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John Lieswyn
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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 2004, he moves from 7Up/Maxxis to Team Health Net presented by Maxxis.

Back in Brasil

January 27, 2004

Getting to know the competition
Photo ©: John Lieswyn

The steady snowfall outside my converted three seasons porch/office windows doesn't concern me at all. I've earned a day off today after an eight day UCI stage race in Brasil and a week's training camp in and around Solana Beach (NOT Solano, and NOT Solvang).

Brazil (natively spelled with an "s") was much different this time than the last four visits. Firstly I was freaking about the Brazilian response to the USVISIT fingerprinting program. Two days before departure, the media reported seven hour delays in Rio and Sao Paulo airports for US citizens. Sensational media reports mentioned that the rural judge compared US policy to the worst crimes of Hitler, and that 98% of Brasilieros on the street were in favor of their country's judicial response to USVISIT. Americans travelling abroad are hypersensitive to stereotyping and ridicule for our foreign policies.

Thankfully, the process of digital photographing and ink fingerprinting took all of about 1 minute on arrival, my bags arrived quickly and intact, and within an hour of touchdown I was hanging out at the now very familiar "Pit Stop" Hotel adjacent to the Interlagos Raceway.

Secondly, I brought heavy training wheels to this race thinking that the depth of field would be shallow and I was here for training anyway. Big mistake! While the competition was mostly Brazilian, their condition was far higher than my own. Day after day I fought with low tire pressure (duh, we forgot a floor pump and I was riding on flat prone worn training tires) and slow turning 12 year old wheels, and found myself struggling over every hill. The parcours (route) was Tour de Beauce-like challenging, with a complete absence of any flat road whatsoever. Taking a month off after World's probably wasn't the smartest move either, and I haven't ridden one day outside in Iowa thanks to my wussy cold (in)tolerance!

The Florida based Toshiba/Aerospace Engineering team for this race is:

The Toshiba-Aerospace Engineering team
Photo ©: John Lieswyn

Rodrigo: Our driver. Top ten in the opening Interlagos stage but sitting out the stage race itself due to injury. Riding for Rabobank amateur squad in Europe for 04.

Emilio: Santiago Chile bike shop owner and junior team coach. Mechanic and soigneur for us here. Looking to do a team internship in USA

Ben Sharp: Formerly of team GoMart/WVA, he brought his years of experience to bear here as team manager. Gus Carillo Invited me to this race. I know him well from two trips to Vuelta Sinaloa (Mexico) we've done together. An American-Guatemalan from Chicago and a tough competitor.

Hugh Moran: Hugh and I got started in the late 80's in Florida together. He currently lives in Arizona and has returned to the sport after a decade away. Still as strong today as he was way back when.
Emile Abraham: From Trinidad/Tobago. (Carribbean islands where English is spoken, racially diverse) A Caucasian islander with short curly hair, sprinter's physique, and an easy smile for anyone, especially for those of the fairer sex. Emile won the NRC Atlanta 100K road race last year, whipping a star-studded large breakaway in the downhill sprint finish. He's relatively unknown stateside and hugely underrated.

Eric Murphy: He's ridden for Mercy Fitness and is a tough all-rounder (rouleur). Had his birthday during the trip and due to his diminutive "climber" size we couldn't resist singing a few apropos lyrics from the popular 50 Cent song "In da Club".

Tim Larkin: Now living in Berkeley, Tim rides professionally for Ofoto while maintaining a job as an architect. I didn't know much about Tim other than we had a run in years ago about an incorrect diary entry I'd sent in to Cyclingnews and that in tough races like Altoona and San Fran he's a consistent player in the top 10. He turned out to be the revelation of the week...

Volta Estado Sao Paulo (Tour of the State of Sao Paulo) UCI 2.5

Good air con
Photo ©: John Lieswyn

A high level of organization extended from nice 2 and 3 star hotels to excellent and abundant food, police protection, media, and officiating. One day Gus lamented that the US doesn't have races like these, to which I replied that Altoona, Redlands, Minnesota, Beauce, and others are hard stage races. Gus meant that North America doesn't have the same accessibility as Latin American stage racing. After all, many races down here can be entered for $15. Sponsors and government sporting grants cover the food, lodging, and logistics. I began to see his point.

What a shock to the system. I'd hardly ridden my bike in the week before flying down, and four hours jet lag wasn't helping. Needless to say I didn't repeat my two previous titles on the Interlagos course.

Interlagos "Copa de Americas".

A stand alone event on the Interlagos course, live TV. I flatted on the final lap but probably wouldn't have figured in the sprint anyway. In a precursor of results to come, Tim sprinted in for 7th and we did give the organizer a couple laps of TV time on the front.


4 lap prologue: Second race of the day. Determines the jersey wearers in the KOM, Sprint, and Overall classifications. Not much happened. I tried to lead out Emile for the sprint lap but someone by the name of Sidoti (more later!) motorpaced off the camera bike all the way to the line. Protest is pointless.


Stage 1 - January 12: São Paulo - São José dos Campos, 91,8 km

Hugh had a huge ride. I was hanging on for dear life the whole way and he was breaking away with a couple other lunatics. While his group swelled nearly a dozen riders before the finish, he still pulled out 7th in his first international UCI stage race.


Stage 2 - January 13: São José dos Campos - Atibaia, 109,4 km

Dancing the night away
Photo ©: John Lieswyn

I awoke unbelievably sore. In retrospect I wish I'd been using some of the new 2004 supplements like Cyto and Athlete Octane that I learned about at camp a week later. Rehydration drinks and vitamins alone didn't cut it. We faced something like 175km. I felt like an amateur conversion turbo three cylinder Yugo trying to do 0-60 in 5 seconds. I'd thought that I could just sit at the back of the bunch and roll out some nice training miles, but the hilly courses this week will totally preclude any "easy" training. This stage and the epic sauna hot 215km third stage were just hell for me. So bad in fact that I can't remember what happened, and don't even want to look at Cyclingnews to try to and remember.


Stage 4 - January 15: São Carlos - Bauru, 175,4 km

40km to go. I was trying to take some pressure off Tim by jumping with one dangerous looking attack on a hill, just moments after reporting on the radio that I was "dead". (Un)fortunately for me the move stuck. A youngster by the name of Breno Sidoti, riding for the yellow attired Scott-FadenP team, was just riveting me on every hill. The other two break mates, Tiago Fiorelli (Caloi) and Edy Cisneros (Argentina) were less powerful but doing more than the five or so pulls that I took.

In the peloton it was panic stations for the race leader, national hero Marcio May (tMemorial). With no teammates left to help him, it was all May, all the time, and he was pulling back a couple seconds every km. A'la Jan Ullrich chasing Lance... (OK, maybe not quite as dramatic to you all, but the dynamics were similar, go with me on this.)

We hit the final climb and my earpiece was crackling with urgent instructions from Ben to drop the hammer, the break was nearly caught. Right away the Argentinean was dropped as Sidoti just rode Fiorelli off his wheel. I was riveted hanging in third wheel, but knew deep down that the "extra gear" was there, should I ask for it. After wheelsucking the last 40km on Sidoti's wheel, I reluctantly decided to leave the extra physiological gear for Philadelphia in June. In a race under my US team colors I wouldn't have wasted a moment's thought on it, but here I knew that to the twenty year old this was huge. I barely assisted Fiorelli in the two-kilometre downhill pursuit finale, and easily swept by him for second on the stage. Young Sidoti was a bike length ahead, ecstatic in his celebration. I smiled and basked in the reflected enthusiasm for this beautiful sport.


Stage 6 - January 17: Ribeirão Preto ITT, 23 km

Three factors are weighing on me. 1) Yesterday as I sat around answering the curiosity of some of the Brazilian riders about my US ranking, it became apparent that they didn't believe that I could be one of the best US racers without doing EPO or something more advanced. Through some logical extension I'm not sure is valid, I kinda assumed that meant they themselves were users. 2) Tim and I are top 10 overall going into this stage, but we don't expect to put up much of a defense considering that the course is very suitable to the aerodynamic benefits of a full TT bike and clothing getup, which we don't have. 3) It's January.

I started with my IPOD plugged in and resolved to ride at 9/10ths to see what that would produce. Three times I ended up futzing with the fast forward button to get to fast beat songs, laughing at myself as I did so, and I turned in a pretty dismal time that dragged me from 8th GC to 18th. (No, audio players probably aren't legal in UCI racing. So sue me)


Stage 7 - January 18: Ribeirão Preto - Campinas, 228,3 km

Tim Larkin and Memorial's Nascimento upended the General Classification (GC) in exciting racing that was the very best of road cycling. The stage began with Eric Murphy covering a powerful early break. Now usually professional teams riding in defense of the yellow jersey will allow the early move to gain many minutes, determined by the amount of time the highest placed rider in the break is in arrears to the overall lead. Eric's break wasn't really dangerous, but Sidoti's team controlled it at 30 to 45 seconds for EIGHTY KILOMETERS.

I was surprised the break didn't just sit up early on, sensing that they weren't being given enough rope to make even a small stab at eventual success. When they finally were caught, Sidoti's team was completely gassed and the very next fresh attack just rode away from them. Taken by surprise by this turn of events, I was caught sleeping along with Marcio May and other favorites who were just watching the yellow jersey.

Meanwhile Tim Larkin was the last guy to make it across to the rapidly disappearing new break. Sidoti, May and I set off in pursuit with a half dozen other sheepish strongmen, but with everyone but Sidoti having someone in the break we couldn't get organized enough to solidify our gap over the demoralized peloton and close on the leaders.

Off the front, the racing got really good as we left the wide smooth freeways that characterize most of this Volta, turning into the narrow and brutally hilly roadways of a military base. Back in the re-formed peloton Sidoti had virtually given up hope but in Tim's break fireworks were lit. After doing relatively little work for most of the escape, Tim dropped the hammer and exploded the break. With 5km to go Tim punched out alone in a bid for the overall win. As "leader on the road" (meaning should the race end right there he would have the lowest cumulative time) the compact and powerful Nascimento (Memorial) had to do all the chasing while the only two remaining riders from the once large breakaway hoped for stage honors.

Tim put in a mighty effort but with 1500m remaining and with the brief assistance of the other two, Nascimento pulled Tim back in. Net result: Sidoti lost the overall lead to Nascimento while Tim shot up from 16th to 2nd overall.


Stage 8 - January 19: Campinas - São Paulo, 55 km

Brazillian BBQ "Churrascaria"
Photo ©: John Lieswyn

Tim made another stab at the overall win in the final 5km, and again the yellow jersey (this time Nascimento) was without teammates thanks to the fierce and unwarranted pace his team had set in the early kms. For a hopeful couple of kms I sat on the yellow jersey's wheel and shouted encouragement into my mic, watching as Tim dangled just around the 19sec that he needed to unseat the leader. If Nascimento cracked, Tim could easily pull out much more even on this flat run-in. Ultimately we didn't get to find out as the sprinters took over and again Tim was reeled in with just 1500m to go. Emile went off the incorrect 400m to sign and ended up leading the sprint out too early, but he still salvaged top 5 for us in the stage. Post race we unloaded our rental VW miniwagon and got ready for the cross-city trip to an airport hotel. I was parched and made a crucial mistake; I bought a fruit ice from a street vendor.

The fruit ice must have given me food poisoning, which kept me awake for the entire 10 hour flight, sitting next to a sick Ben Sharp. By the time we landed in Chicago and I faced a 3 hour layover and 5 hour flight to San Diego, I'd finally succumbed to the head cold that had hit the entire team. For the first time since my sinus surgery, I got a sinus infection to go along with 6 hour jet lag as I arrived for team camp. Oh boy, this isn't going to be easy...

Final Results

Team HealthNet presented by Maxxis Camp

Solana (NOT Solano, that’s hundreds of miles away) Beach, north of San Diego and south of Oceanside. NOT Solvang.

I struggled on every single climb, every single day. I'm chalking it up to the sinus thing. In response to concern from whoever might voice it, Jeff just says I should be sick all the time since I usually win when I'm sick. I'm pretty sure that being sick in a race means I ride super-conservative and hence have more left for the finale. Here at camp no amount of motivation can bring me into league with my teammates. However I am sufficiently jazzed about the team that even when I should have rested for a day to kick the cold I was out for every team ride. On a couple climbs and once along the coast the team dropped into full race speed and all I gotta say is "ouch".

Our management is totally dialled, the equipment is first rate in every way, and the riders are very enthusiastic. I won't issue any platitudes or predictions other than to say it will be a fun year.

The team is 15 riders (not 17, as was reported on Cyclingnews). Two are youngsters (Tyler and Walker) who will be spending major time in Europe on the U23 program while two others (our Kiwis) will be doing Track Worlds and probably the Olympics, so that means our team won't be too large during those times. It will still be hard for Jeff to make event squad selections. It reminds me of being on the 13 man powerhouse Coors Light team and having to sit out Philly and DuPont due to team size limits at those events. I see it as a positive motivator to be fit when called upon; each one of us can do nothing other than our best for the team and hope that we'll all get our chances this year.

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Images by John Lieswyn