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John Lieswyn
Photo: © Phil Jolley

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 astages in the Sun Tour, Killington and Superweek. In 2002, he is riding for 7Up/NutraFig.

With a little help from my friends

Nature Valley Grand Prix, Minnesota (National Racing Calendar), June 14-16

The Nature Valley Grand Prix is a three day omnium, with the overall result scored on points for each stage instead of time. While not everyone has come for this stop on the National Racing Calendar circuit (notably absent is Mercury) there is a pretty strong field here. Lots of sprinters, since the stage racers are getting ready for the UCI stage race, Tour de Beauce (Quebec). I'm the only nutcase doing both the Nature Valley Grand Prix and Beauce. No day in between... I'm flying direct Sunday night to Montreal.

The competition for this event includes thirty pros from:

  • Navigators: five riders including Kirk O'Bee, Marty Nothstein
  • Jelly Belly: four riders including Jason McCartney
  • Prime Alliance: five riders including Chris Horner, Jonas Carney
  • Schroeder Iron: six riders including Jamie Paolinetti, Hilton Clarke
  • Saturn: four riders including Frank McCormack (defending Nature Valley Grand Prix champ 2001), Victor Rapinksi
  • USPS: two riders including Robbie Ventura, Kenny Labbe
  • And a slew of strong regional amateurs.

Winona Lake Park Road Race, Friday, June 14, 2002, 80mi/130km

Two laps of a 20 mile rural circuit, one hill per lap, then 15 laps on flat roads adjacent to Lake Park.

The small town of Winona sits on the border with Wisconsin, right on the Mississippi River. There's a reasonable hill on the big circuit but overall it's not hilly or long enough. On the second lap a split of about 20 riders goes up the road after the hill and Navigators tries to keep the pressure on through the light crosswinds. Their main sprinter Marty Nothstein has made the front split while all of Horner's Prime Alliance men have not. The field is in three groups but it comes back together on the descent. Just sitting in mid-pack I hit 58mph (95kph)! The small circuits are pretty blazing, over 50kph average. National amateur criterium champ Ben Sharp slid out spectacularly early on. Nobody can get away although a few breaks looked promising. Schroeder Iron has a bunch of guys here and they're just lighting it up with attack after attack. At five laps to go a seven-man break escaped with one of every team, except us. Dan and I took turns and brought it back.

One kilometer to go Dan panics and hits his afterburners, way too early. I'm thinking if he can hold that he'd better be leading out Mario. 500m to go Dan is swarmed and I come 13th, close enough to watch Hilton Clarke edge out Olympic Gold medallist Marty Nothstein. It has taken Marty a year longer than he expected but he is really developing into a top domestic road racer.

Jonas has his Siberian Huskies on this trip and needed to get a motel instead of host housing, so we split a room. We stayed up late talking about the culture of consumerism, globalisation, and the 9/11 attacks. Gozer and Zool were just happy to snooze and dream of chasing the abundant Minnesota wildlife.


St. Paul Capitol Criterium, Saturday, June 15, 90 minutes

The wind is gusty, the course has a small hill and a tight 180 degree turn at one end. All together these factors make for a very hard race - my specialty! I sat back and watched the action for the first half hour and felt very, very good.

A large group is splitting off. Guys are bridging in ones and twos until there are about 20 riders about 20 seconds up. Horner is the only Prime Alliance guy up there and it's such an unwieldy size group... it's gotta come back. Finally I realize sitting on the back isn't going to work anymore and I jump off. Marty Nothstein must be watching me because for the second time in two days he's right on me, but he won't take a pull (he has team-mates ahead, I don't).

It takes me two laps to close the gap but I'm extra-motivated because the announcer manages to ignore the fact I'm the one doing it: "Marty NOTHSTEIN IS GOING ACROSS!!!!! Cheer him on, St. Paul! NOTHSTEIN, NOTHSTEIN, NOTHSTEIN!!!" I guess I'm chopped liver. Dave McCook (Prime Alliance) made the last and hardest bridge of the race. After McCook the selection is done. Eventually I get away with Horner and Johnson (Schroeder Iron). Ventura (USPS) knows this is it and bridges up to us. He takes a bit too long "recovering" on the back. Horner the thinking man won't stand for the best sprinter of the four just sitting on. He goes back and insists Robbie take a turn. Next thing I know those two have cancelled each other out and right off the back. Now it's just Johnson and me.

Due to logistics I couldn't have my Ritchey race wheels and tires at this race and my training partner Justin Rumley lent me his race wheels. I find out the hard way that Specialized Turbo S tires just don't cut it for hard cornering when I lean a bit too deep into the 180 turn and slide out. After a free lap to put my head back on and straighten the bars out, I'm reinstalled with Johnson. Only now there are two more in the break: Dale Sedgwick and Jon Page.

At first I just slay it on the hill but soon realize that much power isn't necessary to keep us away. Horner finally breaks free of the chase group and tries to solo across to us. Once we lap the field Johnson's team goes to the front, keeping him out of trouble and ensuring Horner won't catch us. I'm very sure of myself for this finish but when my old friend Jonas offers to do me a favor, why not? I've got Dan sweeping my rear wheel to keep me from getting swarmed. Jonas taps his rear end to signal "let's go". It's a bit early, I'm thinking. We blast by the Schroeder Iron leadout train and head into the 180. Comin' in HOT. Heart rate maxed, fish outta water, just tryin' to hold onto Jonas. Sprint? How? "Jonas!" I gasp out. He eases up coming out of the 180 so I can latch on again. No wonder this guy wins so many races.

Jonas gets me to 400m and sure enough we'd gone too early. Hilton Clarke is coming by with Johnson in tow, Jonas is done, and Hilton takes me into the left curb. He could have shut me down hard and let Johnson by on the right, but Hilton leaves just enough room that I squeeze by in the gutter and now it's just Johnson and me. Between Jonas' accelerations and Dan shutting the bunch down in the 180 I'm not too worried about slowing down at the foot of the hill, 250m to go. Just like Brazil in January Jonas is probably back there right now screaming at me in his head "go Johnny, wot you waitin' for, GO!" At the last second, halfway up the hill, I jump first and lead it into the last corner. Race won. Horner comes in 5th, so now it'll be close between him and I for the overall. Jonas is going to catch some flak for helping me, but I probably had good chance of winning today regardless of that leadout... after all I did have Dan there too.

Drove home so I could spend a last night with Dawn and Closer [John's wife and Doberman, respectively - Ed]. This way I get our car back for Dawn, as I'll be away for two weeks now. She rides her bike to work but sometimes when she pulls a 72 hour emergency stint it's nice to have a car available. It's three hours down to Ames; tomorrow Justin will drive me back up.

On the way I'm following a "rabbit" (speeder who will hopefully draw the ticket instead of me).It's a young guy in a Lincoln. I'm following at four car lengths, just thinking how floaty his suspension is over the seams in the highway, when I see a brown flash from the bushes on the right. Deer! The kid sees it too, quick reflexes, tires smoking and he's fishtailing but it isn't enough and SMACK. I'm instantly sick. Bambi. But elated too. My Saab has awesome brakes, thankfully, or I'd have a Lincoln trunk emblem for a hood ornament. The Lincoln is ruined, undrivable, airbags deployed and all. But he's OK, and I'm back on my way. Once home I wash my bike (bad idea-tempted the rain gods) wash the bugs off the car for Dawn, do laundry, and mow the lawn. At nearly 10pm Dawn and I ride our bikes back from the vet school and I finally get to howl in the shower as I clean out the scrapes from today's crash. Long day, longer one tomorrow.


Stillwater Criterium, Sunday, June 16, 2002

Ryan Guay (Navigators) later tells me that he rode over to the course with Frank McCormack (Saturn), and Frank was so jazzed about the steep hill that he stripped off all the extra weight he usually carries. Bye bye Power Tap, pump and spare. I found out about Frank's enthusiasm as soon as the race started. For several years Frank won everything in America but perhaps his crash at the Tour of Japan put an end to that reign of dominance. Now he's their road captain, a bastion of experience and still quite capable when he gets motivated.

Perhaps even more motivated were the Jelly Belly guys. As soon as the skies opened (shouldn't have washed the bike) and the road got slick, they were off the front. I was going incredibly slowly in the corners and still sliding, having to chase back huge gaps constantly. McCartney and Horner get away from us. I'm trying my best but I simply can't keep any speed in the wet on these tires. I wish I had my sticky Ritcheys now. I very nearly took Frank down when I slid out at 35mph on the descent. Now I've got matching raspberries on both hips.

Thankfully Andy Stone (Shimano) sets me up with a new set of wheels, bends my rear derailleur back into a semblance of working order, and I'm off to rejoin what is now the chase group of a dozen guys. These tires are at a very low "rain pressure" and I'm not slipping out on the steep climb anymore. Mindful of the fact I've just had four minutes off to recover while my bike was put back into running order, I hold back and take a few strong pulls with the group rather than using the free lap to my gain. Two laps later the road are drying out and I hit out on my own.

Now on the dry, having low pressure is a big liability. Nothing to be done about it now. I'm closing fast on Horner/McCartney until Horner attacks and it becomes a three man pursuit. Three laps to go and I know that I'm not going to get McCartney. I don't know how this'll pan out for the overall but I've got nothing left. The thick crowd on the hill gets to see a rather anticlimactic top three finish, one guy at a time. I don't know about Chris and Jason, but I crawled up the hill the last time. As it turns out, I did take the overall. Woohoo!

After the podium appearance I was collecting myself to go get changed for the flight to Montreal. Accidentally bumped into a Cat 2 who was getting ready to start his race. I apologized and he must have been one of the people who took my Quad Cities report badly, because he replied snidely "don't worry about me, I'm just a Cat 2" I got a sudden hot flush and thought of catching him up with a defensive remark, but then reminded myself to just "let it go".

I wasn't thinking - since the road was now dry I recommended the wheels I'd now crashed on twice to Justin for the Cat 2/3 race. (in lieu of his other set of carbon wheels with tubular tires that he'd brought up for today) He was doing great when the tires just slid out without warning on him. He's really scraped up and thinks his wife will be upset at him. He's got the Iowa State Road Race champs next week and he'll be feverish for a few days.

Riding the bus from Montreal to Quebec City now- Charles will pick me up and then tonight I'll sandbag the street sprints prologue. Team 7UP/NutraFig will be working for him as the first Canadian across the line in stage one gets automatic selection to the Commonwealth Games team.