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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.
After Sea Otter I rented a car for the short trip up to my friend Jay Bakaler's place, perched atop twisty Lombard Street in downtown San Francisco. Jay took me to a spinning class led by Spin guru Myles Murphy at Club Gorilla in the Marina. It was stifling hot with 40 human heat generators hammering away in a tiny space lit by dim, colored spotlights and filled with pumping techno music. Despite Myles' advice, club management thinks that club patrons need to feel like they're sweating buckets to be getting a good workout. Myles took me on the Walnut Creek ride Wednesday, and I put in four hours to try and loosen up before the time trial Thursday. Just one problem: I didn't do my research or I'd have learnt that this year' s edition has the road race first.
It's the last race of the six week California swing, and I heard a few others echoing my thoughts of going home soon. It's a hot, cloudless day for the opening stage, a 91 mile road race. We're going to cover some beautiful rural terrain. It's like the old Morgul Bismarck course near Boulder, CO. Today there are thousands of suburban houses out there and that race can no longer be run. The same will happen here, since much of these rural valleys have already been earmarked for development in someone's master plan. The developer's signs are already staked out in several of the more picturesque meadows.
The 200 strong peloton has some sketchy riding going on early: swerving around road reflectors and fighting to get to the front. After 15 miles, I' m moving up the right side when suddenly the narrow space I'm using disappears as the peloton swerves right. Hard on the brakes, I hear skidding behind me and then metal crunching as a huge crash ensues. Luckily none of us are in it. Clark and Greg took me to the front just prior to the day's first climb. Tim Johnson (Saturn) jumps a kilometre from the top and I tap on by him with 500m to go, taking out maximum points in the first of two King of the Mountain competitions today. The next climb is even harder, following on a feed zone, but oddly there isn't a KOM at the top. We somehow completely miss a split in the group, and ten guys ride away over the top including three Saturns and two Mercurys. Even Prime Alliance has a guy there, so we sound a three alarm panic over our radios. Greg is the only one at the front but he keeps a strong tempo on the descent until we can get together for a team chase that within five minutes shuts down the escapees.
Coming off the hilly circuit around the edge of Lake Beryessa we descend to a circuit of flat farmlands. It's here that vicious winds crop up and split the peloton into numerous echelons. I jumped across a widening gap to four leaders: Klasna (Saturn) Vogels and Bouchard-Hall (Mercury) and Pate (Prime Alliance). I was doing 44mph in a cross tailwind to get there, and just as I make it on Klasna gets hit by a strong side gust and blown right out of the group. The remaining four of us just threw it down for the next 30 minutes over wide open windy farm roads, through a series of right turns, until we'd built a 1:04 lead. Vogels has a V12 under the hood and was just ripping our legs off.
Just after receiving this time split from a motorcycle official we were led through a left turn by race officials and highway patrol officers. A faint warning (reminiscent of Willamette and Tour de Toona) went off in my head, but this is a new course for Solano and it's hard to dispute so complete an escort as what we had. A few miles later we heard the dreaded words "you're going the wrong way!". It took the hardworking officials half an hour to put humpty dumpty back together again, all without properly working tour radios. While the tattered chasers (led by Saturn) were neutralized and had time to recover, we rode, towed and motorpaced our way back on course and through confused groups of riders who had been long since dropped by the second bunch.
Once back in front, we didn't get a new time split but a few estimates had it at less than 40 seconds. By this time we were approaching the final climb, whose summit is 10 miles from the finish. Pate was now refusing to work. Saturn was between a rock and a hard place: they had to chase since they'd missed the break but in so doing they were bringing Redlands/Sea Otter winner Chris Horner closer and closer to the perfect situation for Prime Alliance.
Our lead had slipped to under 20 seconds as Vogels did a ferocious turn at the front going into the final climb. Sure enough, Pate attacked as soon as we turned onto the steep and narrow. I took over and heard Vogels talking about how we'd get Pate back on the descent, and how the road would steepen soon. A quick glance over the shoulder and I could see the chasers gaining fast. While I couldn't make out who it was, I knew that Horner would be breaking legs back there. Now I could see a sign with "200" on it, and I was hoping it was the 200m to summit sign. Unfortunately it was "200ft to Your Picture Taken".
Horner and Wherry (Mercury) fly past me like I'm standing still, but now the real 200m to go sign comes into view. Ignoring cramping hamstrings (the heat?) I gut it out and stay close. Yes! Summit, and I'm just a couple bike lengths behind the now threesome. They're caning on the descent but I do a little late braking in the first two turns (thanks to the info I got in the team meeting, I know how tight the turns are) and catch on right away. At first I'm not helping and it's just Pate and Horner doing the work. Then I see that the Vogels/Bouchard-Hall duo had held off the second group on the hill and are now closing on us. Seeing how I'd really be outnumbered should they catch up, I start lending a hand.
Coming into the last 5km Horner is just DRIVING it. 2km to go, Pate takes over for a moment, then I take a turn. On a freeway overpass Horner comes from behind in a fierce attack. Wherry gets his draft. Caught not entirely by surprise I find a little left to catch them, especially since Chris isn't going to lead Wherry out the whole way. But the fresher riders have the advantage as they go into the final 500m and pull away easily from Pate and me.
Tall order, to beat out the World Under-23 champ Pate. TT specialist Eric Wohlberg (Saturn) will be of concern as well, since he's just 44 seconds behind me after yesterday. The adjustments to my position after the Sea Otter debacle do help, though, and I feel pretty strong. I gave it everything but felt there was still room for improvement afterwards, especially in my downhill tempo. Official results aren't out yet but our guess has me getting bumped off the podium by time trial winner Wohlberg and perhaps tied with Pate for 4th overall. It'll be an exciting criterium tomorrow with so many riders standing so much to gain from the mid race and final sprint time bonuses.
Solano Stage 3