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By Bryan Jew, VeloNews assistant managing editor
I saw Ichiro Suzuki the other day. Now, I’m no stargazer, but I have to admit it was a surprise, and a little bit cool, to see the Seattle Mariners’ star as I was taking a stroll through the streets of Philadelphia. The man’s definitely got an aura, even if I only saw him for the three seconds it took him to walk from the side door of the Ritz-Carlton to the bus waiting to drive the team to the Vet for that night’s game. And of course, he needed to have his Oakleys on for that three seconds outside.
I took the sighting as a sign, that I needed to go to the Vet to catch a game, and grab a cheese steak that night. It was a bit of a sad sight, as the lame-duck stadium hosted an announced “crowd” of 16,000 on a drizzly night in Philadelphia, but I still enjoyed my $5.50 beer as I watched Ichiro go 4-for-5 and the Mariners beat the home team.
Without fudging any numbers, I can say unequivocally that there will be more people on the streets of Philly on Sunday than saw the entire three-game series with the best team in baseball during the week. And the food options will be better too.
Some riders may hold back a little bit at the Wachovia opener in Lancaster, hoping to save themselves for the USPRO Championship in Philadelphia. Not Chris Horner. One of the nine riders to make the final break — only 23 out of 163 finished the race — Horner finished the race completely spent. “I don’t know if that helped my Philly form any,” he said on Tuesday. “I was going so deep. I never have to go that deep. It was unbelievable. That was the hardest I’ve raced in a long time.”
While many eyes will be on Horner for the USPRO title on Sunday, don’t overlook his Saturn teammate Mark McCormack. McCormack was impressive in finishing second at Lancaster, and said he felt strong again at Trenton. And remember, McCormack made the winning break at Philadelphia last year, despite having only a few weeks of training to recover from being hit by a car.
“I’m definitely feeling like I’ve timed my form well, and our team is such a strong team that we have a good opportunity this weekend, if things work out,” said McCormack.
Despite his good form, though, McCormack said on Thursday that no one was yet a certainty for Sunday. “We don’t even know the nine riders right now, honestly,” he said. “We’re still waiting for Andrezj [Bek] to make his final decision. He’s actually in a tough position. He’s got 12 riders here, all capable of doing the job they have to do.”
McCormack did add though that last year “was the first time I honestly believed I had a chance to win a race like [USPRO], and I feel like I’m 50 percent stronger than I was last year.”
Defending Philly champion Mark Walters’s season got off to a slow start, after it was discovered that his body wasn’t producing enough thyroid hormone. “The whole season’s been a big fight, but I’m coming around now,” he said on Wednesday. “The thyroid-hormone levels are not 100 percent, but they’re very close to normal now, and I’m sure I’m in a better condition that way than last year, as far as the hormone levels are concerned.”
Walters did the Navigators’ spring European campaign, which included racing right after the team’s February training camp in Italy, returning to the States and then going back over in April, and admits that it was a struggle at times.
“It was hard,” he said. “I had to totally change the way I train. At first I couldn’t handle doing two consecutive days. I had to go one day hard, one day easy. When I went back [in April], I felt pretty strong at first, but I didn’t have any endurance. I would last 70 or 80 miles and then I would go out the back. Up until that point I could race aggressively in the races, and then … just be done. The last few races I did over there were both 110-120 mile races, and I was able to finish them and finish them strong, and was able to help out the guys quite a bit at the end. In those two short weeks that I was there I went from only lasting 70 miles to lasting over 120, so that was good.”
Walters believes he’s in form to tackle Philly’s 156 miles, and that his entire team is ready for the race. “Henk [Vogels] really wants the race. I really want it. Vassili really wants it. It’s going to be a combination of who has a good day and who has the right opportunity at the end.”
While Walters’s team is ready to assume the role of race favorites, defending USPRO national champion Chann McRae says he’ll be happy to be an underdog again. “I just want to play it like a wild card again, and not go out and race like I’m the defending champion,” he said. “I think it’s just better to go out and try and do what I did last year, when I wasn’t a favorite at all.”
Despite wanting to keep a low profile during the race, McRae, who has also been training for Ironman triathlons, has definitely targeted Philly as one of his big events of the year. “I actually rested for this, so I have pretty good legs,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve rested in quite a while.”
After Philly, the Schroeder Iron rider will begin ramping up for the North American Ironman championship in Lake Placid, New York.