Remembering the Fabulous CoreStates and Liberty Classic Road Races held on the Streets of Philadelphia!

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By Dave Campbell — In 1981, the U.S. had four men’s professional road racers and women’s professional cycling didn’t even exist. Initial attempts to determine a US Pro National champion were scattered, random, and informal to put it mildly. By 1983, a big money criterium in Baltimore was held to determine a US Pro champion, but since there were so few American professionals, both amateurs and foreign pros were allowed to race. A US amateur (Davis Phinney) actually won the race and the $25,000 first prize, our best pro Greg Lemond didn’t attend, and John Eustice (15th placed overall finisher) was crowned US Pro champion. Not the ideal scenario for a newly developing professional scene in America! Following the 1984 Olympics, however, Phinney and his contemporaries (Alexi Grewal, Andy Hampsten, Ron Kiefel, Doug Shapiro, etc.) turned professional and a true American professional field finally came into existence.

Marty Jemison, third from right, helps power winning break at US Pro Championships in Philadelphia in 1999. Jemison was first American and earned the USA stars and stripes jersey as US Pro champion. Photo by Daniel Afzal Courtesy U.S. Postal Service

By 1985, Dave Chauner, Jack Simes, and Jerry Casale (the same guys that started the USPRO organization to sanction American professional riders) put together a true National Championship Road Race to determine a USPRO champion. Initially financially backed by the CoreStates bank, the 156-mile event was held on a circuit in Philadelphia in mid-June (at the same time as other nation’s Championships and as per UCI regulations) which first became known first as the CoreStates USPRO Championship. Given the still reasonably small size of the American Pro peloton, the organizers invited European pros as well. This occasionally created a “race within a race” as the foreigners could win the event (and big money as the race sported a $250,000 purse) while the Americans fought for the Stars and Stripes jersey. The big American teams and pros, however, always wanted to win the race outright!

While just a few thousand fans saw 7-Eleven’s Eric Heiden win the inaugural event, his celebrity helped generate loads of media interest (even a “Sports Illustrated” write-up!) and the event exploded in popularity among the public and prestige among the riders. The race quickly grew and by the early 90s over 100,000 fans regularly lined the streets of Center City, Fairmount Park, and the famous climb (“The Wall” which hit 17%) of Manayunk. The event ran as CoreStates through 1997, adding a women’s event in 1994 (The Liberty Classic) serving as the men’s US Pro Championship from 1985 through 2005. Different banks came and went as title sponsors (First Union, Wachovia, Commerce Bank, TD Bank) but the final editions were owned by the city so from 2013 to 2016 both men’s and women’s events were known as The Philadelphia International Cycling Classic. Let’s test your knowledge of a much loved and dearly missed June race that the riders simply knew as “PHILLY!”

Q1. Only one rider ever won the men’s race outright for two years in a row. Can you name him and the years he accomplished this feat?

Q2. Who was the winningest woman over the years at the Liberty Classic?

Q3. Which American man won the most National titles on the Philly course?

Q4. Five-time Olympic Gold Medalist (Speed Skating) Eric Heiden won the inaugural edition of the men’s event in 1985, but who was the first ever women’s winner?

Q5. Who was the first foreign winner of the Men’s race? What year did this finally take place?

Q6. Under the banner of “The Liberty Classic”, no American woman was ever the winner! It is worth noting that American riders claimed second no fewer than nine times! However, one North American did win the event! Can you name her?

For Answers, click below to page 2.

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