cyclists can enjoy the spray.

"We had a feeling of what we were getting into when we bought the house," Brett said. "All of the neighbors told us we had some big shoes to fill."

For the first time this year, the makeshift sprinkler system sprayed not only passing bikers but also passing pedestrians on the sidewalk.

"This is where I live, man," Brett said proudly and with a hint of astonishment as he greeted passing acquaintances.

Brett managed to score the Loch Rannoch Pipes and Drums band, which played such classics as "I Want Candy" on his front porch.

Michelle Bryan, who plays bagpipes, and Jhon McAuliffe, who plays the snare drum, said this was the Bucks County band's first gig at the race.

McAuliffe, who was rocking a kilt along with his drums, said he hoped the band's music was an inspiration to the passing bicyclists.

"If there's one single Scotsman in that crew, they'll get that little extra boost of energy," he said. "If there's an Irishman in that crew, he'll know there's beer ahead."

Bryan said that she would take requests - but only from the racing competitors - none of whom opted to lose their spot in the competition to request "Bicycle Race" by Queen.

Further up the Wall, Jerry Lydon, 63, of Mount Laurel, N.J., and Fred Kirchhoff, 66, of Marlton, N.J., hoisted their bicycles high above their "Medicare-aged" heads when they were asked to pose for a photo with two young women.

The men, who were not participating in the race, are members of the Delaware Valley Cycling Enthusiasts Club, where they log 7,000 to 8,000 miles a year.

"These guys are animals," said their fellow club member, Mike Grieco, 82, as he handed them beers.

Lydon brushed off the compliment, saying that it was the men who braved the heat and the Wall who really deserved praise.

"This event is so good for the sport," he said. "I just admire what they are doing and the stamina it takes."

Stamina is what it took for Mark and Sue Amorosi of Audubon, N.J., to push their 3-year-old son, David, up the Wall in a stroller yesterday. The bike enthusiasts said that they come to the race every year armed with about a half-dozen cowbells.

"They have to be crazy to do this wall because it never seems to end," Sue Amorosi said. "It's hard enough just walking or even standing on it."

At the top of the incline, in front of VFW Post 333, Mary Conboy of Roxborough braved the temperatures and missed much of the race so that she could solicit people to buy care packages for troops overseas.

Her son, Adam, was killed in Iraq two years ago and, since his death, Conboy has sent nearly 10,000 packages overseas, she said.

"The Wall gives us another avenue to get to people," Conboy said. "We're just asking everyone to remember those who are willing to fight so they can enjoy today." *