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Dauphiné Libéré
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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.

A missed move and a surprising climb

4th Solano Bicycle Classic, Fairfield, CA (home of Travis Air Force Base), March 27-30, 2003

For the third year running I'm staying with Vern and Jeannie Van Buskirk. With the war on I value Vern's experience and stories more than ever, and Jeannie's dinners are just like Mom's. Vern is a retired USAF Lt. Colonel, former heavy bomber pilot, and finished his career as a commander at the air base. He and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, he a staunch conservative and as you all know I'm a bleeding heart liberal. We share views mainly on issues of "smart growth" and over-development. Vern is leading a local crusade against runaway suburban growth into the pristine farming valleys and encroachment too close to the air base runways. The local paper's opinion pages have been full of developer backed half-truths, calling Vern's ballot initiative a "no growth" plans when he is in favor of a plan allowing 35,000 new homes in the next 17 years. In one op-ed column the writer makes no mention of Vern's military and Travis history but alleges instead that the initiative will endanger the air base's future viability.

Nikki and Martin have again opened their home and garage as team headquarters for the long weekend, and this year they had four of us ride down to the private Catholic school that their children attend for a school visit. I guess it was a big hit; their son Aidan is big man on campus now. It was funny when the kids and Nikki demanded we do a little "race" in front of the assembly and Greg wound it up a bit. Greg's speed approaching the kids was well within a huge safety margin, but the teachers didn't know this and set about pushing the children back.

Wednesday morning we scouted the Mix Canyon (near Vacaville) 7.7 mile mass start hillclimb course. It's a doozy with gradients up to 22 percent on a very narrow winding road. It is half forested with a boulder-strewn stream deep in a ravine on the right. We'll have a 150 riders trying to be first to the bottom turn just three miles into the race, and I'm predicting at least one crash will hold up everyone unfortunate enough to be stuck behind it. There simply is no place to go around even a small crash. It will be hard to defeat Chris Horner the way he is riding this early season, especially with such a climbing intensive race as this.

Stage 1 - March 27: Jelly Belly Road Race, 87/54 miles

Thursday was stage one, an 87 mile stage finishing at a college in Angwin, Napa County. This course has something for everyone with crosswinds out in the flat farmland north of Vacaville and numerous hills including a 4 mile climb just prior to the finish. I had a blast in the first 10 miles as we flew over winding roads before descending to the farmland. As the winds increased Kevin found me boxing around about 30 guys back, and barked at me to jump on his rear wheel for a "tow" to the front. The two of us went right over the top (meaning straight to the head of the bunch) whereupon a wigging Chris Horner decided to go off on me. After hurling insults at me at the top of his lungs I replied that he ought to shut up and ride, which he of course did not do. He went on repeating himself as if I were deaf. I never did figure out what he was talking about, seeing as how all I'd done was follow a teammate to the safer front of the bunch. Soon after, Doug and I found ourselves just off the front in a group of 11. It was a doomed move but a comfortable one just ahead of the crosswind fight that resulted in the temporary dropping of over a hundred riders.

The race now left the farmland behind and ascended towards Lake Beryessa. It was around this time that a break of about 15 slipped away and we had only Hayden Godfrey representing 7UP in it. Hayden hasn't raced over 100km in three months as he's been concentrating on the track (he got a silver in the pursuit at the Mexico World Cup last week), so he wasn't the right man for us up there. I'd just covered three prior attacks and watched, helplessly winded, from halfway back in the pack as the break formed. After it had eked out a five minute lead on the peloton, we put Greg, Kevin and Dan into a chase with the boys. Soon it was down to 2:10 but we had only Greg left pulling, and as I felt particularly bad today I figured I'd do a bit of work for Chris and Doug.

Mistake Two! What I should have realized is that even without a full-on chase the break was doomed to be caught on the final climb, and my 5kms of assistance to Greg cost me a couple minutes and a bunch of places on the result. It was team 7UP's first race on a hill and we didn't acquit ourselves well, with only Doug cracking the top 20. The only bright spot on the day other than really good training derived from the boys big chase was that Hayden took the sprint points jersey and we'll make sure he keeps it. I'll try hard on the mass start hill climb, but mainly for training. I know a respectable GC overall placing is now out of reach. From the outset we had placed more emphasis on the flatter weekend races than on protecting me for the overall.

The UPS and Fed Ex trucks arrive daily, and today's shipment included flashy new Dogfish casual clothes emblazoned with the team logos, so at least we look the part! And to Horner: some advice that I often need to abide by myself is "shut up and ride". You already have the "ride" part down pat, that's for sure.


Stage 2 - March 28: Solano Garbage Hill Climb, 7.7 miles

On the way to fifth
Photo: © Jeff Tse
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Cool winds howled all night long and I slept great. Rain and wind are always soothing sounds to sleep to, eh? I'm especially grateful that we are blessed to live in a relatively safe country, and my main concerns are riding my bike fast instead of worrying about tanks knocking down my house.

Over at the Macguires' house this morning we had the espresso machine pumping overtime. On the fierce headwind ride out to the course start Chris Pic tried valiantly to cheer me up, but I wasn't my usual talkative self. After a half hour delay our race was staged: there are still 149 odd riders in the event after more than 20 guys were time cut yesterday. They will have to be more lenient with the 10 percent time cut today, because I'm betting that strict enforcement would eliminate more than 50 riders.

There was unusual chatter and playful inter-team banter at staging. Canadian jokes, smiles, and ribbing were all on.

Ivan Dominguez made no secret of his job today as he simply hoisted his bike high in the air and forced his way right through the middle of the bunch. Sure enough, with a barely heard "go!" from the officials we were led off by a solid train of Saturn riders protecting Horner's yellow jersey. I picked the correct side of the road and was sufficiently aggressive to stay in the top 20, although one time Horner and I both were nearly forced back a hundred spots until the field set up for the left turn onto Mix Canyon road and I followed Chris in a big headwind effort to the front. I heard later from my teammates Dan Schmatz and Jason McCartney that at the back there was absolutely nowhere to go, it was edge to edge a solid wall of riders; and even off road skills couldn't help since there was no shoulder. Will Frischkorn (Saturn, U23 National Champ) tangled with another guy and while neither rider went down, they both had blown wheels and Saturn lost both Will and an escort (Victor Repinski) to this incident. To all those who laugh at spindly Jonathan Vaughters in his return to US racing, I will say that guy knows how to race a bike. Skinny kid or not he pushed his way to the front in a scramble that would put fear into any field sprinter.

Just after making the left onto the climb we rounded a curve to find the lead motorbike tire to bumper with a stopped minivan which was blocking 80 percent of the narrow road. I was already at 170bpm and had no breath left to curse as we all singled up to squeeze around the vehicle. I heard more than one body to sheet metal thump as less lucky riders whacked into it. Still in good position around tenth, I noted that Chris had no teammates left while Vaughters had Pate and Creed setting a steady tempo on the front. My favorite type of climb is one where I don't have to concentrate on the guy on my elbow because it is single file, and I was getting it. One by one guys were blowing in front of me and I had to make little surges around them. After a third of the climb the expected jump from Vaughters came and Horner matched it easily. None of the rest of us even flinched, we were already at redline. In my case I was at 188bpm when they took off! I can hold 186 for a short while, but anything over that I pay for with a spectacular explosion unless the road levels off and I can spin for a moment. This is why scouting the course is critical.

In my one ride on this road I'd memorized enough of it to know where I could go into temporary oxygen debt and where I could rest for a few seconds. Soon it was just a Brit (GB team rider Oliver Beckinsale) and I, with the Prime Alliance domestiques making a charge back up to us from behind. The mutant climbing duo of Vaughters and Horner were out of sight ahead of us. I wasn't noticing any of the natural beauty around me, just concentrating on turning the pedals over and the Brit's rear wheel became my only visual focus. At 1km to go one of the PA's flew by (I was so maxxed out I didn't even bother trying to identify who it was). The Brit tried to match this acceleration and with 400m to go I finally cracked, wishing I had a 28 tooth cog for the momentary respite it would have given me.

Creed (PA) caught me then and we slogged out the last 300m which seemed to take forever. At the top I was fifth on the stage and quite pleased with my rapid acclimatization to climbing, seeing as how it was only the second climb I've raced over this year. My team manager Jeff Corbett probably wasn't expecting any of us in the top ten and I had the glow of satisfaction knowing I'd surprised him. I felt like a fish out of water, tongue extended and face contorted trying to get air in, as I floundered past an already composed Horner sitting in his post-race folding chair.

One really cool thing about being in great shape is how fast you recover: within 40 seconds my breathing was stabilized and my heart rate was just 110, easily spinning up the gentle now gravel road to the true summit of Mix Canyon. At the top I could finally pause and look around, absorbing one of the most beautiful vistas in all of California. I'm sure it won't be long before another millionaire builds his/her mansion up here if it hasn't happened already. A mere few hundred meters away from the stage finish, I was at first amazed by the silence all around. Soon though I could pick up the minute sounds of nature; water running, bees buzzing, leaves rustling. Again I'm struck by how lucky I am to be doing this job.

A half hour later I bundled up in a fleece for the ride back down. I was thanking the designers of our Mavic brakes, which use a special oversize lever spring to multiply braking force against the rims, as I flew past guys who were either more cautious than I or riding on lesser equipment. It wasn't as if I was descending recklessly or at race pace, but it seemed like everyone else was just putzing! At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, I love the handling of my Cannondale CAAD7(UP!) with its sweet running Mavic SSC/SL wheels and super sticky Maxxis rubber. [That's enough blatant plugs! - Ed]

At the bottom I rode back to the start area with Healthnet's Mike Sayers. I've never talked much to Mike but as regular readers of my column know I'm trying to befriend everyone more and listen to them instead of being such a big mouth myself. I've always had tons of respect for Mike as a rider, and I can empathize with him since I've been through the same off season shenanigans as he endured this past winter. His powerhouse team, Mercury, disbanded and he was left scrambling for a job. I'm really glad that he found a team and I bet that we'll be seeing some big rides out of him this year, now that he will have more opportunities to race for wins.


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