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Dauphiné Libéré
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John Lieswyn
Photo: © Jeff Tse

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 2004, he moves from 7Up/Maxxis to Team Health Net presented by Maxxis.

April 19, 2004

Gearing up for the Tour de Georgia

Or should I say "Tour de Lance"? As an uninformed outsider such as myself must wonder, would this on-again, off-again race have even pulled it together without his commitment to ride? Put in down to earth terms, I was out riding with a friend near Rome, GA a while ago and overheard some residents exclaim from their porch, "Hey, they think they're Lance!"

Redlands wasn't a total loss for us: I salvaged a top five on general classification (my personal best there) and we had numerous stage podiums in addition to winning the team classification. A week after coming home, I flew to Georgia to check out the courses for the upcoming TdGA. It wasn't much down time but my supportive wife doesn't complain. Being separated throughout much of the season means that time together is well spent. Reminds me that the last day before leaving for the TdGA, Saturday, Dawn and I were outside together all day. Tandem riding a couple hours, hiking in the woods, riding around in the convertible. By the end of the day we were wickedly sunburned, and it was funny to see all the formerly pasty Iowans at the grocery store Saturday evening. Everyone was equally burnt.

Tuesday April 6

My former 7UP teammate Chris Pic always goes on about how his hometown of Dahlonega, Georgia is such a hard place to train. Not because of motorists, weather or externals like that but due to unbelievably hard terrain. Having lived in nearby mountainous Asheville, NC for six years and raced last year's rather flat Tour de Georgia, I couldn't see how Chris could be so effusive about it. What about the super hilly Beauce region of Quebec, for example? Well, after a week of training either alone or in small groups all over north Georgia, I have to concede that the Pics are 100 percent right. It's absolutely brutal. Without doing much in the way of specific training (eg., intervals, sprints, hard efforts) I managed to be so smashed after 25 hours of just trying to get through the rides that I could barely ascend the stairs at the Pic house.

I won't get into descriptions of the courses and how they are different from the inaugural Tour de Georgia, because it's just plain boring to talk about gradients and what turn comes where. So I'll limit it to descriptions of the people and places, okay?

Tuesday morning I had breakfast with Dee Dee (my wife Dawn Denise). By 3 o'clock I was riding the time trial course with the designer, Trey Smith. Two thousand miles away! Aside from their considerable negative environmental impact, which I usefully ignore, jet airplanes are miraculous conveyances.

In Rome I planned to check out the circuit finish for stage 3 and the time trial stage 4.

City of Rome, a city on the move. Why would I describe what to many of you sounds like a backwater southern town with an overused cliché more benefiting the marketing campaigns of places like Phoenix? As much as it has been gutted by the forces of highway building and sprawl, the city has encouraged residences on the upper floors of its charming downtown buildings. Trey explained to me that after a severe flood at the turn of the century, the city filled in the streets one entire story deep. The original street level is down at the basement of these old buildings!

You could never tell by looking at them now. Where some people would see parking hassles (suburbanites seem to think that if you can't see acres of pavement then there isn't any, yet most old towns have plenty of parking around back) I saw charm and character. Unique building styles. Locally owned businesses. Sure, some of the goods and services are priced higher than big box retailers, but the social costs are less when you buy from downtown. The most important part is that the infrastructure all around the older, smaller stores is all long paid for.

After doing a couple laps of the TT course with Trey, he drove home while I tried to ride back. Got run off the four lane big box store parkway by two rednecks in a mid 80's faded BMW, who were in a rush to turn into Wal Mart. Found the right turn onto a beautiful winding two lane. Got lost when I hit Industrial Parkway. This road is a four lane superhighway to nowhere, with only two factories located on it. These factories are so far away from stores and restaurants that the employees have two options for lunch: brown bag it or the company cafeteria. How did this million dollar road get built, and why did just two factories build way out in the middle of nowhere when Rome itself has abundant outparcel land immediately surrounding it? I'd guess the road construction and developer interests bought the politicians who then rammed this useless road down the taxpayer's unwitting throats. So I got lost on this road to nowhere as the sun was going down, I was bonking after a long day of travel and an overly ambitious ride, and poor Trey had to come out and pick me up. The next day was much better.

With all day to ride and perfect 80 degree sunshine, I made the most of it. One thing that struck me was the amount of roadside trash which proliferates all over the southeast USA. I bet you could reach the moon and back with soda and beer bottles placed end to end collected from the highway sides of just the state of Georgia. Appliances and old car tires make up the rest of the bulk, although I curiously observed a one kilometer stretch of otherwise pristine forest road which was littered by used (folded up) diapers at even, 50m intervals. All this trash is pretty much invisible when you are group riding, racing, or traveling by car. Unless you are trying hard to look for it. But cruising along at 25km/h on a solo ride, seeing these roads and terrain for the first time, the litter was quite obtrusive.

Aside from that, west Georgia around Rome is incredible. Horse farms, antebellum mansions, public fishing lakes, and miles of perfect, freshly paved rural roads(construction lobby again?). Stay off the four lane commercial roads though! My second try at riding yesterday's debacle stretch was punctuated by the air horn of two fast moving semis. I had to bail for the broken, glass strewn concrete of the sidewalk or risk getting crushed by 36 chrome Peterbilt wheels. I was prepared this time, though, and as I ramped up onto the sidewalk, I winged a hunk of metal debris at the angry trucker. When I caught him at the Wal Mart light he said nothing and proceeded to give me a very wide berth. Yeah, I know, it's dangerous to fight back. The rest of my riding around Rome was great; the locals seemed to know about the TdGA coming to town and I encountered numerous courteous and friendly motorists.

An engineer by trade, Trey is also an avid cyclist, frame builder, and family man. With his wife Julie they have an infant and a cool country home that used to be a barn. They even have the requisite golden retriever! Meeting great people is what makes this job rock. I wish that I could assemble all the friends I've made all over the country into one community. Jet planes are great for occasional visits, but I want to see you all more often… I've met so many awesome people, that even the convenience of email can't help me keep in touch regularly with everyone.

We had dinner downtown at a local institution. Trey mentioned that he'd worked at this Pizza/Italian deli when he was in high school. The sense of having roots somewhere is one thing I miss and admire in other people. Afterwards we walked with some friends of Trey and Julie's through Civil war era neighborhoods, lined with blooming dogwoods and irreplaceable architectural gems. At one point we stopped to talk to some residents because of the cool classic cars in their neighbor's driveway. Again I was impressed that Trey struck up an easy conversation with them, relating (of all the houses we'd walked by) that he'd grown up in their house! Although Trey and these residents had never met, they turned out to have many friends in common. This kind of social interaction is nearly impossible in the subdivisions of the '80s and '90s which lacked sidewalks. It's a good thing that walkable development is now on the front burner nationwide, and it's certainly one way to address burgeoning obesity.

Thursday April 8

Next I moved over to Dahlonega to see stages 5 and 6. Chris Pic arranged for me to stay with a friend of his. Josh is a super friendly, laid back cycling coach with the perfect pad for running cycling camps. Just a little over an hour from the Atlanta airport, his five bedroom rural home is right on one of north Georgia's most popular cycling routes, a 50mi (80km) very hilly loop. I love the names of the climbs around here: Blood Mountain, Wolfpen Gap, Woody Gap, Hogpen Gap, Brasstown Bald.

After a couple nights at Josh's I spent the last two nights at the Pic's. Their house was also great. It was so nice to have the front and back doors wide open and hear nothing but the sound of the wind rustling leaves. This time of year there are no bugs and the heat isn't oppressive yet. Perfect.

Eight of us rode the final 80km of stage 6. Suffice it to say that Brasstown Bald is going to be absolutely brutal. Hopefully all the people who are flying or driving in to watch the event will take the race organization up on the shuttle service, since the road will be oh so euro with a big crowd on the final climb. People won't be able to park on the road like so many euro climbs though, so it may reduce the crowd size. More tips for those spectators who may read this: Macon is also experiencing an urban renaissance. Lots to see there. The final circuit of stage one goes right past massive mansions on the brick climb. The finish line is on a nearly desolate and abandoned downtown street which looks to be on the verge of being re-occupied. We are staying in the very nice Crowne Plaza which is just two blocks from the short, entirely walkable finish circuit.

For stages 3 & 4, try staying in a B&B or small downtown Rome hotel, at least check out the unique bars & restaurants there. On stage 5 the intermediate town of old Ellijay ("L-Jay") is another example of old architecture and southern charm, definitely worth having an ice cream at the old time (and struggling to find new owners) soda fountain. Next door to that little piece of '50s Americana is a cool bike shop. No carpet and commercial drop ceilings here; it's just the smell of bikes, hundred year old wood flooring, and soaring industrial ceilings. Of course the finish town of Dahlonega has lots going for it too; Chris, Tina and Josh have lived there years and never knew of the Cajun restaurant on the second floor overlooking old downtown's square. Josh tried it out for lunch one day when I was out on a long ride and said it was great, so on his word I'll recommend it to you. The Mexican-Spanish joint near downtown (next to J&J Grocery) is very authentic and has some of the best food east of the Mississippi. Try the paella, it was awesome.

OK, enough travelogue.

Back to today, April 19. Today we had a hospital visit in the morning for the Cancer Coalition. Alex and Ernie came along to represent team Jelly Belly while we brought nearly the whole Health Net team. It felt a bit weird having the entire entourage including reporters, photographers, race liaisons and hospital staff on top of nine riders, all trying to fit down the hallways. My first ever hospital visit (usually we do schools) and I wasn't sure exactly what to say to these kids who are fighting for their lives. We tried hard. Evander Hollyfield (the world famous boxer for those of you who don't follow that sport) was supposed to come along with us, but unsurprisingly didn't show. Someone asked if Lance was in our van and I said if he came it would be by stretch limo at the least but probably helicopter! :

Race starts tomorrow. I'll be much more brief. Thanks for reading, and all your supportive emails. I read them all, even if now I can't keep up with my original goal of responding to every one.

Email John at jlieswyn@cyclingnews.com