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Dauphiné Libéré
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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.

Another try for me, another repeat for the Champ

Overcome with the moment, Kevin needs help getting into his new Stars and Stripes
Photo ©: John Lieswyn

The US Pro Criterium Championship has been held in the same place as long as I can remember- a historic suburb of Chicago called Downer's Grove. This time I'm going to skip the travelogue in the interests of getting to the good stuff, except to say that as usual we are staying five miles from downtown off Butterfield Road. Butterfield connotes an idyllic country field but in fact is a pavement and big box wasteland, albeit with one very good Japanese restaurant tucked into its mile long strip mall. After the Saturday evening 50mile/80km "warmup" race Dawn and I had dinner with Romanian friends of hers; a veterinarian and his dentist wife. Being the son of Dutch immigrants I enjoyed listening to the descriptions of life in Europe and the reasons they left to come to the USA. Despite all my ranting about how the USA has been transformed by WalMart, it's good to remember the reasons why people continue to emigrate from the "Old World". Political freedom, less rampant corruption, and professional career opportunities often head up the list.

Dawn and I had driven in from Ames Saturday afternoon, since she had to turn over her cases at the vet hospital in the morning. On greeting my teammates I made the same mistake that many others had made before me: "Hey Kev! Last day for the stars and stripes, eh?" How callous! To say that was to unwittingly have no faith that he could do it again. In fact only one rider has accomplished back to back criterium championship victories: Frank McCormack. Between the crash, the photo-finish, and the power of Charles Dionne's lead-out I guess I didn't give Kevin full credit… and how this would change soon enough!

The top three
Photo ©: John Lieswyn

Saturday night is often harder than the championship itself because team managers allow their guys to ride in breakaways, knowing that only a cash purse is on the line. For 2003 neither event would be a break, largely due to the tone set by the Navigators team of super sprinters Davidenko and Nothstein. These guys went 1-2 on Saturday and were hands down the favorites for Sunday, while Prime Alliance was known to be gunning for Jonas who has been having a great year of his own.

Knowing all this I wanted to hang back for the first 40 laps (of 62) and save all my strength for a string of late race attacks. Brice, Kevin and I were to try and win from a small break while Greg was going to lead out Dan (first, and failing that then Kevin) should it come down to the predicted mass sprint. Kevin was down with this strategy in the pre race meeting, going so far as to say he didn't have confidence he could win from a bunch kick. I would guess that a combination of peaking physical form, not having a contract guarantee in hand, and seeing our sister team Diet Rite take a repeat championship with their Tina Mayolo-Pic was a great set of motivators for Kev.

The top five celebrate on the podium: Tony Cruz, Chris Horner, Kevin Monahan, Mark McCormack and Jonas Carney
Photo ©: John Lieswyn

After the race mid-point I became impatient. After taking a $100 prime I was joined by NYC race strongman Danny Pate (Prime Alliance) and we threw it down as hard as we could just to see if we could wear out the Navigators' lead-out men before the finish. Despite having two of the strongest guys in the race pulling all out together we didn't even stay out front for a whole lap. This'll tell you how fast the race was. I got on the radio mic to say, "guys- there are tons of riders willing to chase hard but once away in a move, nobody will pull. It's going to be a field sprint." Even though I knew the way today's race would finish, team 7UP/Maxxis needed to have a man in the attacks. Whenever a team missed a break (no matter how small the gap) the members of said break, noting the absence of a team, would open the throttles wide to force the missing team into working. Hopefully chasing hard enough to improve your own team's chances come the final few laps and the leadout. And the team that everyone else was hoping to wear out the most was the one favored to win, the Navigators. I jealously observed that Chris Horner, currently ranked number one in the country for team Saturn, wasn't doing too much. At the same time I knew that with my larger team present today, I needed to be the one doing the majority of the work at this point. Brice, Greg, and Oscar are all faster and braver than myself, and they would take care of Kevin and Dan at the end.

So we'll pick up the action with five laps to go…

Five to go. Jeff tells us on the radio that their protected rider (Olympic Sprint gold medalist and NYC Invitational winner) Marty Nothstein has flatted and after some wrangling in the pit (his flat occurred right at the time that the free lap rule was expiring) he has been given a free lap. You'd have to ask Marty but it seemed to me that he didn't receive a benefit or handicap from the incident. On the one hand he got a lap to catch his breath while on the other hand it must have been hard to get his position and rhythm back again after getting pushed back in. Meanwhile the Navigators are lining all their men up at the front. Jeff is yelling at us to do the same; we are scattered all over.

Four to go. In one lap we've pulled the team together. Based on yesterday's experience, if we took the lead from here we'd get swamped with one lap to go, but I have another plan. Hayden and I pull our team just half a bike length behind but alongside the Nav train. This keeps our protected guys out of the fight for the wheels of Davidenko and Nothstein while at the same time serves the greater purpose of forcing the Navs to ride harder than they would otherwise. I keep thinking that we can't let them have an easy seven or eight man lead-out train, we have to leave their sprinters with no more than one or two workers on the last lap.

Three to go. Despite having thought earlier today that I was doing too much work and that I wouldn't be able to lead it out in the closing laps, I'm really happy to be up here. I'm alternating between breaking into the Nav's train to take a pull for my guys (at which point I can only assume that confusion is reigning in the blue and green trains behind) and riding alongside their guys. Going two abreast into these corners is tough, but another benefit is that other random guys can't get around the combined numbers of 7UP and Navigators.

Jonas Carney realises there's nothing on his shoe after all and joins the celebrations
Photo ©: John Lieswyn

Two to go. There is still gas in my tank, just not the nitrous oxide that's needed as we hit the first corner. Reluctantly I get out of the way. Once the finish was ordained to be a field sprint my job description doesn't include hanging on for 18th, and after last year's crash I figure it's best to pull the plug now. After the hill I roll over to the pits where the figure 8 course pinches together, and stake out a spot to watch. Dawn is there, and she gets my attention with a tug on my sleeve. Seeing her questioning look, my heart sinks a bit as I realize that yet another chance to win a national championship has passed me by.

One to go. There has been a crash somewhere; Dan has gone down. There are gaps everywhere and it's a strong man's sprint now, with the single file line of contenders numbering less than 20.

Half a lap to go, down the hill. Oleg Grischkne is at warp speed with Marty on his wheel, Robbie Ventura (USPS, 2nd American last year) is third.

Four corners to go. The corner that halved the field last year is at the bottom of this hill. The line of riders goes right to the outside curb, and Kevin makes it through no brakes in about 6th, while Brice is 8th. Someone dives Brice's inside, can't keep his line, and forces Brice to brake. A gap has opened behind Kevin.

Three turns to go. Horner (!) jumps from behind and picks up his teammate, US national road champion Mark McCormack. Marty blows up, losing Oleg's wheel. As Kevin goes past the Olympic champion he knows the race is "wide open, anyone's race now."

Going into the last turn it's Horner, McCormack, and Kevin one-two-three. Just like at the Solano Criterium, Horner is going so fast that McCormack selflessly decides to try the risky move of opening a gap for his teammate in the final corner. There wouldn't have been much time for Mark to look back and see Kevin sitting right there. Kevin saw the gap opening, and at that moment with less than 150m to go uphill to the finish, he knew that the race was his. Using his awesome positioning and cornering skills to maximum advantage he closed the gap, passed Horner, and began the sprint in quick succession.

Not having seen anything past half a lap to go (the above was straight from the Champ's own accounting) I was dejectedly expecting the Oleg train to end with the broad visage of Marty posting his arms in victory. The swarm of photographers blocked my view of the finish but the announcer's shout was enough - I let out a yell of my own. My own disappointment shut far away in my own mind, I grinned broadly the rest of the day. Still in cycling kit I threaded my way into the crowd of photogs trying to get podium pics with my dinosaur era first generation digital camera. Some brain surgeon decided to put the podium on the opposite side from last year, and the setting sun served to completely wash out most of my pictures. Thanks to professional Steve Daggs for offering me free advice about fill flash use!

Over the next three days Dawn and I embarked an a whirlwind trip. We stopped at Chicago's Museum of Science (saw an IMAX about coral reefs, great) and walked a lot, went to my family's celebration of Mom and Dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary (for my 35th birthday I got to go up in a hot air balloon with my parents!) and walked a lot. On the return home we stopped at the Lighthouse Outlets in downtown Michigan City. The actual downtown, although remodeled with brick, benches, and pretty lightposts, was deserted, with only about 30 percent of the storefronts occupied. All the action was at the Outlets and way outside town at the WalMart strip. We toured a Detroit ragtop classic car museum and walked a lot before settling in for dinner at a seafood shack called Bridges, just across from a river crossing, swinging railroad bridge we got to see in action. In anticipation of the upcoming Binghamton NY criterium, which I have been in the top three placings virtually every year, I did manage to get out training every day too! There are lots of races left this year, including the next stop in Binghamton, St. Louis (Atlanta for you East Coasters), Manhattan Beach (or the Gore Pass Road Race in Colorado), San Rafael & San Francisco, Greenville (or Worlds, should I get the callup), Sinaloa Mexico's nine-day stage race, and hopefully another trip Down Under.

Thanks for reading!


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