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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.

Round and round the Southeast

I knew it before the week began. I wouldn't recover, I'd get sick, and I'd race anyway. Choice? Don't know. Monday was rent car and drive to Asheville, went straight to a Victory Brewing/Amoroso's women's team birthday party for Kirsten. Stayed up late writing Georgia report, and woke up early to go over to my permanent home in Asheville. The outgoing tenant had a death in the family and left the house a disaster. The incoming tenant had to move in Wednesday. So I worked for 18 straight hours, down on hands and knees, scrubbing and vacuuming. Went to bed at 2:30am and up at 8 to get ready for a four hour ride on some of my favorite roads, including the awesome ascent of Elk Mountain and descent of Ox Creek.

I thought of how much I've been away from home this year. How much Dawn is sacrificing for my career, how much we miss each other. I might as well... win a bloody race now and then.

So I did. ”

A freak mechanical failure brought me down in a heap as I was leaving Joey's house. I was bruised but okay, and our super mechanic Chad (the hardest working mech I know) assures me it won't happen again. It really wasn't particularly anyone's fault so I don't need to go into it further. So I borrowed Joey's town bike, an old Bianchi with fenders, and set off to meet the gang at the double decker coffee bus downtown. It wasn't too bad a fit, but I would stop twice to adjust things.

On Elk Mountain Scenic Highway (a dead quiet winding two lane that until recently was dirt) we climbed for 45 minutes, nothing but our breathing and occasional conversation to break the sounds of nature around us. Birds chirped and the wind rustled the trees. This is what bicycling is all about! We stopped in Marshall at a coffee shop and I iced my bruised ankle (from the morning's spill). As soon as we got going again I knew something was wrong: I was absolutely empty and the slowest of the women had to wait for me on the next climb. Near the end of the ride I split off to head back to Joey's, and slowed to a crawl. Thought about climbing off and having a nap, but managed to get to the house without stopping. I went from thorough enjoyment to absolute misery in just two hours. In the garage I spun each tire and found the problem: they each did a couple rotations and rapidly ground to a halt. NICE bike maintenance, Joe! Phew, at least there is a reason for my exhaustion… it felt like I was towing a tree behind me the whole ride.

Greenwood criterium, May 1

The next morning I composed a presentation for the Shelby Rotary Club. I could feel another head cold coming on but I really wanted to do at least one of the Hincapie crits this week. The Thursday night Greenwood SC race was the only one that fit my schedule, so Joey and I carpooled down there. It had rained but the course was pretty safe. I was also really impressed with the grip my Maxxis tires provided, and for the second rain race this year experienced nary a single slip.

I got in a large breakaway after about halfway. Saturn had two sprinters in there, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Russian Concussion (Ivan and Victor). Navigators had two as well. Ofoto had three, and their strongest man seemed to be Erik Saunders. With a slight ulterior motive I told Erik, "Stop pulling so hard! With your strength you can win this: save it for an attack!" I hoped that either I could go with him or if he went alone it would force the Saturn and Navigators to chase.

Sure enough, at six laps to go Erik attacked. Unfortunately for all of us, Saturn and Navigators just looked at each other. "You do it!" and "No, YOU do it!" seemed to be their argument. With a lap and a half to go I just happened to be on Victor's wheel on the backside hill when a spectator yelled: "Go now Victor!" He was like, "Yeah, that's a good idea, I think I'll go now". It was tough but I held on to his fierce acceleration and we were away. He went full gas for about a kilometer and then wiggled his elbow for me to come through, which I was JUST barely able to do for a few hundred meters. Which put us at half a lap to go. I forced him to lead it out, hoping that I could pull second place out of this. Out of the last turn I drew even with him, and dug deep. For the next ten seconds, which seemed like an eternity to me, we were wheel to wheel; neither of us gained an advantage. Then, ever so slowly, he cracked me and I sat up 100m before the line, settling for third. Not bad, though! I was pleased with my first podium finish in weeks, especially considering that I knew I was coming down with a head cold.


Shelby Criterium , May 3 2003

The next morning I drove to Shelby and gave my talk to the Rotary Club. Near the end of the talk I began sweating profusely. Initially I wondered if it was nervousness, speaking in front of a hundred people. A couple hours later as I lay down for a nap I knew it wasn't that but a case of full-on exhaustion. I slept right through a fierce thunderstorm (with 70mph winds that knocked trees down and left 10,000 Charlotte residents without power) and skipped any ride today.

Saturday. I'm staying with the Shelby race organizer, Mike Keeley and his very accommodating wife Rhonda, as I have every year. Despite feeling under the weather, I'm going to give it my all today in service of the team and hopefully one of my guys will take it for us. Fifteen laps into the race a break goes clear, and I'm in it with our main sprinter Greg Henderson. Navs have Vogels and Davidenko, while Saturn has Horner and Wohlberg. Prime has just one: Danny Pate. It's a stacked break.

For the next 20 minutes I'm pulling the hardest in the break, knowing that I've got the best sprinter (Greg) in there. With 26 to go Horner breaks the unofficial truce with a fierce attack that I go after right away. For the next six laps it is just attack after attack as the Saturn guys try to ditch Vogels and Henderson. Suddenly I find myself clear with Davidenko, Wohlberg, and Pate. The latter two didn't like their chances against Davidenko in a sprint and pretty much wouldn't let up. As soon as Davidenko and I brought Pate back, Wohlberg would go. And then Pate again, and so forth. Vassily and I were absolutely on the rivet, tongues on our stems, but we would not be broken.

With a lap to go Pate took the $750 'Gambler's Prime'. I was tempted to try for it but figured the win was far more important. The peloton was just 12 seconds behind us, but fortunately for my peace of mind it was all green jerseys on the front. I figured if we got caught, my boys stood a pretty good chance of winning anyway, so I refused to get on the front for the entire last lap. We were four abreast looking at each other with half a lap to go, and finally Davidenko set a false tempo into the wind and the last two corners. I burst off his wheel out of the last corner and dug in for the long, slightly uphill sprint. Davidenko and Wohlberg started pulling even with me and then I thought of how much I've been away from home this year. How much Dawn is sacrificing for my career, how much we miss each other. I might as well make it somewhat worth it and win a bloody race now and then. So I did.

I didn't really fall asleep until 5am thanks to overheated metabolism, achy legs, and my stuffy head. I finally threw off the covers, opened the windows, and swallowed a few Advil, and slept soundly 'til 10.

I drove the rental like a bat out of hell and Hayden kept me company on the way to Roswell, a suburb of Atlanta.



We caught the end of the women's race on arrival; our sister team Diet Rite won again with Tina Mayolo-Pic.

As far as our performance in the equally weighted (NRC points wise) but significantly richer pursed Roswell criterium, all I can say is we went from having it all in hand to absolutely blowing it. We had a chance to really score some dough - it's been a lean month prizemoney wise, and we couldn't put it together. I feel personally responsible; I'm not doing my job leading the team except when I get in the breaks myself. In other words, I can't seem to organize a successful lead-out train for Greg and Kev. After the race, a couple team managers rode over to Kevin and asked for his support protesting the last lap actions of Jonas Carney (who won). Kevin flatly said no. He saw nothing wrong with Jonas protecting the wheel of his leadout man, Alex Candelario. I didn't see the purported actions but I volunteered that Jonas has been winning for two decades, using the same tactics that any sprinter would use to hang onto their lead-out trains. I had a flight to catch, so I didn't hang out to hear how the officials ruled.


Now I have three days off before a planned nine hour drive to the Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas. It's not a scheduled team race so while all expenses are out of my own pocket, there is a fair chance it could be financially worth the drive. Plus I hear that it is hilly, and I have a hard time resisting the lure of a tough race. Flat crits? No problem missing those. The only hitch is that I really need some time off. If I go I'll carpool down there with fellow Iowan and teammate Jason McCartney, and meet Brice at the race. Too bad my 66 Mercedes convertible isn't reassembled yet, it might have been a nice early summer drive with the top down.

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