SCOTT ZWIZANSKI never forgot how to ride a bike.
Once a swimmer at West Virginia University, Zwizanski now rides in road races for a living - all because of a race that has helped make Philadelphia famous in the world of cycling.
"I can remember that the Philly bike race was always on TV," Zwizanski said. "So when I was a freshman at West Chester Henderson High School, my parents took me to see the race. We parked in Roxborough and walked over to the Manayunk Wall.
"It was my first time seeing it. It is a big party atmosphere and all of the sudden you see riders come flying up this hill. It was pretty cool."
From that moment, Zwizanski knew he wanted to tackle that wall someday.
So the West Chester native, who now makes his home in California, is back to participate in Sunday's TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship as a member of the eight-man Kelly Benefit Strategies pro team. It is the race's 25th year.
He swam for 4 years at West Virginia before the itch to get on the bike snagged him.
"I was always a good endurance athlete," Zwizanski said. "And I didn't forget how to ride a bike, so I wanted to try it."
But don't let him fool you. Riding isn't that easy.
Zwizanski, 32, turned pro in 2004 but spent the previous 5 years pedaling his way through the five U.S. Cycling amateur categories. His team is based in Baltimore but meets in cities around the world to compete. In a typical year, Zwizanski spends between 75 and 100 days racing.
His tires have pounded the pavement in Australia, Taiwan, Uruguay, New Zealand, Belgium and Germany, to name a few.
"I've been really fortunate," Zwizanski said. "I've ridden for three different teams and we have guys in every region of the country. Racing is my only source of income. Some people just travel and do it as a hobby, but we are trying to cross the finish line with Kelly Benefit Strategies before anyone else.
"It's just like any other professional job."
Zwizanski loves the Philadelphia International Championship - the same race that Lance Armstrong first won in the Triple Crown on his way to earning $1 million in 1993 - because of the local flavor. He has raced from Center City to Manayunk and back - 10 times - every year since 2005.
He will have numerous friends, family and racing supporters sprinkled throughout the 14.4- mile course. The riders will do 10 laps of the course, plus three laps of Lemon Hill and Logan's Circle. The total is 156 miles.
"I enjoy hearing my name being called out throughout the race," Zwizanski said. "That is a nice feeling.
"I love Philly because it is my hometown race, but this is a big deal for a lot of the other guys. For a lot of guys - especially on my team - this is the biggest race in the country. They've got a great thing going with this race."
It's hard to believe the race that used to be the U.S. Pro Championship almost didn't happen at all.
Supporters scrambled for a sponsor after the race lost its designation as the American championship in 2005. This year, 252 riders representing 26 countries will try to tackle the grueling course.
As for the famed Manayunk Wall, Zwizanski has a unique perspective. It is as grueling as it looked when he was a freshman in high school.
"When you look at the wall itself, it doesn't look that bad," he said. "I've seen hills a lot bigger and a lot longer. Everyone can push hard up the wall once, but it is a different story to do it 10 times.
"That's what makes the hill so tough. There are some European stages that are this long, but [156 miles] is pretty long. We don't race that far that often, we break it up into stages."
On Sunday, Zwizanski hopes to top his best finish (27th overall in 2006) in his hometown race.
He will do so trying to conquer the edifice that drew him to the sport 18 years ago. *