Just how hard is The Wall?
June 2, 2011By Jeanette Woods
Video by Annie Bydlon
The Boston Marathon has Heartbreak Hill, the Tour de France has the peaks of Col du Tourmalet and the TD BANK Philadelphia International Cycling Championship has the fearsome Manayunk Wall.
This Sunday, cyclists will compete in the 156-mile race, which includes ten climbs up the steep incline through Manayunk and Roxborough, known as the Wall.
The hill begins at the foot of Lyceum Avenue -- a nice name for a nasty hill. Aside from all of the residents who've slipped down it in an ice storm, it takes its toll on the group of world class cyclists who tackle its 17-percent grade. But what does a 17-percent grade mean? How steep is steep? We wanted to find out.
I called Sam Bydlon who has a degree in Mathematics from Penn State. He agreed to crunch some numbers for us. After a lot of complicated calculations, he came up with a grand total equivalent of 420 stories for 10 climbs up the wall.
Frank Havnoonian, who owns Drexel Hill Cycles in Drexel Hill, knows how tough the climb is. He's been on the Philadelphia cycling scene for more than 40 years and has ridden up the wall before.
As he explains in the video, "The elite cyclists use the Manayunk wall as a way to separate the men from the boys."
For a racer's perspective, we caught up with 25-year-old Michael Chauner, on a practice ride, to find out how it really felt to pedal the wall. Chauner's father was one of the men who started the race 27 years ago. Micheal has been attending the race as a spectator since he was a baby. But Sunday will be his his first time competing in the race.
Michael agreed to ride up the hill with us. Even though he is at the peak of fitness, the hill still gave him a good work out. By the top he was triumphantly drenched in sweat. His simple strategy for getting up the hill was not to over think it, but to "take a deep breath, and think happy thoughts."
This year, thousands of cheering, cow bell ringing spectators will be on hand to encourage racers throughout the six or so hours it takes to complete the entire course - including those 10 struggles up the Manayunk wall.