As he drove along Manayunk Avenue, Ed Weirauch recalled tales from his grandmother, remembering that her reason for having strong legs was from walking the hills of the sloping Philadelphia neighborhood.
On Sunday morning, Weirauch was fortunate to have a good set of brakes as he drove a large white van up the famed Manayunk Wall during the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship.
In his fourth year behind the wheel of the race's press van, Weirauch is in charge of dropping off photographers and reporters at various locales along the 14.4-mile course. A cyclist himself, he said he is sometimes disappointed that he misses out on watching the race but said the gig is great to brag about to fellow cyclists.
A resident of Wilmington, Weirauch is originally from Cherry Hill. His great-grandparents, Elizabeth and Martin Crennan, settled in Manayunk from Ireland, and he still has a good amount of family in the neighborhood. He has been involved with the race for 10 years, working closely with the public relations department.
As he drove up the 17 percent grade of the Manayunk Wall on Levering Street, Weirauch didn't have much room for error as the already narrow street had become even narrower with the placement of barricades on both sides. The van seemed like a roller coaster ascending.
He said he simply needs to be careful of the van's balance when turning.
"It's really a thrill. I'm riding on the wrong side of the road, going 50 miles an hour," Weirauch said. He had to drive on the opposite side of Kelly Drive to avoid the oncoming peloton.
As he drove slowly down Main Street, several partygoers signaled for Weirauch to honk his horn. He obliged and satisfied the growing crowd, which Weirauch said swells around noontime. He said the fans don't create obstacles to his route: "They're more interested in having a good time and getting their picture taken than getting hit by the press van."
The course begins at the Art Museum and stretches along the Schuylkill, then winds through the hills of Manayunk and Fairmount Park before looping back to the start. The 208 men's cyclists travel the route 10 times for a total of 156 miles. Weirauch said the course is planned perfectly, and there is no one-day race in the country like it.
"It left me breathless when I first saw it," he said.