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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

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John Lieswyn
Photo: © 7Up/Maxxis

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 2003, he is once again riding for 7Up, this year co-sponsored by tyre maker Maxxis.

De de de DAH!

Tour de Georgia
Prologue - April 22: Savannah, 4.2km

Go hard
Photo: © Jon Devich
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"De"? We are in America, aren't we? Tour DuPont, Tour de France, Tour of Georgia. Anyway, we are back in big time US stage racing with this event. That it's every bit as well organized as DuPont was is unsurprising, considering that some of the staff is the same.

For the week between Sea Otter and this race I worked on my classic Benz (three ten hour days of that) rode three days, and hosted an all night dinner/dance going-away party for our Colombian veterinarian friend and his wife (he's taking an internship at Ohio State).

After a day of flying on Monday, I arrived at the Hyatt race hotel at 6pm and had just enough remaining light to scout the prologue course with Greg. The 3km loop has eight ninety degree turns and two chicanes around one block park squares. It's an 1800s residential neighborhood similar to those in Charleston and New Orleans. Huge two story row houses have second floor balconies facing the street, a necessity in the days before air conditioning. Sidewalks, parks, and neighborhood stores abound in this resurgent area. From one of the few remaining decayed houses came the sounds of circular saws and hammers. Another building, formerly a soup kitchen, was all boarded up. Spray painted on the side was the ironic and subtle statement: "This is not here."

The start/finish area is lined with vendor tents, a catered VIP area with its own giant plasma screen monitor, another 'Big Mo' drive in movie size screen, and an army of race staff. Two announcers are getting the buzz going 90 minutes before the race, and local celebrities are getting ready for their race. I warm up for three laps before being directed off course for UCI rules bike measurements. My bike passes easily, and I'm back out for another lap. I'm feeling lackadaisical so when Horner blazes by on his warm-up I see the perfect opportunity to check his cornering lines and do a near race-pace hot lap. I can't stay with him and after the lap I nearly lose my breakfast! He was an early starter but I had nearly two hours to go. Sitting down a few hundred meters past the start line, I watched O'Neill and Horner's starting techniques and listened for their times before going back to the team's area to warm up on the trainer.

Apparently nobody told the announcers that our Greg Henderson is a double Olympian and World Cup track star, and a favorite for this event. They were quite shocked by his 5:02 ride (three hundredths slower than Horner, good for third) and we were equally surprised to hear from him that he finished on a dead flat rear tire. He'd nailed a pothole on the second turn and it went down steadily, until he had to slow to 30kph through the last corner with his disc wheel sliding. We didn't tell many people, especially as guys like Horner wouldn't believe it anyway. (Horner didn't believe that my seat slipped down to the top tube in the TT I won in New Zealand, either.) Some people saw the wheel sliding all around as he crossed the line, and the word got out. Who knows how much time Greg lost, and I'm just stunned he could go 5:02 on a flat.

Greg told me which side of each section of the course was most sheltered from the wind by the buildings, and also warned me not to start too hard. "It's a pursuit, man. Wind it up here and here," he said.

This is the first day this year I've seen temps above 80, and I got a bit sunburnt riding the trainer shirtless under the bright Georgia sun. I had every turn and most of the bumps of the course memorized. Every shift and whether I would be standing up sprinting or down in the aero bars was planned, and my hour on the trainer was just psych up time. Today I employed a technique that my teammates sometimes use on me; get me angry and I'll go fast. It took the entire warm-up hour but I managed to call up enough garbage in my head to get mad. Ready to rip this race apart, and show the pundits what team 7UP is made of.

Twenty minutes to go. Started a five minute race pace interval. Fifteen minutes to go, warm down and hydrate. Ten minutes to go, Chad takes my bike and switches it to rear disc, final derailleur adjustment check, and roll over to the start line. For the third time (the second time was because some other team manager complained to the officials about my "suspect" looking bike) they checked my bike and declared it to be within regs. Five minutes to start and Steph waits with me with water and a towel. All the stored rage evaporates as I'm distracted by a rotten eggs smell in the start area. Whether it was a sewer or the propane fueled generator in a nearby RV, I don't know, but it's a handy excuse for my mind to wander as I sat on the pavement and stretched.

Off the ramp the trepidation I'd felt in warm-up disappeared immediately. I was spinning a big gear easily, and didn't even notice the wind and slight rise in the road. No brakes in turns 1 and 2, I'm on autopilot just following the race plan in my head until after the two park square chicanes. Now emotion finally comes back into my head and I start to think about what I'm doing. Greg's advice and the wry encouragement my wife Dawn occasions to offer echo in a corner of my mind while frustrations flood out and are translated into my ride. Perhaps this is where the face of pain I'm known for originates… anyway, enough introspection. I was flying and Jeff leaned out of the car window to shout "Go! You are on a good time!" I'm not sure if he's just saying that, but in the future I'll believe him more readily. As the finish clock comes into my fuzzy vision the first digits I can make out are 4:49. The time to beat is O'Neill's 4:58 and I start to believe I can make it to the line in 9 seconds. For some reason my shins are searing with pain but otherwise I'm just fixated on that clock. The last hundred meters take an eternity and I deflate mentally as I watch the numbers tick past 5:00. Still, it's good for fourth and I'm fairly pleased with that!

Two and a half hours in the van over to Augusta, and more great southern hospitality. They are really nice here!


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