Irish Under 23 national road champion Eddie Dunbar will compete Sunday in the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic as part of the Irish national team. The 178-kilometer race starts and finishes atop the infamous Manayunk Wall, a grueling climb featuring a 17 percent grade. We caught up with Dunbar on Friday, a day after he and the team flew in from Dublin and following a flurry of press conferences, TV appearances and a one-hour training ride.
How are you adapting to the jet lag before Sunday's race? It is not too bad. On the way over, the jet lag seems to be a lot easier to cope with, I have learned form traveling. The fact that the race starts at 8 o'clock in the morning helps because we often wake up earlier after traveling. So we will already be waking up before 6 a.m. So it should not be a disadvantage for us during the race. But certainly traveling home next week is not going to be pleasant.
Did you get a chance to climb the Manayunk Wall on your training ride Friday? No, we just did Lemon Hill (another famous climb that is part of the race). We only got an hour of riding in, so we just kind of went along the river on the cycle path. Lemon Hill was fine. But I have heard a lot of things about the Manayunk Wall. So we will definitely go up it on Saturday to see what it is all about.
The weather forecast is calling for rain most of the day on Sunday. Is that favorable to you? Yes, I talked to a couple of people involved in the race and they said it is definitely going to rain. It is just a question of how much it is going to rain. The course is not too technical, so a little rain is not going to bother an Irish rider. It will still be warm when it is raining, so I suspect it will be just fine.
Your first race back after breaking your collarbone in April, An Post Rás, seemed to go extremely well. I didn't know how my body was going to react to racing after six weeks off. My last race before breaking my collarbone was Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 on April 16 (won by Axeon Hagens Berman teammate Logan Owen). I just kind of built-up slowly as I came back to training. Every day, I built up a little bit more. I went into An Post Rás very fresh and every day I felt a lot of stronger. My only disappointment was on Stage 4 when I lost 15 seconds due to a mechanical problem. So that was a bit annoying. Without that mishap, I would have been right up there overall. (He finished fourth in the final standings.) But to win a stage, in my home race, and in my first race back, was very satisfying.
So your mechanical on Stage 4 was inside or outside the three-kilometer mark? I was with the group with four kilometers to go and had a mechanical. Basically, the skewer on my back wheel came loose. There was a twisting descent to the finish and I was with the group just fine. But I could not take the corners as fast as the group was taking them. So basically, I had to roll down to the three-kilometer mark and get a bike change. One of the guys on the Irish national team stopped with me. So at the time I stopped, I was going to get the same time as the Irish rider I was with. He went as hard as he could and he nearly caught the bunch just to limit the time loss for me. So it worked out well. It could have been minutes, but our team manager was quick-thinking and turned a very bad situation into a not-so-bad outcome.
We got the sense that all of Ireland was celebrating your stage win. The Irish support for cycling is unbelievable. Every day, there were incredible crowds. I have followed that race for years and I have never seen crowds as big as they were that week. It was really nice and an honor really – especially to win the stage wearing the Irish jersey. So many of the Axeon Hagens Berman guys contacted me afterwards to tell me I did a good job. It was nice. The support I get is second-to-none.
Have you heard if you will be working in service of someone else during Sunday's race or if you will be protected and be able to take your own chances? It is hard to know. I will have a better feeling for the course after I get a look at it. Since it finishes on the Manayunk Wall and because there is a lot of money on the line and races within the race – like the king of the mountains competition – it is going to be aggressive . But we have a good, strong Irish team here. So I am sure we will be very active.
What is next for you after the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic? I will fly back to Ireland for a week, then do Tour des Pays de Savoie in France. That will be my first race with Axeon Hagens Berman since Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It is five stages in four days. So I am looking forward to that. After that race, it is the time trial and road race national championships in my home country.
(Photo by Davey Wilson.)