Updated 8:40 a.m.; 10:10 a.m.; 10:55 a.m.; 12:30 p.m.
Bicyclists aren’t the only ones facing an uphill climb in Manayunk this year: The Philadelphia International Cycling Classic has been cancelled.
Or as the official website puts it, “We’re taking a break in 2017.”
After we reached out, a spokesperson for the Classic replied with a fuller statement, citing lack of sponsors as reason for the cancellation:
Regrettably, even after extensive fundraising efforts, we were not able to find enough sponsors interested in covering the $1 million cost of the bike race to host it this year. While we are disappointed, we remain committed to working with Councilman [Curtis] Jones as well as the East Falls, Roxborough and Manayunk commercial corridors on other events, including a Free Streets event in that area.
The spokesperson referred all further questions to the City of Philadelphia, “as the owner of the event.” Contacted via email, Philadelphia Deputy Communications Director Ajeenah Amir replied with the exact same statement as above, adding: “The City has not ruled out pursuing opportunities for a potential return in 2018.”
This was obviously a very recent decision. A Facebook comment from organizers on Jan. 17 says to a former participant, “We look forward to seeing you again this year.”
The annual race, which Manayunk has hosted every year since 1985 in one form or another, was a stop on the professional International Cycling Union (UCI) tour. Last year’s competition came with a purse of $30,000 for the men’s and women’s winners.
It was also a big boon for local businesses, bringing out big crowds of spectators who would also shop, eat and drink during their day spent meandering through the Philly neighborhood nestled next to the Schuylkill.
Local business organization Manayunk Development Corporation responded to the news on Friday afternoon, describing “a deep sense of regret” about the loss of the 2017 event. A statement from MDC Executive Director Jane Lipton placed blame on the rising costs of public affairs because of terrorism concerns:
The grim reality is that security costs to stage large-scale events of this nature have spiraled nearly out-of-control. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon tragedy and, more recently, the terrorist attacks in Paris and Germany, Homeland Security and local police are mandating that extraordinary and costly security measures be put in place before granting permission to host these types of large, outdoor events.
This isn’t the first time the race’s existence has been imperiled. In January 2013, organizers announced that the contest — then known as the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship — was taking a year off. Race founder David Chauner cited rising costs and lack of sponsors; turned out he still owed the city upwards of $300,000 from the previous year.
The move caught many people by surprise, and spurred public outcry from longtime fans. The MDC immediately vowed to do everything they could to salvage the storied event, which counted Lance Armstrong among its champions (he won in 1993 at age 21, three years before his cancer diagnosis).
One longtime fan was Congressman Bob Brady, who was unwilling to accept the race’s demise. He worked with elected officials, the MDC and private financial backers, including sports entrepreneur Richard Adler, to create a replacement event. Dubbed the Philly Cycling Classic, it had a different, shorter route, but at least it was something — and it kept the most grueling and fascinating part of the race: The climb up the brutally steep “Manayunk Wall.”
The race has continued each year since then…until now.
Late Friday morning, Rep. Brady told Philly Mag that he would again try to intervene: “I’ll see what I can do to be helpful — see how much money they need and see if we can get it done again.”
MDC also expressed hope that the race would be revived, but warned that “government can’t be solely responsible for footing the bill.”