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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.
Why I race in the USA, Old man time & a couple of races
Lots of people have been asking me why I haven't written in a while. Like most people, I've been riveted by this year's Tour de France. My writer's block has been in no small part derived from the thought; who wants to read 'lil ol Johnny's Superweek diary when giants are locked in a historic and titanic battle? So this will be my longest entry yet. Hopefully you'll be entertained, and I've titled the sections for those of you without the patience or time to read it all.
After my win at the UCI 2.3 (mid level international ranking, mentioned only because so few Americans know about races north of our border) Tour de Beauce, I've realized that what my wife Dawn has been telling me for years is true. While I can hold my own in US-style criterium racing, my body is meant for stage racing. Why didn't I go to Europe? Any regrets? And what did Velonews mean by "Old Man Time"? In answering these questions I've found something to loosen the writer's block, and I'll apologize in advance for the wordiness!
Why didn't I go to Europe?
At the risk of navel gazing too much, I'll relate this ancient history to you in attempting to explain part of the reason I chose racing in Stateside over the Continent. Many riders do make the choice to race in the USA, for reasons running the gamut from "Good Ol USA (homesickness)" to "nobody over here is walking around a cyclists apartment with IV drips going at the same time". Guys with serious horsepower like Fraser and Moninger have made careers in the USA when they easily could have raced in Europe had they chosen to.
In the early nineties Chris Carmichael was the US team coach, but as many guys from that era will tell you, he was Lance's coach first and our coach a very distant second. Try as I might to absorb some tactical knowledge or guidance from him, I was mostly just given Lance's training program (which nobody else could follow, it was so hard) and business school-type goal-setting seminars.
Back then there were two World Championships: Pro and Amateur. World's was an important stepping-stone on the way to the last amateur Olympics in Barcelona. The 1991 World's team selection camp was held in Colorado that summer. Darren Baker, Chann McRae, Bobby Julich, Lance, and others were there. While everyone was tough, I remember one training ride that may just be larger than life to me and me alone, but on it Chris was driving a moto in front of us. Bobby had tons of mechanical trouble that day and had to climb in a car. Meanwhile everyone else fought to hold on as Chris accelerated faster and faster. Eventually only Lance and I were left. Similarly, the US National Road Race that year was another example of where a tactically-unguided Johnny L hammered off the front all day and still finished third. Lance won, thanks to the efforts of Jonas Carney and my own impatience.
The Regio Tour, 1991
So that was the situation going into the Regio Tour of Europe, most countries' final selection for the Stuttgart World's. Before the Regio started, Chris told us in a pre race meeting that Lance would not be finishing the stage race; he was headed to Stuttgart early for specific time trial training. With an early departure for Lance I hoped he would do a bit of repayment to those of us who had worked for him in previous races. Nowadays he is most generous of his time and treasure, but then he was just DRIVEN to personal victory. I must also add a final dynamic, and this is a bit of crow eating: I wasn't too well liked. Not just self centered like many young cyclists, I was also uptight and whiny.
Stage 1 of the Regio, a road race featuring the best amateurs in the world. Halfway through, there were only two Americans left in the front group of 30. You can guess which two. Lance was killing it and guys were dropping like flies. I rode up to him and asked if he would chill for a while so I could eat an energy bar; I wasn't completely rid of my "Kid Bonk" moniker. I don't recall if he answered me and it could have been that he didn't understand that I was asking him not to attack for a few minutes. So I go back to 30th wheel and start munching. Next little bump in the road and "wham!" the group has lined out and split in the middle, with Lance driving the front 15 guys full tilt.
Stuffing the bar back in my pocket, I angrily set about leapfrogging one guy at a time. It took a few kilometres but eventually the second half of the lead group was clawing its way back to Lance's half, and I wasn't helping them. I was pretty pissed about this and just as we were about to rejoin, I got on the front of my dozen or so guys and finished welding it back together, but mainly on my way back to the front of what was essentially one group again. Lance took this moment to look back (for the first time?) and see that his teammate (me) was chasing him down. That's a no-no but in these circumstances with him being in a such a large "split" I felt at the time that my five seconds on the front wasn't such a terrible mistake.
When I caught up to him, the tables were turned.couldn't get a word in edgewise before he lambasted me for "chasing him down". Well, I quickly forgot about it and the race went on. I suppose he didn't forget, and I think he really wanted to win the stage. He knew I was a faster sprinter and if he was to win, he'd have to get rid of me. (Lesson here is: always be thinking how to win the race; at that time I never did that, rather my few wins just came to me through strength and luck more than tactical planning.)
With 20km to go there were three guys left in contention; Lance, a Frenchman, and myself. I was finishing a monster pull leading into a climb when Lance attacked with the French guy on his wheel. Needless to say, they had a quick gap on me. Chris drove along side- "what happened?" to which I replied "you didn't see that?!" He said he'd go up there and get Lance to quit dragging the French guy away from me, which he did. Now the French rider knew that his odds of winning were 50/50 instead of being underdog 2 to 1, so after having sat on Lance's wheel for a ways he had sufficient gas to ensure I didn't get back on. Over the summit I watched them disappear and eventually I was caught by the chasing seven riders. At the finish Lance won while I demolished the next group by a hundred meters for third.
On the podium I was all scowls while answering the media and accepting our awards (big mistake!). Back at the hotel I'd basically forgotten the incident when Chris called me into his room for a talk. Lance was already there, and it was apparent that they'd talked already. I was given a chance to tell my side of what happened. Chris ignored my side and replied that I owed Lance an apology, and that if I didn't apologize I was on a one way ticket home with no chance of making the Olympic Team in '92. It was as if the rug was yanked from beneath me, and to his credit Lance did try to put me on some kind of footing by telling me that in the USA I was the only rider he had to watch out for.
So a few days later Lance dropped out while in the lead, and we all soldiered on. Darren Baker ended up giving me a sweet lead-out on the final stage to steal fifth overall from an eastern bloc rider. The minute and 40 seconds I lost on stage one when Lance attacked me was the difference between my fifth overall and second, a result that would have gone a lot longer in Euro pro team manager's eyes. When I rode up to Chris to seek his approval for Darren and my efforts, he seemed oddly indifferent. I ended up riding World's only because another teammate came down sicker than I was already coming down myself, and he withdrew his name from the start. Lance dropped out while Darren had a studly ride to be the only US finisher that year, I think.
1992 Olympic Trials: from despair to a career
In 1992 I was racing for the upstart (and amateur) team Saturn when through complete tactical ineptitude I cost my teammate Chann McRae and myself our spots on the US Olympic Team. I nearly quit the sport right then, and it was my "never quit mid-stream" attitude that carried me on. A few good rides in absolute slavery to my teammates (including a young Jonathan Vaughters on his way to victory at the then-big US stage race in Mammoth, CA) convinced Len Pettyjohn, head of the powerhouse domestic team Coors Light (think Mercury squared) to offer me a job and a hope for the future. Except for a momentary and quickly withdrawn offer at the end of 1995 to join the organization that would become US Postal for 1996, I didn't consider leaving the US domestic scene after Coors Light.
Any regrets so far?
Well, yes and no. To be part of the show would be something, but it has been personally satisfying to help contribute to the formation of our own lesser but no less legitimate circuit in the USA. Financially who knows how high I'd have gone. Perhaps not high at all; until this past winter's surgery I've fought debilitating sinusitis my whole career to date. I also resolved never to take performance-enhancing drugs. It's a measure of our ideals and our indifference that we idolize the pro sports that are completely drug-ridden. While deploring the use of it in cycling, those who have profited from it and escaped punishment are rich and famous. There is no way of knowing who most of those people are, but cycling is still the greatest sport ever. Overall I'm happy with the things I've done, places I've gone, and people I've met. Not having known the rush of winning a stage in the tour, I can only say that the rush I get from winning a stage of Superweek is still pretty good, and I'll have to be happy with that.
Old Man Time? What?
In a recent article of US cycling magazine Velonews on the Tour de Beauce, the title read: "Old Man Time". Is that the time for old men, or old man "Time"? And since when is 34 "old", anyway!! "With a 17-year career winding down..." the article continues. Okay, so I've made no secret that I was starting a new career at the end of the 2004 cycling season. I'll take this opportunity to say that there is a possibility that if I'm racing well enough to earn a good living at it I may continue through 2005, but then it really is time to start my new urbanism career! I'm such a sellout, eh? We'll see. I promised my wife I wasn't going to ride for lack of better stuff to do, and I wouldn't be a 'bike bum' forever. So I guess I'll have to introspectively analyze those criteria, something I think every pro athlete wrestles with.
To catch up on previously unreported races I did:
I won, we ate at the Churrascaria until we were happy as a full tick, we raced around the streets of Sao Paolo like we were in the movie "Ronin", drank ourselves silly, and found a great dance club. For those of you struggling with sinusitis, the three main culprits are the drying effects of caffeine (Brazilian coffee, yum), alcohol (thanks, Ailton), and airplane travel (24 hours of it in four days).
I won, we ate fast food at Wendy's, I tried racing around like I was in Ronin, but got a $212 ticket instead, and I slept 10 hours a night trying to get my form back in time for the Tour de Toona next week.
One last thing. This time of year everyone comes out of the woodwork with plans for a new division three team that in five years will be rocking the world in the Tour. I'm always encouraging because you never know if someone is really sitting on the next team Mercury or not. Two bits of advice to all the young guys (and some not so savvy old guys) tempted by this talk. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is; and don't sign up for a never-before-heard-of company unless you have a significant portion of your stipend or salary in escrow, and the proof of that is in your hands. Every year there is another Noble House of Cards.
Email John at email@example.com