BEDFORD - Midway through the six-day American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania bike race, cyclists found themselves trying to trudge up the steep Allegheny Mountain Range.
The cyclists, all of whom are under the age of 25, began to spread out as the climb, heat, humidity and wind began to take its toll in their ride toward downtown Bedford.
"I like climbing," said Steven Van Vooren, who was wearing the yellow jersey of the overall race leader Thursday, "but today was a little harder than it should have been. I had some problems today climbing. Yesterday, the climb was not hard."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
James Driscoll (right) crosses the finish line first on Penn Street in Bedford at the Tour of Pennsylvania bike race.
"Today was really hard, especially with the heat and the humidity," said 19-year-old Peter Salon, who was wearing his first jersey for being the best young racer. "The wind was all day in one direction. It never let up. I'm amazed with what this guy did today."
That guy was Colorado's Peter Stetina, the VMG/Felt team member who separated himself from the pack on two climbs. Afterward, he was wearing the King of the Mountain jersey and the jersey for the most aggressive racer.
The gap, however, closed as the race got closer to Bedford. In about the last mile of the 104-mile race from Camp Hill, a pack of cyclists caught Stetina, and 21-year-old James Driscoll raced past racing fans and media to the finish line at Penn and South Juliana.
"If there was any more hesitation, he [Stetina] probably would have taken it," said Driscoll, who rides for Fiordifrutta Cycling Team. "It was like one of those Tour de France finishes you see on TV. The pace by the teams that were chasing down Stetina was definitely pretty hard.
"I was tailgunning [hanging in the back of the back] the entire time off the climb into the finish. The sprinters that were in that group were doing most of the work to bring back Stetina."
"I almost would have likes to have seen [Stetina] win," said 23-year-old Sheldon Deeny, who finished second in the stage. That would have been amazing. It was an amazing ride by Peter."
Stetina, who was putting down liquids and food to keep up his energy during the race, was feeling a little queasy at a post-race press conference.
"I ate so much sugar in the last 40 K [24 miles] that my stomach is turning inside out," he said.
Disregarding the upset stomach, Stetina appears to be at his best, but he says he was unsure of himself coming into the race.
"I had a little end-of-the-spring sickness going on," he said. "I had real good form before that in the early spring. I think there's more to be had. Today, I was quite surprised about how I felt. I knew from the beginning that today was going to be a good day, so I had to go with it."
Most of the cyclists had never been to Bedford, but some of them had ridden in the Tour de 'Toona. Driscoll has ridden in the Altoona race the last three years without much success.
"I was pretty young, so I was pretty much a passenger on the train," Driscoll quipped.
The Tour of Pennsylvania race is a chance for most of the best young riders to find some success in a sport dominated by older cyclists.
"It's definitely a great opportunity for all of us," Driscoll said. "It's big exposure. It's a hard race, but it's more attainable for the strong amateurs and younger guys. [The older guys] do it for a living, so they take control. I don't do as nearly as many races as they do."
Today's stage begins at 11 a.m. in Bedford, covers nearly 60 miles and finishes in Latrobe. The cylists will work their way up Bald Knob Summit and Laurel Hill Summit along the way.
"I was pretty much hanging on. I made it by the skin of my teeth," Deeny said. "Tomorrow's climb is probably the hardest climb of the race. I'll just try to get as far as I can."