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[Fred David/The Summer Pennsylvanian] American Chris Wherry raises his arms as he crosses the line to win the USPRO Championships Sunday. Wherry broke away on Lemon Hill in the race's final lap to seize the victory.

Last fall, cyclist Chris Wherry nearly lost his life when he and a teammate were nearly killed when they were jumped by a gang of five men while camping on a Mexican beach during a surfing trip. On Sunday, the 31-year-old cyclist was standing on the podium in Philadelphia pulling on the stars and stripes jersey of the USPRO Cycling champion.

For Wherry, it was good fortune just being able to ride another day. After a group of men jumped him and a friend while the two were camping in Mexico during the offseason, Wherry was forced to fight for his life and managed to escape with only minor scrapes and bruises.

"It really made me kind of reassess my life after we came out of it," said Wherry. "I refocused my career and apparently it worked. Thanks to those guys that beat me up in Mexico."

Unlike previous years when the race came down to a sprint finish, the 2005 edition of the 156-mile USPRO Cycling Championship was decided by a three-man breakaway that got away from the lead group in the last of 10 laps that looped from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to Manayunk and back.

The Team Health Net/Maxxis rider was able to get away along with two other American riders: Wherry's good friend and pre-race favorite Chris Horner of the Saunier Duval-Prodir team and Danny Pate of Jelly Belly-Pool Gel.

The three riders raced out ahead of each other repeatedly during the race's final miles trying to end up alone in the lead going into the finish. As the riders climbed Lemon Hill for the final time Wherry sprung free and raced away from Horner and Pate while the two waited to see who would chase first.

"I thought if I could get over Lemon Hill I thought I'd at least have a shot at the sprint," Wherry said. "I just happened to get the gap and from then on it was everything I had."

By the time Horner and Pate began their persuit, Wherry had all the advantage he needed and the Durango, Colo., rider sprinted down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards the Art Museum and crossed the finish line in a time of 6:11:55 for the biggest win of his career. Pate and Horner followed Wherry finishing in the same time to give the race only its second all-American podium in its 21-year history.

Wherry credited the scorching heat, which hovered in the 90s through most of the race, for giving himself and other Americans an advantage in a race usually dominated by European riders.

"We don't race this long in America except for this one day," he said. "But our advantage as Americans is we race in some hot climates. And it was really hot today."

Wherry 's remark seemed a bit of an understatement on a day that saw 106 of the race's 183 riders fail to finish.

On the Manayunk Wall, a half-mile-long hill named for its steep 17-degree incline, riders sought relief from the heat by riding through the spray from a hose Manayunk resident Bill O'Brien had set up along the course.

Race officials estimated over half a million spectators braved the heat and lined the course throughout the day to see the cyclists race through the streets of Philadelphia.

From the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, to Lemon Hill in Fairmount Park and out to Manayunk, fans made the most of a beautiful, June day.

In Manayunk, fans held parties along the Wall and down Main Street. Spectators walked up and down the course and listened to the various bands that had set up along the route while they waited for the cyclists. As the helicopters began to appear overhead and the horns from the race caravan came closer, the fans flocked back to the barricades to cheer the cyclists as they struggled by.

On Lemon Hill, a similar scenario played out as fans set up tents and grills and spent the majority of the race tailgating while they waited for the cyclists to whiz by.

For a sport which for most Americans begins and ends with Lance Armstrong ? who missed the USPRO Championship to race in the prologue of the Criterium du Dauphine Liebere in France ? the annual Philadelphia race has become the most important day of the year for exposing professional cycling to Americans.

"It's everything," said King of the Mountains winner and Team Seasilver rider Adam Livingston. "The sponsors come in. Everyone comes in. It's so exciting."

Livingston had nothing but praise for the fan who came out to urge the racers on.

"I can't even describe how loud it is," he said. "I 'm hurting but I could just go harder because everyone's screaming."

When asked to compare the fans in Philadelphia to the crowd at the second largest cycling race in America, the San Francisco Grand Prix, Livingston said smiling, "I think it's a little louder here."

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