John Lieswyn

By John Alsedek

Bicycle racing is a sport that requires, perhaps more than anything else, perseverance, which is why less than half of all first-year USCF racers ever renew their licenses. Perseverance is a commodity that Shaklee's John Lieswyn has in abundance.

From being an up-and-comer with domestic powerhouses Saturn and Coors Light, to a largely (and unfairly) overlooked member of the U.S. National Team, to an 18-month retirement, to racing as a free agent, and finally to finding his niche as co-leader of the Shaklee squad, Lieswyn has shown the same 'don't give up' attitude off the bike that he has always shown on it.

He had lived in San Francisco, Venezuela, and Indonesia by the time he reached high school in Gainesville, FL, as his father worked on subsidiary mining projects for US Steel. Lieswyn was therefore well-traveled when he discovered a whole new world in cycling. "I used to commute to high school on a cheap Raleigh. Some racers saw me riding around all the time and invited me on the local training rides." It didn't take them long to realize that Lieswyn was something special.

He began racing while attending the University of Florida where he completed his Business Degree in 1990, and soon drew the attention of the Crest amateur team, who signed him for the 1990 season. The team folded at the end of the year, but his solid results, including a win in the Tour of the Gila and third overall in the Casper Classic, earned him a ride on former 7-Eleven director Mike Neel's Spago squad.

He also impressed with his results overseas whilst riding for the National Team, gaining wins in the Grand Prix of Sydney criteriums, and a stage of the Commonwealth Bank Classic, as well as fifth overall in the Regio Tour of Europe. However, perhaps his best-known performance was in a race he didn't quite win. In the USCF National Road Race, he turned in the day's most impressive ride. Not at all awed by the hilly course or stifling heat, Lieswyn attacked with two others who eventually dropped off the pace, and stayed out front for the next 93 miles, building a lead as large as 4:55. While he ultimately finished third to a certain Lance Armstrong, Lieswyn garnered some hard-earned accolades as one of US cycling's strongmen.

In 1992, he joined the Saturn team and set his sights on making the Olympic squad headed to Barcelona. Going into the US Olympic Trials/Nationals as a dark-horse favorite, he helped Saturn win silver in the team time trial, and worked hard in support of teammate Chann McRae in the National Road Race. Two days later, it was Lieswyn's turn to shine in the second, and final road race of the Olympic Trials. He began the decisive break after just 35 miles and was later joined by an 11-rider chase group. Lieswyn was the workhorse of the group, whittling it down to just eight. On the very last climb, he attacked and opened a small gap that he held until the final kilometer, when he was caught. Relative unknown Tim Peddie won the ensuing sprint, and the automatic Olympic berth awarded to the race winner. Lieswyn finished seventh and collapsed by the side of the road, knowing that he'd lost despite being the strongest man in the field.

When the Olympic team was selected, Lieswyn's name wasn't on the list. Instead, the team consisted of Peddie, Lance Armstrong, and Seoul Olympics fourth-place finisher Bob Mionske. They were relatively unsuccessful in Barcelona: Armstrong finished 14th, Peddie finished 37th, and Mionske 74th; Peddie and Mionske - both strong road sprinters - were forced to spend the day doing exactly the sort of work for team leader Lance Armstrong that Lieswyn would have been perfect for. Still, he finished off the season on a high note during another Australian trip, winning another stage of the Commonwealth Bank race and two stages of the Tooheys Grand Prix criterium series. When offered the chance to turn professional for Coors Light, he accepted, expecting it to be the logical next step upward in his career. But things aren't always so logical.

1993 and '94 turned out to be largely lost seasons for Lieswyn. On the loaded Coors Light squad, he was generally shoehorned into the role of domestique. On the rare occasions when he did have a chance to ride for himself, fate intervened, such as in the '94 CoreStates US Professional Championship, when a miscommunication with teammate Mike Engleman cost him as shot at the US title. Things went from bad to worse at the Athens Twilight Criterium that same year, as he was involved in a crash caused by a drunken spectator - a crash that sidelined him with two compressed vertebrae. The injury, combined with his paucity of results the previous two seasons, made it tough for him to get a new contract when Coors Light ceased sponsorship at the end of 1994. He ended up riding for the US National Team, and quietly put together one of his finest seasons, only no one heard about it back in the States.

A fall European tour showed Lieswyn at his best: given the opportunity to ride longer, harder races that better suited his strengths, he won a stage against Euro pros in the Regio Tour, as well as a seventh overall in the Tour Poitou-Charentes and third in a mountain stage of the pro-am Tour of Poland. As a result, he earned a spot on the Worlds team headed to Colombia, but was thwarted by a bout of food poisoning the night before the road race. Combined with the lack of opportunities on domestic teams, it was the last straw for Lieswyn: "Without a team to pay my salary, I couldn't afford to keep doing it. Cycling on the national team while paying a mortgage and student loans...I was deep in debt." So he decided to retire, to settle down with his college sweetheart and new wife, Dawn, and to take a $60,000/year position as finance manager at an Asheville, NC auto dealership. His life in cycling was over...or so he thought.

1996 came and went, with Lieswyn using his bike for commuting, but little else- until he got a call from Saturn rider Fred Rodriguez, who invited him to a training camp ride in Greenville, SC. Lieswyn went, and quickly realized how much he missed the sport. He resumed training, renewed his racing license, and spent the 1997 season racing as a free agent for a variety of domestic squads. By mid-season, his form returned, and he began to get results: a stage win and fifth overall in the Killington Stage Race, a stage in the Tour of Ohio, and second in the USCF National Road Race (a teammate won). He capped off the season with a stage win and second overall in the Tour of Guatemala. He found a steady ride with the Gomart team for 1998, and continued his comeback in solid fashion, winning ten races and finishing in the top ten overall in events such as the Tour of Mendoza (Argentina), the Tour de 'Toona, and the Cascade Classic.

Finally, in 1999, he consummated a deal that had been talked about for several years, and joined the Shaklee professional squad. Besides giving him the team support to perform well: eleven victories, plus two near-wins in the Herald Sun Tour, Shaklee has proven to be a good fit for Lieswyn: "I love racing with those guys...I also enjoy promoting a product I can believe in, unlike Coors Light. Shaklee distributors are some of the most supportive and enthusiastic fans I've ever met." (Note: Shaklee is a vitamin and nutritional supplement company that distributes through local dealers, rather than through national chain stores)

So what does the 31-year old Lieswyn hope to accomplish in 2000? He has two specific goals: winning the Olympic Trials and the US Professional Criterium Championship. He decided on the criterium title almost by default: "Philly (the US pro road race) has gotten too hard for a domestic-based pro to win, so I have to reset my sights," but he feels the hilly circuit near Chicago, IL will suit him. As for the other? Well, just to say look out for Lieswyn in Melbourne...

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