The John Lieswyn Diary

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John Lieswyn
Photo: © Phil Jolley

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.

2nd Copa de Americas

Interlagos Auto Racing Circuit, Sao Paulo Brazil

315 riders including invited top riders from all around South America.

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The five musketeers
Photo: © John Lieswyn

Ailton de Souza called Doug and me a few weeks ago and said the organizer was pleased enough with our work and results to ask for our return. All expenses were to be paid and a top-heavy 10,000 reais prizelist was on offer. Doug couldn't make it but I called around and we put together a strong composite team with Jonas Carney, John Walrod (both Prime Alliance), and Ivan Dominguez (Saturn).

It's a direct Chicago-Sao Paulo overnight flight on United. Jonas has worked his way into business class while Walrod and I are folded up in row 485, a few meters from the tailcone.

Friday January 4

Stumble out of the plane bleary eyed. Jonas is bouncing around after sleeping like a king. I love going to a race where the organizer has every detail covered for us, even travel insurance provided. A driver is waiting to take us to the hotel for the international riders. The Pit Stop Hotel is conveniently located just outside gate 7 of the Interlagos Circuit. We unpack and go for a couple hours easy ride on the track. Right away we know it's a Johnny L kinda course. Upper 20's (Celsius), a bit of wind, smooth and wide blacktop winding and undulating around for about 4km. I am just recovering after coming down with a post holidays head cold, but I feel ok.

Six figures were spent on advertising the Copa, and a challenging new course has been lined up. To fit the requirements of the network that is televising the event live, the race has been limited to just one hour on Sunday morning.

Saturday January 5

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Ivan and a 1kg lampshade
Photo: © John Lieswyn

We do a few laps on the circuit with a few dozen other riders, for the TV crews. Afterwards we explore the southern suburbs of Sao Paulo (population about 18 million). Near the closed streets of a fresh fruit market, Ailton stops at the tailgate of a VW pickup truck laden with a pile of sugar canes and a lawnmower engine powered pressing machine. He buys us fresh pressed cane juice -- it's awesome! Meals are at the Mister Sheik, a chain restaurant that serves take out and buffet style in a huge marble and glass hall. It is right at the convergence of two chaotic avenidas. Unmuffled motorcycle exhausts reverberate through the hard surfaces of the establishment's wide open windows. Outside a huge 3 meter tall furry camel replica lies on its side. Workmen are reattaching the anchor bolts. Of course Walrod and Carney launch into Beavis and Butthead commentary about it, daring and counter-daring each other and anyone who will listen to climb on it.

As I prepare for bed I'm feeling like I have a touch of food poisoning. It's just like I got in Paipa Colombia for the 1995 Worlds, a general weakness and aching of the muscles. This time it's not nearly as bad and I'm drinking liters of bottled water to try and flush my system out.

Sunday January 6

The hydration therapy worked and I feel great. At the venue, a crowd is gathering that eventually fills the stands more than half full at the extreme end and to capacity in front of the start finish area. A Jumbotron television is going across the track from the stands. TV motorbikes, stationary elevated cameras, helicopter mounted cameras, and a Goodyear blimp are all around.

The peloton is huge. Two teams are looking particularly professional, their numerous riders all sporting good equipment and cut muscles. Hmm, can my 90 minutes a day of December training cut it here? There is even a sprinter from the Italian Lampre team here. Luckily we are called to the front.

The TV anchorwoman interviews our flamboyant and highly touted sprinter, Jonas. I can't hear what is said, but seconds later she and her crew scramble out of the way and with a roar from the crowd we're sprinting off the line. Ivan and I dive into the corkscrew descent sitting first and second and I stay in the top twenty during the first lap. Later on Walrod says that he looked back and it was carnage behind us, literally hundreds of riders being dropped in the first two laps.

I bridged up to the first promising break of the race after 3 laps, and powered it over the two climbs of that lap to see if it could be cemented into a sustainable lead. Unfortunately my break companions weren't able or willing to work with me, so we were quickly caught.

Jonas was probably wishing we were wearing two-ways so he could rein me in. I was hitting redline if I wasn't at the front over the top of the main hill, going into the final kilometer of each lap. The accordion effect was strong enough that the pace was about 50kph at the front and 60kph just 40 riders back. I watched as more breaks were attempted and failed. I had confidence that Walrod would be able to bring a small dangerous break back. You could move from 50th to top 5 in one downhill curve, the road was so wide and fast.

Around 3 laps to go I bridged up to another promising break and this time the guys in it were motivated and a couple of them were really powerful. We built a 30 second lead rapidly. I quit helping at 5km (1 1/2 laps) to go and sat last wheel. This was going to be a nailbiter.

The entire last lap I kept looking back as the peloton swarmed closer and closer.

2km to go, small hill. Heart rate 185. Downhill sweeper into the final climb, still at 180 on adrenaline now. The bunch is no more than 3 seconds behind.

1km to go banner flashes by. The road pitches up. Click click up the gear cluster, stand up, going through the break as guys are blowing up.

900m to go, can't wait any longer or they'll be on me. Swing right and full gas now, clicking back into higher gears.

There's a cacophony of noise but through it all I can make out some feeble shouts of warning from some of the breakaway as I build momentum past them.

I'm past them all now and have a small gap, but one guy looks like he might be able to close it.

No more peeks back, stare ahead and Hunghhh! Climbing the last bit of the hill in nearly my top gear and accelerating through 50kph.

In the last 200m I look back and seeing that I've got it by a wide margin I sit up, zip up my jersey, and double hand post it.

I didn't seem to feel pain during the last kilometer, but after the line it hurts bad. It's ten minutes and two interviews later before my heart rate starts to come down to normal.

The podium is on a metal scaffolding wrapped in sponsor banners, 10 meters above the roof of the officials building. Between riders, presenters, press, and podium girls there must be 20 people up here and I'm worried over the structural integrity of this platform.

Even though we're only 30 meters above the track, from this vantage I can see the tops of skyscrapers down in the valley below and it's giving me the willies.

Monday January 7 - celebration and checking out Sao Paulo

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Sao Paulo
Photo: © John Lieswyn

It rains today. Jonas, John and I gingerly descend an oil slicked road from the hotel and make our way to the University for a few laps away from 6 lane bustling traffic. We hear that the TV showing of the race garnered a 19 rating, equivalent to 37 million viewers. Ailton takes us out to the Jardineira Grill. For $240 seven of us are treated to a sultan's feast. The restaurant has marble floors, inlaid wood paneling, tuxedoed waiters running about with skewers of meat. Someone comments that they must be lined up in a kitchen anteroom like ninjas "hut, hut, hut, hut, hut" because they are everywhere around us. Lobster, gargantuan shrimp, three kinds of smoked salmon, caviar, you imagine it, it was there. Then on to the Showbarlounge in Vila Madalena section to cut loose until 3.

Tuesday January 8 - departure day

Up at 8. Wash clothes, breakfast with amazing Brazilian coffee, wash bike after yesterday's deluge. At 10:30 I awaken the only guy who wants to ride this "early"- Ivan. He grabs a water and cookies and we hit the road. He's 5 minutes out of bed and it's his first taste of Sao Paolo traffic. In 10 minutes we're descending on a steep 8 lane road at 80kph, following the motorbikes, lane-splitting, weaving around cars and buses. After the ride we handle some paperwork and pack for the midnight flight home.

When I get home to Des Moines and jump in the car for the drive to Ames, the word "sterile" comes to mind as Dawn and I turn onto Fleur Drive north into the city. Wide empty roads. Freshly painted curbs and trimmed grass. Businesses set back from the road allowing for thousand-car parking lots. It's warm today, about 10 C. I skip spring training planning to actually do spring training with a nearly 3 hour group ride, January 9, in Iowa. Now that's unusual.

Results - Copa America