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Manayunk cycling vet Walton has expertise, stories to share

It's been 11 years since Brian Walton retired from professional cycling, but time hasn't blanched one of the most vivid memories of an accomplished career.

Brian Walton, 45, has many stories of climbing the Manayunk Wall. (Ray Parrillo/Staff)
Brian Walton, 45, has many stories of climbing the Manayunk Wall. (Ray Parrillo/Staff)Read more

It's been 11 years since Brian Walton retired from professional cycling, but time hasn't blanched one of the most vivid memories of an accomplished career.

It occurred on June 4, 1995, at the CoreStates U.S. Pro Cycling Championships. The race, now the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship, is set for Sunday with approximately 200,000 people lining the course for the 156-mile race.

On that day 16 years ago, Walton helped take down Lance Armstrong.

"We took on Lance and roughed him up," said Walton, an East Norriton resident who is co-owner of the Cadence Cycling and Multisport Center in Manayunk. "It took two of us to take care of him, but not many can say that."

Riding for Motorola at the time, Armstrong had yet to begin his run of seven consecutive Tour de France victories, but by 1995 he was established and pegged as a favorite in the Philly race. Walton was riding for Saturn. One of his teammates was Norm Alvis. Armstrong led by 40 seconds with a small group of four riders chasing, Walton among them. They caught Armstrong with six miles to go, and that's when Alvis attacked.

Ultimately, Alvis held off an Italian, Maurizio de Pasquale, and American Clark Sheehan to win the race. Walton had helped take some steam out of Armstrong. Walton finished third, Armstrong fourth.

"We had a solid team, but we had no one to match Lance one-on-one," Walton recalled. "I was having a special day. I remember I felt incredible for the race, so when Lance started to get away it wasn't too difficult for me to chase him down."

Walton, 45, who was born in Ottawa, is a three-time Canadian Olympic team member who won silver in the points race in the 1996 Olympic Games. He was a 10-time road and track national champion. Walton competed in the Philadelphia International 11 times. He finished second in 1999 and fourth in 1994.

Obviously, he knows the 14.4-mile course and is well-schooled in the strategy involved to traverse it. That knowledge will come in handy as he helps direct the Danish team in Sunday's race. Walton's duties included helping the Danish riders get acclimated to the city. He's organized a team dinner that will be held Saturday night in Manayunk.

Prior to Sunday's race, he will offer the riders tactical support. During the race, Walton will follow the team in a car, prepared to help with wheel changes and problems that may occur.

Walton said it's easy to tell when race day is nearing. All he has to do is look out the front window of his shop and see the increased number of cyclists on Main Street.

"You see a lot of people along Main Street riding a bike," he said. "Mostly, though, there's a buzz. Not among the cyclists but among everybody else. You keep hearing 'The bike race is in town, the bike race is in town.' "

Walton said that despite his international experience, the response the cyclists receive from the crowd as they climb the Manayunk Wall is among the most unforgettable.

"The cheering for the athletes, the respect everybody has for the athletes, is fantastic and very motivating," he said. "I tell people it's almost impossible to get dropped, if you have a soul."

Cycling Teams to Watch Sunday

Here are some teams to keep an eye on during Sunday's TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship and Liberty Classic:

Top 5 Men's Teams

1. HTC-Highroad

This was the team of the winner the last two years and one of the two teams racing from the top-level ProTour division . Even though the last two winners are not racing this year, the team is always deep and includes current track world champion Leigh Howard and 22-year-old American phenom Tejay Van Garderen.

2. Liquigas-Cannondale

This other ProTour team has probably the odds-on favorite in Peter Sagan, a rider who can win on any type of course and in any type of situation from a breakaway to a field sprint. He won two stages of the Tour of California last year and won another stage this year a few weeks ago.

3. Team Spidertech powered by C10

This new team from Canada is run by Steve Bauer, Canada's most decorated male cyclist and a former yellow jersey wearer in the Tour de France. American Pat McCarty recently won the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour of California, beating many top climbers from European teams.

4. UnitedHealthcare

Always a top team on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar, this team had the last domestic team winner of this race, in 2006. They have recent success with a 1-2 placing at the Wilmington Grand Prix with Jake Keough and Dutch rider Boy van Poppel and a second place at the Tour of Somerville with Aussie Karl Menzies. The team also comes off a big result with 3d overall at the Tour of California.

5. Team Type 1

This is a U.S. team that acquired a lot of international talent in the offseason and has a lengthy European racing schedule for 2011. Rubens Bertogliati is a former yellow jersey wearer at the Tour de France and was the Swiss national time trial champion in 2009 and 2010. Teammate Alexander Efimkin of Russia recently captured the 2011 Tour of Turkey.

Top 5 Women's Teams

1. HTC-Columbia

Like the men's team, they are the team of the winner the last two years. While the winner is not returning to defend, the team is still deep with talent. American Amber Neben is a former world champion in the time trial and already has finished on the podium at the Pan American Championships. Teammate Evelyn Stevens had her best year in 2010, culminating with the U.S. time trial championship and a top-10 finish in the world time trial championship.

2. Colavita Forno d'Asolo

One of the pre-race favorites, this team boasts current world champion Giorgia Bronzini of Italy, who won her title in a sprint finish. Philly resident Theresa Cliff-Ryan is also a sprinter by nature and finished third here last year, packing a powerful 1-2 punch for this team.

3. Diadora Pasta Zara

This is a well-rounded team that has cards to play in a breakaway or a field sprint. The current U.S. national champion, Mara Abbott, is a top road rider and time trialist, which should serve her well in a breakaway. Teammate Shelley Olds is also a successful track rider specializing in the endurance events.

4. TIBCO-To The Top

Veteran racer Meredith Miller is likely to be in a breakaway and is an engine that could power it to the finish. Joelle Numainville is the current Canadian road race champion and has plenty of top results in her young career, including a sixth in the prestigious Tour of Flanders this year.

5. Mellow Mushroom

One of the most consistent and veteran racers in the United State is Laura Van Gilder. The Cresco, Pa., native has won more races in her nearly two decades as a pro than some of the riders in the field have even entered. She is one of the top sprinters in the field and knows how to win out of the field.