Reijnen defends title at Philly Cycling Classic

For Reijnen, victory came not only as vindication — he started the race as defending champion — it also served as the ultimate birthday present to himself

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PHILADELPHIA (VN) — With the no.1 bib of the defending champion pinned on this back, UnitedHealthcare’s Kiel Reijnen stopped all challengers to take a second consecutive title at the Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic on Sunday.

After an explosive burst up the steep, kilometer-long Manayunk Wall in Philadelphia, Reijnen won the 120-mile, UCI 1.1 race, crossing the finish line well ahead of Jure Kocjan (SmartStop) and Dion Smith (Hincapie Development).

The win came as an added bonus for Reijnen, who was celebrating his 28th birthday.

“I was first onto the hill after [John] Murphy dropped me off, so I had to gauge the effort myself,” Reijnen said. “As soon as it steepened, I kicked, just a little dig, to see how people would respond, and there were a few counterattacks, I tagged onto that. I gave another kick, which kind of thinned it some more, and then towards the end of the steep part, I knew that was my last opportunity to kick. When I did that, and I saw the shadow that was on my wheel kind of back off a bit, I just went full. I guess it was enough, I never looked back.”

Video of Reijnen speaking with VeloNews immediately following his win can be found here.

Though the race no longer starts and finishes on Benjamin Franklin Parkway like its predecessor, the Philadelphia International Classic, it still uses Kelly Drive, Lemon Hill, and of course, the Manayunk Wall.

The 10-lap, 120-mile race was animated by an eight-man breakaway that didn’t form until about 35 miles in.

In the group was Jonny Clarke (UHC); Joey Rosskopf and Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Development Team); Blaz Jarc (NetApp-Endura); Tom Zirbel (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies); Clay Murfet (Astellas); Alex Wohler (Budget Forklifts); and David Williams (5-Hour Energy).

The gap to that group never stretched to more than about two minutes, however, as SmartStop, Optum and Jamis chased, with UnitedHealthcare’s Danny Summerhill, Jeff Louder, and Chris Jones patrolling the front of the peloton

“Initially, it took a while for the break to go,” Reijnen said. “This race is always a little bit risky, you can’t let 30 guys roll over the top of the hill, or you could be out of the race. You’ve always got to watch it, so that takes some effort. I think it was about 80km before the break went, so we had to do some early digs, and my legs felt that a little bit.”

Reijnen may have taken top honors, but the day was perhaps no more special than for Carpenter. The Philadelphia native grew up just one block away from the start/finish line, and  graduated from Swarthmore College at 10 a.m.  Sunday morning, showing up to the race with 30 minutes to spare; he rolled up to the start line with his graduation cap on. He then promptly rode into the day’s breakaway, and spent much of the race at the front.

“I guess I was just amped” Carpenter said. “It was a crazy day. On the climb, where it starts to level off, that’s where my contingent of family and friends were, and I didn’t even have to pedal up the second half of the Wall. You get goosebumps, and you can’t tell if they are from dehydration, or just the moment.”

Rosskopf, Carpenter’s teammate, took the day’s KOM points from the breakaway, largely uncontested.

With two laps remaining, and SmartStop, Optum and Jamis chasing, that group was brought back, and a five-man breakaway went clear, containing Isaac Bolivar (UnitedHealthcare), Joeseph Schmalz (Hincapie), Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly), and Josh Berry (SmartStop). Canadian rider Bruno Langlois bridged across to make it a five-man move with a 30-second advantage. Berry scooped up enough sprint points from the break to take the day’s sprint competition.

“Around halfway through, I could see some tired faces in the field. It was thinning, and I still felt okay,” Reijnen said. “The second to last time up Lemon Hill, I wasn’t trying very hard and I just kind of went from the back to the front, I didn’t even realize it, and at that point, I knew I had the legs.”

Atop the penultimate climb of Manayunk, just as the splintering peloton was reaching the break, Langlois jumped from the  break and crossed the finish line, arms aloft, one lap too early, a sight that has been oddly common in this 2014 season.

A group of about 40 survivors battled throughout the last lap, with UnitedHealthcare at the front, fighting to keep Reijnen in position. He came through the final turn at the bottom of the climb first, and one long kilometer later, crossed the finish line in the same position.

“The team made it so easy. I didn’t have to do anything, all day long,” Reijnen said. “They kept me protected, they kept me well hydrated, fed, the whole thing. Coming into the last climb they just said, ‘sit,’ and dragged me around the last lap. [John] Murphy took me into the last corner. In that final stretch, he said ‘which side do you want to come in on me?’ and I said ‘the right side,’ and he said ‘on the left-hand turn?’ and I said ‘I thought you meant the first turn,’ and he said, ‘no, no, I’ll take you to the base of the climb.’ And I said ‘I only want you to keep going if you’re first through the corner,’ and he said ‘I’ll be first through the corner,’ and he was first. I owe a big thanks to those guys.”

Asked about his finish-line salute, which included one hand over his chest and one finger pointed to the sky, Reijnen said it was dedicated to his wife, Jordan, who had encouraged him to “follow my heart,” in his racing. He also spoke of a hawk feather he’d had fastened to his helmet on the day.

“I was racing with my heart in the last 300 meters,” he said. “That’s what my wife always tells me to do. I think it’s really easy to overthink a finish like that. I wanted to do it by feel. For me, the hawk feather means that —  ‘race with your heart, race by feel, race because you love it.’ The feather comes from a cabin that belongs to my wife’s family, up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado. I go there to train a lot, and we’ve spent a lot of time there since we got married.”

Reijnen was the second repeat winner on Sunday; in the morning’s women’s race, Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon) also defended her 2013 title.

Like the women’s field, the men’s field offered a total prize list of $31,000, with cash payouts going 25 deep, as well as prizes to the winner of the KOM, sprint, and under-23 competitions.

Rosskopf won the KOM competition; Josh Berry (SmartStop) won the sprint competition. Jelly Belly rider Jacob Rathe finished ninth and took the $1,000 prize as best young rider.

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