By Al Mattei


PHILADELPHIA -- The most feared sight in women's cycling isn't the broom wagon, trailing behind the field to sweep up any competitors who have lost contact with the field.

Instead, it is the sight of a team clad in red and white checked jerseys, trimmed in black and gold.

Team Saturn has the dominant force in women's professional road cycling when the U.S. domestic tour made its annual tour through the Mid-Atlantic. Riders from that team won the lions' share of events. The team also pulled the ultimate in-your-face disgrace when, in the 2001 Clarendon (Va.) Cup criterium race, a two-woman Saturn breakaway put an entire lap on the rest of the field.

One of those women in the break was 36-year-old Petra Rossner of Leipzig, Germany. Her strength, along with those on Team Saturn, had been proven often since she started riding full-time in 1988.

But at the close of the 1990s, she started her dominance in one of the more difficult events to win: the First Union Liberty Classic.

The race is contested over a 14.4-mile circuit that winds its way from the Philadelphia Art Museum all the way to the suburb of Manayunk and back through city streets and parks.

But no matter whether the race is three laps (the length of the race in its first iteration) or the present five laps, it became clear that Rossner would be the dominating force.

"To win a race like this," Rossner said, "you need three things: A strong team, you have to be fit and motivated, and you have to have luck. And only if you have all three of these things then you can win a race."

With more than 100 competitors ready to counteract her every move, Rossner and the peloton set off in 2001 with a couple of duties. One was try to get any Saturn member on the front in the last 500 yards heading back towards the Philadelphia Art Museum -- especially if that member was Rossner. The second was to ensure that Saturn's Anna Millward retained the UCI World Cup leaders' jersey.

After a shade more than three hours, the mission was accomplished thanks to a bold sprint at the end by Rossner and a fine lead-out by Millward. While Millward retained the UCI jersey, Rossner took over the lead in the Pro Cycling Tour (PCT) standings.

The year afterwards, the task was to get Rossner the UCI World Cup championship. But the last of the four laps was to be as difficult a challenge as any she and her Saturn team would face.

The reason is that Kim Anderson and Dede Demet-Barry attacked up the final ascent up the Manayunk Wall, a half-mile ascent in the middle of the circuit that has become the signature hallmark of the race. Thousands pack the street every year to make one of the largest street parties in the region.

Milward and Judith Arndt helped Rossner chase down their two adversaries, who were spent by the time the front of the pack hit Lemon Hill, the intense short climb about three miles from the start-finish line. Rossner was given a clear corridor to the finish at 150 meters, which she took gratefully.

But in 2003, Rossner decided to ride for a new team, Nuernberger. The German team, sponsored by a finance and insurance company, is now Rossner's; she is the senior member of the team.

And she intends to pursue victories whatever it takes.

"The goal in general is to become a better person, and I get that every day on the road," Rossner says. "As long as I'm happy with what I'm doing, I want to do it, you know?

And you get the feeling she will have the best chance to do it in June 2003 in Philadelphia.