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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

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John Lieswyn
Photo: © Phil Jolley

The John Lieswyn Diary

A pro racer who now mostly concentrates on the US domestic scene, John Lieswyn is one of Cyclingnews' most popular and sometimes controversial diarists. He has been racing since 1985 and a Cyclingnews diarist since 1999. John likes both criteriums and longer road races, and seems to particularly like it when the going is hard. He has raced in the Regio Tour, Peace Race, Tour of Poland, Vuelta a Guatemala, Tooheys GP and Commonwealth Bank Classic with success, as well as winning astages in the Sun Tour, Killington and Superweek. In 2002, he is riding for 7Up/NutraFig.

The heart versus the head

The Gateway Cup, St. Louis, August 30-September 2, 2002

At first I was a bit miffed to miss out on a race I know well, the Atlanta 10K Classic (with it's large prize list!). But I didn't complain for two reasons: firstly I always enjoy visiting new places and secondly we needed to support one of our major sponsors, THF commercial Realty of St. Louis.

My team-mate Dan Schmatz is from St. Louis so he played tour guide while his parents were our hosts for the weekend. Chuck Coyle, Kevin Monahan, and our D.S. Jeff Corbett were also there.

Correction on my last diary entry (Chris Thater Memorial, Binghamton NY) . Our sponsor Connex chains makes a chain that in my book is the quietest, smoothest and quickest shifting chain on the market. Our mechanic Chad had taken out the "connex" connecting link due to problems with skipping in the 11 cog, while I hadn't experienced this until Thater. I'd refused to take the link out because I found it to be a super handy way to take the chain apart (without tools) for airline transport. It turns out that the special link has an "up" and a "down". If installed the right way, the chain works perfectly. I'm once again a big proponent of the best chain on the market!

Day one - August 30: Lafayette Square

Nine pm start, pitch dark out. It was coming to a field sprint and I wussed out, expecting a big crash. Instead nobody went down and I finished at the back, feeling sheepish that I hadn't given it a real effort tonight. Kevin salvaged a little bit for us with fifth. Jason Waddell (Mathis Brothers) narrowly edged out Robbie Ventura (USPS) for the win.

Afterwards Dan took us to a couple bars and I tried valiantly to keep drinking pace with Chuck. He outweighs me handily and it wasn't too difficult for him to drink me under the table. By the second bar and 3:30am I begged for the keys to the van and went to sleep on the bench seat. I remembered that my heel hit the lock button as I passed out. The guys said it took several minutes of banging on the windows to rouse me enough to get me to let them in!

Day two - August 31: Greentree Park

We slept in late and skipped the morning ride. I rarely get hangovers but I had a good one today! And it's hot as blazes out. The race is in a park, very hilly. Johnny L special course. Danny Pate (Prime Alliance), Brice Jones (Mercury) and Steven Cate (Mathis Brothers) were the favorites aside from myself, so I elected to sit back and watch them for a while. When a $350 full carbon fork was offered at near the halfway mark, I made my move. Brice caught my wheel almost immediately and blasted by me before the top of the hill. I was so busy looking over my shoulder that I nearly crashed into him as he started into the right hander at the summit. Another right, then a left sweeper and the finish line is in sight about 150m up the road. With a big effort I got around Brice to win the prime, and he just sat up. I signalled to him to join me since we had a pretty good gap on the bunch, but instead overall leader Jason Waddell joined me. For the next ten laps Jason hung tough on a type of course he isn't known for excelling on. Each lap I alternated between standing on a big gear and staying seated and spinning a small gear over the climb. This gave me a fast lap followed by a "resting" time gap maintenance lap. Our lead grew to over a minute and then Jason could go no farther at my pace. I was on my own and on the way to lapping the bunch. The crowd boisterously encouraged me and with about six laps to go I latched onto the peloton. Kevin looked like he had the field sprint for second place wrapped up, sitting on Brice's wheel as they came through 200m to go. Then Brice blew a tire and brought down half a dozen riders. Kevin baja'd through the grass in his 13 cog and still managed to finish eighth, while a thankful Waddell negotiated the carnage to take the field sprint and second place on the day. It'd be hard to beat Waddell now!

Tim Ranek, the race organizer, has set up a dinner at an Italian club in the neighborhood called "the Hill" where we'll be racing tomorrow. I spoke with our sister team member (and race leader after today) Kori Kelly for a while, trying to hash out a tactic that would help her beat some faster sprinters that she's facing here. By the time I'd got a dinner plate loaded, the table was full so I sat nearby by myself. That turned out to be cool because the cook sat down next to me and we had a great conversation: he's from Tuscany and spoke fairly broken English despite having been in the USA for 30 years. His cooking was fantastic!

Day three - September 1: Giro della Montagna

Today's four corner course once again has a pretty good hill on the backside, into a headwind. I got frustrated early on because every move I made seemed to be shadowed by 140 guys. Once I turned around as another of my futile attacks was being reeled in and I asked why the leader of the chase didn't just try to go with me rather than chasing me down all the time. His team-mate proceeded to fire right by me in a slightly more successful attack than my own, and the guy said "it's called team tactics, you should try it sometime!" Tsss... burn, he got me. Later on I got in a good move with Dan but the group couldn't maintain momentum. When we were caught I said to Dan, "I'm getting tired of this, come on, you three get on my wheel and I'll pull suicidally hard until the field is shredded, then you guys can get away!" He replied "Are you talking with your head or your emotions?" Good point.

Finally a move got clear with Kevin and I representing the team in it. We executed perfect teamwork: everyone in the move was watching me so Kev attacked and got a few meters gap. Woohoo, I get to sit on the back of the group now. They settled in to chase Kev so next time around I attacked them hard from behind. Halfway up the hill I was clear of the rest of the break and gaining fast on Kev, who in turn was wondering what Jeff Corbett was pointing at from the side of the road. Kev looked over his shoulder in time to see me coming and jumped hard to catch my draft. Off we went! Kev let me win as I had a better chance of overtaking Waddell for the overall. Meanwhile Jeff was trying to get our team-mates to chase down the rest of the break so Waddell (who was in there) wouldn't get a high placing and the points to go with it. Unfortunately for the overall, Waddell rode hard to stay away and take fourth behind Joe Hill (Big Shark Racing).

Day four - September 2: University City Corners

We ride the hour from the Schmatz residence to the course, noting that many business districts along the way are fully shut down for the Labor Day holiday.

This course is cool! It's a long downhill drag in front of the start finish and the business district known as "The Loop", the kitschy desegregated and unique shopping/dining district. The opposite of suburban hell. The backside of the course gently climbs past grand brick apartment buildings and townhouses. Washington U (of STL) students sunned themselves and watched the action with a textbook in their laps while the owner of Big Shark Bicycles (who also owns a house on this street) had a huge BBQ grill going. Grill smoke carrying the BBQ scent wafted over the tree-lined shady street.

We prepare for our race as Kori wraps up the overall win with a fine third place finish. It's even hotter today: 91 degrees and humid. I downed three bottles in the hour before the start. Our plan was to win the race first, then worry about the overall. I would be happy to see our man Dan win, since it is his hometown. Although Dan tried to explain teamwork to him, his cousin cried when Dan didn't win yesterday. The race was aggressive early with Chuck covering many early moves for us until the guy in front of him wiped out in turn three, taking Chuck out spectacularly.

Eventually a six man move broke clear and I had it marked. It contained fast man Joe Hill, who would surely beat me head to head if I let it come down to that. It took two tries but I was able to get away solo. The remainder of the break elected to work together and see if I would blow up. Initially their tactic looked to be working, as I couldn't get more than about seven seconds on them. Bianchi/Grand Performance's Jeremy Sartrain was my ride home and he told me later (as a member of the break and eventual fourth place-getter) that a near crash in the difficult corner three cost them their momentum, and after that they gave up on catching me.

Joe Hill took second, proving me right in fearing his sprint. Jason Waddell had crashed in turn three while trying to bridge to the break after we had just got away, and had to settle for eighth today. The points difference was enough to give me the overall title for the four days. Hopefully the 'impressing the sponsors' mission was accomplished!

Dickey's positive

On the way home I broached the subject of Duane "Dewey" Dickey's positive drug test. As a team-mate of Dewey's, Jeremy had some insights I wasn't aware of. First of all, for all those who have been chanting innuendoes at Grand Performance riders this season from within the pack and on the sidelines, shame on you. What you are doing amounts to nothing more than guilt by association.

I'd never heard of Dewey until he was ripping my legs off at Superweek 2001, so I'd assumed after I heard of the positive drug test that he'd been on "the juice" all season. As I hear it now, Dewey has been a strong rider for a decade including stints with the US National team and time in Europe as an amateur. His team-mates always knew him as clean and he has owned up to taking some shady supplements just once when he was racing in South America. There is a good lesson here for all of us: even when you think there is no testing, you can get caught. For Dewey he just figured that for a subsequent (and last minute) invitation to another race where there WAS testing, he'd try not to place high enough to get snagged. I'm sure he would tell anyone thinking that they can get away with "trying it just once to see how fast I can go" that it simply isn't worth it. He's a rider who didn't need that stuff to drop the hammer, and now he's paying the price with a tainted reputation and a heavy two year suspension from USADA. You don't want to get on the wrong side of USADA: their guidelines are just that, and there is very little due process with them. I had wondered why Kirk O'Bee's suspension came a year after the positive test, perhaps it's the months long time period waiting on B samples and appeals. It should be far quicker, but there appears to be no fixed time period for them to finish a test or answer an appeal.

Jeremy dropped me off in Iowa City on his way back to his job as a teacher in St. Paul, MN. He still had over four hours to go while Dawn picked me up for the two hours back to Ames. Encouraged by my form, albeit against lesser competition than Saeco and USPS, I'm looking forward to the San Francisco GP in two weeks' time.

'Til then.