What the Indianapolis 500 is to car racing and the Kentucky Derby is to horse racing, the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship is to cycling. And that's just what Dave Chauner and Jerry Casale envisioned back in 1985.
The Philadelphia natives have witnessed the fruition of this dream, experiencing the highs and the lows with the event they birthed 26 years ago. This year's race takes place Sunday.
For Chauner, it's still hard to believe that the race has become a major event.
"At that point, I probably was not thinking that far ahead," he said of those early years. "We definitely wanted to establish a real classic that would become a signature event for the sport. I always felt that cycling was a great sport and that it needed to be in a public eye more and I think we really accomplished that."
The bike race has become the biggest single day race in the United States and has earned the highest international ranking that can be achieved for a race of its kind.
Not only does the race bring in the top cyclists from around the world, it has become Philadelphia's unofficial start of summer. Aside from watching the racers sweat through a grueling 156-mile course, an atmosphere has been created that has allowed even non-cycling fans to enjoy a day out on the Parkway.
"There is no other bike race in the United States that is held in a major metropolitan city," Chauner said. "That is really cool. It has lasted so long because it links the center of the city. That was one of the original justifications for the city supporting the event when we started it."
One of the reasons the event has become so popular is the challenging Manayunk Wall. The favorite spot on the course is Levering Street, which racers know all to well as the beginning of the climb along the wall. The name was coined when Chauner and Casale began mapping out the course during the race's inception.
"One of the things that we always wanted to do was create a multilap race so that the people could see the guys coming by many times and we really felt that going through the Manayunk area was the signature point of the race," Chanuer said. "Our thought was that we really needed to create a focal point for the race that draws spectators. This is athletic prowess at its best."
One would think that the weekend-long parties and expos would take the spotlight away from the amazing athletes. This is not the case, according to Chauner.
"Any major public event like this, part of it is attraction," he said. "It creates a lot of excitement. People come out for the spectacle. They are out there because it's a happening. It creates a great atmosphere for the city. It's a great day for Philadelphia."
But despite the excitement the event has built up for the city, all has not been well. Securing funding is not easy, and there were troubles in 2009 and 2008, when the city stopped being the race's main sponsor. TD Bank is this year's sponsor.
Chauner says there have been a record number of hotel rooms reserved this year. Special events, such as the amateur race, have become big attractions as well. The scope of the race will be widened even more with it being broadcast on national television for the first time. About 100 million households will be reached via the nine regional networks of Versus and Comcast SportsNet.
"The funding in the last couple years has been very challenging," Chauner said. "We are not out of that by any means. We are committed to producing the events. There is a certain quality that we have to keep with this race to preserve our ranking as one of the top races in the world. We are always looking for ways to increase the revenue."
On Sunday, these issues will be blocked by images of the past, present and a very hopeful future.
"There are so many different experiences that we have had," a reflective Chauner said. "What I think has been most gratifying is seeing all of the people that it has affected. We've seen young kids get inspired to become professional racers. We have seen families that have come back year after year. If there is any legacy that the event would provide, it's really the legacy of creating a great event for the city that many people find inspiration for and love to come out for and be with the family."
What: The 26th running of the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship sponsored by TD Bank.
Where: The course circuit links the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the community of Manayunk.
Television: Versus (Sunday: 1:30) and Comcast Sportsnet (Sunday: noon-3:30), Race Replay (Sunday: 6:30), 1986 Race Replay (Saturday: 2 p.m.)
Race Particulars: Spectators will be treated to a showcase of 25 of the top pro cycling teams in the world. On the women's side, there will be more than 100 professional cyclists for the 16th annual Liberty Classic, one of the longest-running women's races in the country.
Start times: The men's race starts at 9 a.m., goes 156 miles and the purse is $51,690. The women's race starts 9:10, travels 56 miles and the purse is $22,810. Junior men start 11:45 and go 5 miles for a $500 purse.
How many in your party?: As much as this is a race, it is also a party for some. Just ask the riders who have to deal with the noise of bands playing and the sight of fans having a good time while grunting up the Manayunk Wall. While some of the world's best cyclists battle it out for the Philadelphia Cycling Championship, fans will also have some exciting activities on tap to kill time during the 156-mile race.
New addition: The Philadelphia Bicycle Show, presented by Bicycling Magazine today and tomorrow at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, will move to the race course at the Art Museum on Sunday.
Catch a ride: Tomorrow, those not named Lance Armstrong can participate in the Amateur Time Trials (7 a.m.). The 8-mile course starts and finishes at the Art Museum. The main event on Sunday will offer a wide variety of attractions. The Philadelphia Cycling, Health & Fitness Expo (8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.) will share information on the latest in cycling and fitness. The entire family is covered at the Family Fun Zone (8 a.m. to race finale).
More info: Visit www.procyclingtour.com to find out more information on events, registration and ticket prices.