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Mina Pizzini was among the 226 women cyclists to ride in the First Union Liberty Classic. With the Tour de France not slated to begin until later in the summer, cycling enthusiasts have to turn somewhere else in these early summer months. Last weekend, they turned to the City of Brotherly Love. All eyes in the world of cycling were indeed on Philadelphia this past Sunday, as some of the world's top cyclists pedaled their way around a 14.5 mile loop that runs from the Art Museum, down Kelly Drive, through the streets of Manayunk -- and back again. The big stories of the weekend were those of First Union U.S. Pro Championship winner George Hincapie and his teammate on the U.S. Postal Service team, Lance Armstrong. The Penn community, however, also had a link to the event, as Mina Pizzini participated in the women's race. Hincapie -- who was disqualified last year when it was ruled that he drafted behind a team car for a portion of the race -- was able to keep his U.S. championship this year after he crossed the finish line a wheel length ahead of the front pack. "This is the biggest race in America," Hincapie said. "Last year was devastating for me, but professional cyclists have to go on." Hincapie's words seem to portray the determination of his teammate, a professional cyclist who has gone on after conquering a major obstacle. Armstrong, the U.S. Pro Champion in 1993, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 and is now trying to make his way back onto the U.S. cycling circuit. Armstrong led for much of the race before dropping back in the final miles, finishing 33rd. While Hincapie and Armstrong captured national attention on Sunday, Pizzini, one of the few amateurs at Sunday's festival, rode to less fanfare. Pizzini, a second-year doctoral candidate in the Wharton School, was one of the 226 cyclists invited to race in the 57.6 mile First Union Liberty Classic, the female counterpart to the 156 mile U.S. Pro Championships. Pizzini, who finished in the second pack of riders after many of the professionals pulled away from the rest of the riders, also rode in the Liberty Classic last year. This time, however, the race was more prestigious, as it was recently named a World Cup event. "Last year, half the field was amateurs like me," Pizzini said. "This year, there were probably only ten or fifteen women that don't do this for a living." Unlike last year, when most top amateurs were permitted to enter the Liberty Classic, only invited riders were able to participate in Sunday's race. Pizzini, who finished second in the road race at the collegiate nationals this spring as a member of the Penn cycling team, raced for the Tri State Composite team in the Liberty Classic. In last year's race -- which was then known as the CoreStates Liberty Classic -- Pizzini finished in the third pack. With the race's new status resulting from the World Cup designation, Pizzini did not know what to expect before the race. She found herself in the second pack for most of the race. "It basically broke into two groups after the second time over the Wall," Pizzini said. "I was in the second group, and we were pretty far back." The "Wall" Pizzini speaks of is perhaps the most famous part of the entire First Union race course. After cruising through the cozy streets of Manayunk, the riders are treated to a narrow, 285-foot uphill climb that the majority of racers agree is the most difficult part of the course. "It's hard," Pizzini said. "The hardest part is really being in good position at the bottom of the Wall. When you have 90 people and the roads get really narrow, you're all long and stretched out." After conquering the Wall four times, Pizzini crossed the finish line, though her time was much slower than the winning time of 2:22:18 achieved by Germany's Petra Rossner, who raced for Vizir/Russian National Team. Rossner raced for Russia because Germany did not enter a team. For now, Pizzini is spending much of her time concentrating on her studies, but she will participate in a few more races this season. "I ride for a club here in Philadelphia (Tri State Composite), and I plan to do a lot of racing this summer," Pizzini said. While racing this summer, Pizzini will also be improving for next year's collegiate season. She also hopes to race in next year's Liberty Classic, because after all, it is only another 12 months before the cycling world once again focuses on Philly.

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