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John Lieswyn
Photo: © 7Up/Maxxis

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 stages in the Sun Tour, Killington and Superweek. In 2003, he is once again riding for 7Up, this year co-sponsored by tyre maker Maxxis.

Never count your chickens until they hatch

Copa de Americas, Sao Paolo, Brazil, January 5, 2003

Downtown Sao Paolo
Photo: © John Lieswyn
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Before I left for Christmas break and the following National Development Camp (San Diego), Ailton DeSouza called to invite me back for the first UCI race of 2003: the Copa de Americas. It seemed like a lot of travel in three weeks but I wanted to try and repeat my '02 win and try to earn some money to dig out of the holiday financial hole, so after a bit of hesitation I accepted. This year's four-man team:

Colby Pearce, Team Ofoto, of Boulder CO, track star, manager of the new Prime Alliance development team, former teammate from the Shaklee days
Alex 'A/C' Candelario, Prime Alliance, also Boulder, sprinter, surfer
Matt 'D/C' Decanio, Prime Alliance, of Virginia, youngster with Tour de France ambition and the legs to back it up. Fashion, Rap, and a 'tight' Benz CLK V8, hommie!

After last year's success the word has gone out through the US Peloton and there were many other really good US pros that wanted to go, but this team would turn out to be perfect for the hilly Interlagos auto racing circuit.

We met up in Miami after a long day of domestic travel (except DC, who has been training hard in Jacksonville Florida).


Track outlook
Photo: © John Lieswyn
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The overnight flight put us into Sao Paolo around 11am Saturday. I was pretty shattered from this on top of traveling all day Thursday from the high mileage San Diego camp. The other guys rode 3 hours of circuits on the track while I did just 1 and slept the rest of the day and all night.

We're back in the Pit Stop Hotel. Last year I didn't even see that the back of the hotel abuts directly on the track's stands, but A/C and D/C's room has a huge sliding glass door with a great view of Interlagos. Ailton flew in from Miami a few hours after us and took care of registration for us. He had to register me with a driver's license! Even if the race is UCI, some leeway has to be made when it takes place before most federations have sent out their renewal forms.

There would be a record 370 starters on the grid this year, and Globo television was again using helicopters, booms, motorcycles, and lookout towers to capture video for transmission to over 35 million viewers (mostly in Brazil but also through affiliates throughout South America and Europe). A large screen ('Big Mo') was positioned adjacent to the skyboxes so that the 10,000 spectators could see all the action.

Decanio pre-shirt
Photo: © John Lieswyn
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After riding, doing interviews, and registering, the five of us set out to do some shopping at one of Sao Paolo's glitziest malls. DC fell for a white leather short sleeve button down shirt and blew 680 reals on it (around US $200). Over the next four days we spent many hours in three different malls, and the rest of us eventually caught up or surpassed DC's extravagance.

I don't shop in US malls anymore because to me they feel homogenised. Sao Paolo, on the other hand - WOW! The malls are teeming with life and the necessities of living, such as dry cleaners, medical facilities, groceries, drugstores, fruit stands, and more. These services are interspersed with the Hugo Boss type international high end retailers, Brazilian boutiques, and discount specialty shops. I found four pairs of leather shoes and two belts for about $100, and black dress pants that would have been easily $150 in the US were just $50.

Sunday: Race day

Ready to roll
Photo: © John Lieswyn
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It rained much of Saturday and Sunday morning, but by the 10am start time the track had dried out. D/C has just finished a tough training block in Florida and claims that yesterday's three hours has left him pretty tired. Alex has had a low-grade infection for a while, Colby has done a ton of cross training and skiing but isn't really race fit, and I'm beat. Nevertheless we set as a minimum goal a top three finish with another guy in the top 10. Ailton has a bib number and will start the race with a camera mounted to his bike to get some footage from inside the peloton.

One of the hazards of not speaking a word of the local language is that the starter's pistol goes off while my eyes are still closed and I'm finishing my ritual prayer! Off we go.

Lap 3: We seem to be crawling up the hill - I must be fitter this year! I go with a small break. I'm so marked that as soon as the break members see I'm there, all but one guy sits up and I look back to see the field stretched single file in a mad chase.

Lap 4: DC makes a 7 man break.

Lap 5: The skies opened up again and turned the still oily track into a bit of a skating rink. DC takes advantage and attacks alone.

Lap 6: A Cairu rider from the break bridges slowly to DC, once there he pulls on the hills and makes DC do the work on the flats. Colby is doing a lot of policing at the front of the pack; he's riding pretty awesome for not having been on the bike much this past month.

Lap 7: A bunch of Cairu riders are chasing, believing that DC is going to smoke their guy. Ailton later tells us that their coach knew DC was far stronger so he was telling his guy to sit on as much as possible. I played around a bit and attacked hard on the big hill. I figure if I can get away clean and join DC, then we've got it in the bag. Unfortunately I didn't get enough of a gap. The effort shows on everyone's face as we crest the summit and when I let off the pressure we all coast for a while, panting, and the gap increases from 20 seconds to 40 seconds.

Lap 10: As we start the final circuit, the breakaway duo has it in the bag. I'm wishing I had a radio to pass on advice to Matt. He can use this huge lead to force the other guy to pull more. The other option is to win solo, and both DC and the Cairu guy have so much of lead they take turns attacking each other. The Brazilian employs a fake out: he allows Matt to drop him to increase the American's confidence level, then slowly makes his way back onto Matt's wheel, taking the hind position for the final kilometre. DC is now leading it out, thinking he is strong enough to beat the other guy regardless. In the final 100m the Brazilian comes around to win by a couple lengths, and the crowd is roaring its approval. It's a fine placing for Matt, but he's happy and disappointed at the same time.

Back in the field Alex starts to lead me out over the second hill. I'm not given any quarter as several guys keep pushing me off my teammate's wheel. Perhaps having different jerseys (Prime Alliance & 7UP) is the culprit, but I have to fight to hold AC's wheel. Going into the bottom turn of the last big hill, AC is in front and I'm third. The guy in second loses it and takes a few guys on the outside with him. I'm just able to squeak by and jump back onto AC's wheel.

I make a big mistake - impatience! While AC seems to be going far too slow, he is in fact setting the lowest possible speed on purpose. Nobody is coming around us but I panic and call out for him to let my through on the inside, playing my hand too early. Over the top I have only one guy on my wheel, with the bunch two lengths back. Figuring I can't lead everyone out from 1km to go, I sit up. 50m later I'm pre-empted by an attack from another Cairu guy, and it looks like his move has earned him 3rd place. Jeez, I'm really blowing this. Overestimating myself.

OK, I'm settling into the sprint now. A guy comes past and I try to get his wheel but there's somebody there and I don't figure it is worth dueling it out on the wet road for 4th place. I'm thinking to myself that I don't want to be sitting on a plane with road rash, so I'm taking this sprint conservatively. 150m to go and I stand up to kick it again. A millisecond later I feel an impact from behind and (what in the world?) my bike is suddenly torn from under me. We must have been going 60km/h and it seems like I'm sliding forever. I'm curled up in the fetal position 100m from the line, waiting for more guys to pile in.

Luckily the peloton was so stretched out from the final climb, and the road is so wide, that the wanker that slammed me only took down himself and two others. I take a quick inventory of my body and find no broken bones, just a gaping hole below my knee. My favorite personal Cane Creek Crono carbon rear wheel has been shattered by the initial impact but my old friend Miami John is there to carry my bike as I limp across the line. The team issue Bell helmet is in two large pieces, held together by the race number sticker only. I'm angry, but counting myself lucky it wasn't worse.


Post race: The promoter is moving us to a fancy downtown hotel for the next three days and two nights. Apparently there were no seats available for Sunday or Monday overnight flights home and we aren't complaining about having to stay over in a cool city! I entertain the thought of standing by for a seat to open up tonight, since I'm in a really bad mood from the race and I just want to get home. Colby and Alex convince me to stay on and show them around since I've been to Sao Paolo twice before. It was a good move because when TAM Airlines says they are overbooked, they are REALLY overbooked, as we find out on Tuesday... We ate lunch at the Mister Sheik, where for the equivalent of US $1.25 you get a pretty awesome buffet line.

The Brazilian style churrascaria

At this type of restaurant you go to a buffet table everything from caviar, smoked tuna and salmon, to palm and artichoke hearts. The gaucho method of barbecue means that the meat is skewered, marinated for up to a day, arranged around a central fire, and slow cooked for hours. Finally the various types of meat are presented to you, still on the spit, by a procession of tuxedoed waiters who will point out to non-Portuguese speakers what part of the cow you are contemplating by pointing at a diagram on a card. Dinner, wine, traditional drinks, heavenly desserts, and service befitting royalty added up to about $25 per person!

Monday: a city ride, snakes, and shopping

Photo: © John Lieswyn
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We've got a pretty good view of the city from the 9th floor of the four star Blue Towers hotel. Breakfast is in the lobby Vecchio restaurant (pic for the Boulder bike shop of the same name). Despite having a personal record amount of road rash, I borrow a rear wheel, straighten out my bike a bit, and lead the boys on an uncomfortably bumpy tour of Sao Paolo. Reputed to be the world's second largest city and containing over 17 million people, you would think that biking is pretty difficult. Well, it's not like riding a country lane in New England but it can be surprisingly relaxing once you realize that NOBODY minds sharing the road with bicycles. Colby and I rode six hours over two days entirely on city streets and highways, and not once did we get yelled at, swerved at, or cut off.

We do a couple laps of Ibipuera Park - I'd promised the guys they'd see a few bikini clad inline skaters there. Despite the beautiful weather they are disappointed. Next we are unsuccessful finding the coffee shop in the financial district where Doug EZ and I hung out gawking at the street life last year. I think DC is getting bored but he claims to just be tired. From there we hit 80kph, the speed of traffic, on a crazy eight lane descent to the river.

During a lap of the hundred-year-old university we see a large outdoor snake exhibit. The world's largest snake zoo is nearby (but we end up going shopping instead ?) Dinner was at the mall (home away from home) in the food court. Before you think it was Hot Dog Express, I'll describe what ended up costing $3 (with a beer): a chef asked which eight ingredients I wanted with my gnocchi, sauteed them over a commercial range in front of me, and delivered the arty composition to me all within five minutes! Truly gourmet, and certain that if I was able to find such a restaurant in the US it would cost four times as much without the beer.

Tuesday: the beach and the freeway ride

Headin' out
Photo: © John Lieswyn
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AC/DC took a taxi to the beach, about a 1:10 drive. AC got a surfboard, wax, leash, and bag for about US$200! Colby and I went for a ride, determined to find a way out of the city. After much negotiation with Fernando at the front desk and Ailton, we came up with a general plan involving lots of freeway riding. It took 40 km and nearly two hours but we got out of the city, only to decide that despite lathering on the sunscreen we were getting torched by the sun and it was time to turn around while we still felt good.

Stopping at a grocery store for a snack, I noticed that even in a tough neighborhood it was equipped with scanners and air conditioning. Later on when we stopped to adjust Colby's cleat at a gas station I was amazed to see that the restroom was marble and granite (natural resources here, a luxury in North America) and the checkout counter had a four head espresso machine next to the cigarette rack. They love their coffee here. In fact, you can order a large cappuccino for about 70 cents US. Of course the drink is about half the size of a small ('tall') Starbucks.

We got off the laboriously negotiated route on our return trip, but the signs are excellent in Sao Paolo. After packing up, I ran over to the grocery store to stock up on espresso coffee beans: a kilo is five bucks US, or 75% less than at home.

Sorry that I don't have any beach pics for you, but AC's digital camera battery was dead and I missed out on it altogether. If you see Alex on the road this year, ask him about it - I hear it was great.

At the airport TAM airlines personnel offered us a free roundtrip anywhere TAM flies worldwide to go Wednesday night instead, and lodging at a five star hotel in the meantime. As the married guys, Colby and I declined but AC and DC took them up on it. Piece of advice to even experienced racer -travellers: don't try to simplify/share by putting two bikes in a double case like Colby and AC did. The weight rules will get ya - it took them an extra hour of pruning weight to get it past the ticket agent, and it was still at that point 6 kilos too heavy.

While the trip was far less profitable than last year, it was a blast hanging with new people and seeing more of one of the world's greatest cities. Thanks to Ailton de Souza for hooking us up with this cool experience!

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Images by John Lieswyn