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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.

Running on all cylinders

Stage 4: Monday, February 9, 2004 Hulu Kelang - Tampin, 147.8 km

A modern way of staying cool
Photo ©: CN

Today the team ran on all cylinders and we had much better "presence" (representation) at the front. One compliment paid to us was "HOW many guys DOES Healthnet have in this race?". Unlike the previous three stages the "piano" (easy ride) did not last past the neutral section. As we rolled under the "0KM" kite the attacks began immediately and didn't let up for the first hour. It was so hard that I didn't even find time to have a sip of Cytomax.

Sprint 1: We finally got it together and delivered Gord for an intermediate points sprint win. Right after that a series of hills shelled most of us to the rear groups of the splintering peloton. With only a redlined Danny and Mike to represent the team in the leading bunch of fifty, we missed the first break to get a significant gap. The field reformed but immediately the race leader's team (Selle Italia-Colombia) set about a fierce chase, since one of the three escapees was highly placed Ryan Cox. For 10km the entire peloton was lined out in the gutter at over 50kph. Cox finally sat up in realization that he wasn't getting away, while Sullivan went across to keep it three in the break. Selle Italia eased it back to a strong 44kph tempo. Later we would realize that the break played it smart, maintaining just a 60-90 second lead. Ergo, everyone thought they were simply weak.

Sprint 2: Third place points are still available. We set up a train for Gord as usual. Usually the sprinters will return to the pack after doing their thing. However this time a Filipino rider (D3 team Casino) tagged along and attacked our guys after the sprint. Gord returned to the pack as promised but we saw the Casino guy's move as an opportunity for Brice and Mike. Despite a lifting of the pace the three riders built a couple minutes' lead by the next climb.

KOM 2 (Category 2): 85km down. I was pleased with myself that for the first time in this tour I could hold the accelerations of Bruylandts, Perez, and Freddy Gonzalez (the race leader). It might have been that the hill wasn't hard enough, indeed the peloton quickly re-assembled on the descent. We had come within 40 seconds of the breakaway, close enough to see them. It was becoming obvious that today would be a mass sprint finish. The Lampre guy in the break must have decided that the game was over and sat up, waiting for the field. Never say die!

Sullivan and the De Nardi Italian quit their bluff and dropped the hammer while Selle Italia eased off the throttles and waited for the sprinter's teams to join the chase. Suddenly with just 30km remaining the lead had mushroomed well past the rule of thumb 1 minute per 10km margin, and the realization sunk in that the break could not be caught even if three sprinters teams combined into a furious chase.

With no help on offer, Selle Italia now had to ride very hard to ensure that Sullivan wouldn't move into the top 3. Brice and Mike had to dig very deep to stay away. Danny and I had fun racing team Panaria (who were leading out uber-sprinter Graeme Brown) and we came out on top, with Gord smoking everyone in the field sprint for 6th. But the real excitement had already played out. Sullivan (probably knowing that Genting will put paid to a top GC spot anyway) threw away his huge time gain today in a classic match sprint battle for the stage win. He would not leave the De Nardi guy's wheel, and they nearly drew to a full stop several times in the last kilometre. It worked, as Sullivan won the stage in dramatic fashion.

Immediately after crossing the line I slammed on the brakes and turned right into the thick crowd, looking for the team van. Without airflow, the heat becomes nearly suffocating. I changed quickly with nothing but the vehicle's open doors for modesty, while switching feet rapidly on pavement hot enough to fry an egg. Grabbing the camera instead of the pod this time, I snapped pictures of the impressive chaos. One good picture I'll upload from home: a sea of police motorbikes at rest. I read somewhere that there are 188 policemen on duty for this race!

The post race transfer was becoming insufferable with bumper to bumper traffic until a few of those cops became our saviors. Flashing lights and sirens - a race organization car with two guys waving white gloved hands speeding between lanes, splitting rows of traffic, now we're in business. It's a little white knuckle rally driving with the little Proton engine rapped out to keep up, but the dull transfer suddenly becomes very exciting. We're cheering Mike on as he weaves around slow traffic and works the controls to "keep it tight" in the now fast moving caravan.

At the hotel, twenty men clad in matching traditional Malaysian garb are arrayed in a "V" to the front door, banging on drums. Swish, the wide glass doors open to a blast of air-conditioning and now women greet us with trays of exotic fruit juice in highball glasses. Yeah, this'll do? The line of honking team vehicles and shouting staff is left behind as a hammered metal and marble elevator whisks us up to the 16th floor and a panoramic view of Malaka, the city hosting tomorrow's time trial showdown. The race of truth, and I'm aiming for top 10. 'Til then.


Stage 5: Tuesday, February 10, 2004 Melaka - Melaka Individual Time Trial, 18 km

Our 16th floor hotel room at the Equatorial Melaka has a curving tiled balcony overlooking the ocean and the TT start venue below. I brought out a pillow and the start list to watch the early riders set off. Despite some mellow music and the ocean breeze I was soon sweating and nervous...

10 min. to go. Our hardworking staff taped a race radio to my back and Moninger volunteered his go fast wear. 2 min. to go. Mike Cox checked my tires at the start house while I conferred with Jeff at the waiting team car. 15 sec. To go. Trying to get my cyclecomputer zeroed. Jeff yells at me to stop "futzing with that thing". Fast start! 165bpm within 1km, good...Smooth and no pain straight over the bridge at 12km to go.

Halfway point Jeff tells me that I've got the fastest time at the 9km check, but am conceding time to my former teammate, the 38yr old hardman of North America, Eric Wohlberg. I'm pushing 100% now and a quick look down surprises me: heartrate of 187. For stage 1 or 2 that'd be ok, but after 4 tough races that's a bit too high. Backing it down actually seems to make the burn in the muscles seem worse… The earpiece is crackling but now I can't seem to make out what is being said.

Back over the bridge and I'm losing form: 192 on the monitor. Fingers and toes feel numb and breathing ragged, I've got to let off the pedals on the downhill side of the bridge despite the buffeting winds. OK, five seconds rest and opening the throttle wide again. I have my two minute man in sight, an Iranian, the top Asian (is Iran considered Asia or Middle East anyway?) in the bike race.

2km to go. Going for the pass of the Iranian team car, which for some reason hasn't gotten clear out of my way. Whoops! I've picked the wrong side and he must not have seen me coming up, because he's drifting left and taking me into parked cars. A quick rap on his fender, adrenaline and hr soaring, and I shoot the gap around him. I'm now set up on the wrong side of the road for the next corner. Botched that turn, trying to get it going again. 1500m to go, pushing it right up and over anaerobic, just as the line is coming up I see that I'm going to break 22 minutes and that is added impetus. The last 100m is interminable, seconds ticking away, and my vision darkens as I've used up every available molecule of oxygen for the drive to the line. "New Best Time!" I hear somewhere.

Less than a minute later my heart has stopped racing and is settling in the 120's. Yeah, fitness is coming quick this season! Rats. Eric has come in and demolished my time by 22 seconds. Nemesis! Too bad he's not like Drago from "Rocky", it's hard to get beat by someone so nice? My time holds up well enough for 3rd on the stage, definitely pleased with that. Moves me from 28th to a tie for 15th on the overall.

While I'm hoping for a mini-miracle (not ending world hunger or curing cancer or anything) on Genting so that I can pull out top 10 overall, this race is all about winning. So the primary goal remains either winning from a break or far more likely bringing Gord to the line for a sprint stage win. We're also working to preserve Gord's blue points jersey. The good thing about that competition is that he has a big lead over the other sprinters; those immediately behind him in the standings are climbers. The remaining five stages are 4 to 1 in favour of sprinters, so Gord has a good cushion so far.

In recent years on team Shaklee and team 7UP where I worked to help Jonas, Charles or Greg beat Gord, I'd become accustomed to thinking of the latter as a sort of Darth Vader. Our little teams were like Jedi facing the overwhelming might of the Empire (team Mercury). In fact, Gord is not only a consummate professional, but fiercely loyal, very likeable, and a great motivator. Little things like stepping into your hotel room and telling you that your leadout was primo, thank you, seem to go really far. As far as team Healthnet (presented by Maxxis) will go this season!


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