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Tour of Georgia - 2.3

Georgia, USA, April 22-27, 2003

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Wide open Tour de Georgia ready to roll

By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Savannah, Georgia

It's been seven years since the Tour DuPont folded and ever since, American cycling has craved a top-level international stage race. Today, the prodigal son of Tour DuPont, the first-ever Tour de Georgia will get underway in Savannah, Georgia with a technical 4.2km prologue time trial, but the rest of the week may be more than many teams have bargained for. On paper, the Georgia race may match up to the DuPont race someday, but it has a major legacy to live up to. The UCI 2.3 stage race then circumnavigates the Peach state with five stages that total 989.2km. Most of the stages are on flat to rolling terrain, except the penultimate 196km Dalton-Gainesville mountain stage across the Appalachian Mountains with two tough climbs that should blow the race apart.

In fact, due to the nature of the Tour de Georgia's point-to-point stages, the average stage length is almost 200km. This means that most stages will be about five hours of racing; much longer than most North American teams are used to, especially the many new Division III squads competing in this first Georgia tour.

Wednesday's Stage 1 from Augusta to Macon is a flat 223km race to the home town of soul singer James Brown, with three tricky finishing circuits that climbs steep Coleman Hill.

Stage 2 from Macon to Columbus covers 202km and has a KOM sprint in Warm Springs after 123km before three finishing circuits in town.

Friday is Stage 3, a 222km rolling ride from Pine Mountain to Rome and this long stage may have offer some surprises when GC contenders look to get some distance on other key riders.

Saturday's penultimate stage from Dalton to Gainesville offers some difficult and challenging terrain that will be the key stage in the Georgia tour. First on the menu after 44km of racing is the 13km ascent up Fort Mountain (866m) that gains 640m. Then the course traverses rolling terrain through Ellijay and climbing for 70km across the Chattahoochee National Forest, where the film Deliverance was shot. The second KOM comes after 141km after a steepish 10km climb up to Woody Gap that will provide a further GC selection in the Tour de Georgia. But the Woody Gap climb comes with 55 mostly downhill kilometers to race, which should provide a possibility for a regrouping of strong riders before the finish in Gainesville.

Sunday's final stage will wrap up the Georgia tour in a 142km circuit race in Atlanta, but the final outcome in the Georgia race should already be decided before the final stage in Atlanta.

As for the contenders, the inaugural Tour de Georgia looks on paper to be wide open. Although Saturn has dominated American racing this spring, the car boys now have to play in the big leagues and go head-to-head with some top European teams like Rabobank and Vini Caldirola-Sidermec. Saturn has Chris Horner, Aussie Nathan O'Neill and climber Tom Danielson, with speedster Charlie Dionne looking for stage wins. Rabobank has brought old pro Martin Den Bakker for the GC, supported by young sprinter Bobbie Traksel and stage seekers Wielinga, Niermann and Veneberg. Vini Caldirola-Sidermec will be led by two-time American USPRO champ Fred Rodriguez, who has been seeking the right form all season. Look for his teammates fast Gabrielle Balducci and hardman Mauro Raedelli to grab a stage win if the opportunity presents.

Navigators has just returned from its European campaign that mostly focused on single-day races. Although the always dangerous and in-form Aussie Henk Vogels and powerhouse Russian Grishkine will be in the hunt for stage laurels, but it's hard to believe that their top rider Davidenko can have any hope of winning the Georgia race on GC.

Italian squad Formaggio Pinzolo Fiave' has an interesting blend of experience and youth. Both Massimiliano Mori and Slovenian Uros Murn can win stages along with neo-pro climber Rizzi and experienced sprinter Moreno Di Biase.

Prime Alliance's Jonathan Vaughters has the experience to contend for GC honors in Georgia; it remains to be seen if his team can go head-to-head with the more experienced squads here. As for the USPS squad on hand in Georgia, it's hard to see where they fit in. Floyd Landis would be a favourite if he weren't recovering from a broken hip and the guest spot of mountain biker and superb climber Roland Green is interesting, while USPS has tough Tony Cruz likely in the hunt for stage wins.

Otherwise, the Tour de Georgia has teams like 7Up/Maxxis, Jelly Belly, USPRO Champ Chann McRae's Schroeder Iron squad and Sierra Nevada-Clif Bar that will be looking for any good news that might present itself.

At the bottom of the food chain in the Tour de Georgia are marginal Division teams that just may be able to hang in there in such a difficult race as the Tour De Georgia.

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