- Cycling News
November 16, 2005, 0:00 GMT,
April 21, 2009, 11:57 BST
(Editor's note: the following diary entry relates to the eighth stage of the Tour of Southland in...
November 12, 2005
(Editor's note: the following diary entry relates to the eighth stage of the Tour of Southland in New Zealand, held on November 11. On the 163.6 kilometre route from Winton to Te Anau, severe wind conditions saw the chief commissaire place a temporary halt on the race at 110km, restarting the race some 30k's from the finish. The point of contention relates to the preservation of a time gap in this critical phase of the race. At the time, a three-man breakaway (that contained eventual winner Gordon McCauley) was up the road and at one stage had over seven minutes on the field, but this had been quickly halved as the peloton decided to reel them in. At the re-start, the trio set off with this time gap unchanged, despite the belief by senior riders that the peloton would have taken more time out of their lead, and most likely caught them, had the race continued.)
Three days ago I marveled at the glass smooth lake waters, crystal clear skies and sharp profiles of young craggy mountains surrounding the Tour of Southland bicycle race. After two days of pure groveling, the sensations in the legs began to resemble normality, Glen was in yellow and I was now pulling hard on the front of the race with the up and coming Kiwi star I'd profiled for Cyclingnews, Peter Latham.
Pete and I were holding a break close even though we had Tim Gudsell patrolling it for us. Prior to the climb of Devil's Staircase on the "dead" coarse pavement typical of New Zealand rural roads, I got on the mike and told my team co-leader Greg Henderson: "I'm baaaaack!" Whether our Southland Times team won or lost this little tour, it was a great feeling to be here with my friends. At the summit we were still in yellow and Greg had turned himself inside out to hold onto third just behind a storming Jeremy Vennell. Like last year, the weather was perfect and from Crown Terrace the views breathtakingly beautiful. But gale force winds were on their way...
I've already described in a brief posting what happened on the stage to Te Anau. In summary, race judges ("commissaires") stripped away any chance the chasing teams had of defending our various positions in the classements.
Mr. Messenger's report quotes just one side of the issue, without interviewing the managers or riders of Calder Stewart, Subway, Rabobank, Southland Times, or anyone else who made the front group of 20 odd riders at the top of Blackmount.
In addition, it reported comments that I'd like to address:
1. Southland Times riders did not chase anyone down nor verbally abuse any riders. The one incident of peloton riders chasing down an attacker was a Calder Stewart rider and a couple others (but not Southland Times). In fact, some riders who were well and truly dropped on the mountain or earlier caught up to the protesting peloton and went right through it (check the results). They were not prevented by the peloton from doing so. That cost the Southland Times team (for example) second on teams GC, but most of us stuck together and paid about $500 out of our pockets to send a message about the lopsided ruling. The amazing thing is that had the officials conceded/compromised anything reasonable, even 1 minute, (to 3:37 for example at 25 km to go) then the race would have been at least "all on" to the finish.
2. Gordon was not out of reach until the officials drove us out of reach. That stage, like most long stages of a stage race, typically shifts to high gear at the mountain about two-thirds of the way through. Many riders in the peloton had no idea the officials were going to call the stage off because an announcement was not audible (if even made) in the high winds. A possible shortening of the stage could have been brought up in a managers' meeting prior to race start and strategies could have been adjusted for this possibility. When the officials didn't stop us although at least two riders were blown into the ditches in the first 80 kilometers, it was widely believed in the peloton that we would be completing the whole distance.
3. "Young said he would hate..." [from Stage 9 report] In fact his team riders agreed with the mutual decision in the peloton. It was the manager, Young, who did not. Had Mr. Messenger interviewed a couple MGXpower riders he may have had a different story to write.
4. "previous two top teams" [from Stage 9 report] The protest was organized in a nearly instant mutual decision by the top four teams (Subway and Rabobank also concurred).
5. Mr. Messenger says in his Stage 8 report that the break was at 3:42 at the restart but it was 4:37 (at least he mentions that it was coming down, if not in so many words). This difference is critical to understanding the chasing peloton's disappointment with the official decision for restart.
6. Mr. Messenger characterizes the break as having slogged their guts out while the peloton dawdled. This is patently unfair considering the time gap at the mountain indicates that over the three hours raced to that point the peloton had been also slogging at very close to the same speed all day too. In heavy crosswinds nobody was getting a free ride. All riders had a hard day in the wind, not just McCauley.
Although our 160 kilometer race plan was to challenge race leader Jeremy Venell that last (partially driven in vans) 55 kilometers, it was likely that Jeremy was on his way to taking out the overall yellow jersey for the 2005 Tour of Southland. So he was potentially the biggest loser here, denied his chance to win by the "officials". It would not have been necessary to bring McCauley all the way back. If our hard racing had been unsuccessful in catching Gordon, Jaarod and Chappy, then even a 90 second stage win to the break would have mostly preserved the overall status quo!
Cycling tactics are so complex that even the tour staff and volunteers don't really understand why so many riders did not want to accept the commissaires' decision yesterday. It was uncomfortable in the hotel pub as I ordered a beer after dinner. The race staff quit laughing about taking the offending racer's prizemoney away from them as I walked in.
On the final day, we awoke to articles in the Southland Times that made no mention of the fact the chase had taken three minutes out of the tired breakaway, and that we were given an impossible task by the officials who wouldn't acknowledge the changing situation at the time they stopped the race. Just to fire us up some more, it was insinuated that senior riders were responsible for the protest and that riders who wanted to race were denied the chance to race by peer pressure from those senior riders. Hello, wake up to the fact that at the time of the stoppage the front group was down to under twenty men and those not so senior gung-ho riders with nothing to lose by the official decision were OTB (out the back)!
Without the protest, these supposed ready-to-race riders would have been 45 minutes behind by the finish, if not outside the time limit. Thanks to the determination of our team and the sprinting prowess of one Mr. Henderson, Southland Times won both stages today. Another point made. I didn't get to try and take the KOM jersey back from Chappie because I had to give up my bike to Glen when he flatted during a hard crosswind gutter session (and then chase back to the bunch on his bike, which was like pedaling a BMX bike for me). All's well that ends well.
The Southland Tour controversy can be framed by an analogy from the world of rugby quite easily. Imagine for a moment that the All Blacks were down in the first half. They've come out of the locker rooms for the second half ready to make up some lost ground and their fans and supporters know they can do this because they have stamina and have done it often before. But wait! The officials have, with very little warning, told them to prepare for a 10 minute second half! The All Blacks question the decision but don't find out until later that the decision was made not on sporting grounds but because the TV producer had to cover an urgent weather notice and the Rugby officials didn't want to have the game run longer than the available TV time.
The crucial debated point is whether the riders knew officials were going to stop the stage at the summit of Blackmount. Organizer Bruce Ross should have called a team manager meeting before the stage start to discuss this possibility. He cannot expect riders to hear a shouted warning at the start line, not with diesel engines clattering away, motorbikes running, press camera interviews happening moments before the start, and above all the howling wind making his voice unintelligible. The fact is that only a few teams equipped with radios heard about a possible stop and that wasn't until 20 minutes before the mountain. Riders had no idea whether we would be restarted or the stage cancelled. Gordon McCauley saying that "we read the race right and the others didn't, too bad" is opportunistic at best.
Monday I have several job interviews in Palmerston North and the prospects are exciting. I'm also going to try and take a few days off my new job to do the Bay Crits in Australia in January. I'd be helping Henderson again in a tough race against top talent like Robbie McEwen. After that, the level of competition I undertake (or not) will depend on how much training I can do in my off hours. There are so many other things I'd like to do that training to be fit enough for racing will be pretty far down the list, I imagine. Such as...
Finally, I'm also launching a coaching business focusing on riders who want to learn how to race, not just how to train. I'm looking forward to sharing my experience in over two thousand races on five continents during the last nineteen years. Prospective clients only may email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. All other comments are welcome at email@example.com.
Email John at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Cycling News
September 28, 2005, 1:00 BST,
April 21, 2009, 11:57 BST
My bike was lost by the airlines in London, so Fast Freddie lent me one of his two spare Ridleys....
September 28, 2005
My bike was lost by the airlines in London, so Fast Freddie lent me one of his two spare Ridleys. Nice bike, and it's different dimensions gave me some ideas about setup for next year's bike. (No, I'm not rethinking retirement, it's just that I'll still be racing for fun, ok?) I had the chance to fine-tune his spare bike in case he needs it, which I found funny after my last entry, worrying about his luck with mechanical problems.
18 hours to go: a bike panic and the U23 race
Clay picks up my bike at the airport. Ken finds cracks in the fork during the build and there is some panic about a replacement. It may have been cracked for weeks, who knows, but Ken will not allow me to race it. ANY bike designed for extreme performance and light weight is going to have the potential for stress fatigue or failure, so don't take this as an indictment of what is a really spectacular bike. All is ok when a women's Team USA Giant spare fork is found. I go out to watch the U23 riders pass by once. They're absolutely shattering throughout the race, so the close finish really belies what happened out there. And we have to do at least another two hours more racing than they! Ooof. My team-mate Tyler Farrar has great legs but is caught in a crash in the final 2km. He is philosophical about it (something that is a bit easier to be when your career horizon seems to stretch out indefinitely!). I'm very impressed by Kiwi Peter Latham, who is in the thick of the action all day. Another Kiwi (and last year's Southland Tour team-mate) Tim Gudsell, is also going well but gets taken down in a spectacular crash right in front of the stands with one 20km lap to go.
So. Saturday night around 1am I awaken to the beep of a key card in my door. Groggy, I jump up (forgetting that I'm only in underwear!) and round the corner to find a businessman and his wife standing in the doorway with their luggage. Needless to say they went back to the front desk! I took an hour to fall back asleep, and when the 7am wake up call came I had just fallen into my regular US time zone deep sleep. Sweet. As I try to wake up, it's definitely apparent that what I thought were allergies is in fact a full blown head-cold. It's a minor inconvenience as a head-cold only affects me the day it starts coming on, and that was Saturday.
The big day
The race is 13 laps and I've worked out that in order to finish I must get through 9 laps and still have reasonable legs. From there I'm confident I can focus on a lap by lap countdown to the line. A lot will depend on how hard and early the "smack" goes down.
Out of the blocks a few guys attack an uninterested field. With the distance and type of course, any early move with less than a dozen guys stands no chance at all. We're going so slow (about 40km/h) and braking so much on the descents that I'm thinking of attacking myself... Vogels tells me that if I want to finish the race, I better not put my nose in the wind. Knowing both US and European racing, he tells me point blank that I'm going to be dead at 200km. That was my limit at the Hamilton world's, and Henk is close, but not quite right...
Fans line the course, drumming on the tensioned cellophane-thin barrier coverings. Where there are holes in the covering, the wind generated by 160 riders creates a spooky noise akin to the metal-on-pavement scraping of a crash. There is one descent in particular that is about 80km/h and late in the race Vogels is towing McEwen past... I make room and marvel at the nerves of a man who has crashed going even faster in the Fitchburg-Longsjo stage race, and is back doing it again apparently fearlessly.
There are two climbs on the course but there isn't one meter of flat ground so the legs are constantly idling or under pressure. The gentler of the two has wide bends in the road and once the pace picks up we're doing at least 40km/h in a long single file line, with the g-force from the curves generating a sense of going much faster. Three huge inflatable bridges with sponsor names on them serve as mental markers for me. Only the first three laps are slow, after which it seems the Italians have opened the chequebooks and have numerous guys on the front setting tempo. Fourth lap I'm already wondering if I'm completely unprepared. I received 160+ emails of congratulations and support regarding the World's. Some of these supporters are under the misconception that because I could podium at the 160km SFGP and solo away at the 100km Carolina Cup that I am in the same league as the top 20 guys here. I really appreciate the thought, but I must tell you that the difference between Boonen and myself is like the difference between a Cat 3 and a domestic pro. Were I on a Euro team, racing classics and tours over here, then perhaps as a younger rider I had the talent to be in his lead-out train, no more!
Back to curb-to-curb race action. In the early stages, riders give one another plenty of room and I heard of no crashes. At crunch time it's a different story; the peloton increases in density and there is no room for error... no matter how ketonic and oxygen-deprived you become. Over the top of the first climb, the peloton must decelerate for the second feed on the right side and constantly changing (lap by lap) barrier/crowd conditions on the left. At one point, a Latvian turns right in front of me... I felt his movement more than saw it coming, and just barely squeezed between his sideways front wheel and the throngs of screaming fans. Some fans are face painted, others waving huge flags or holding massive signs with their favorite rider's name painted on; the devil is out as well. I actually heard my name a couple times... thank you, whoever you are!
The feed zone
I got past the magic first nine lap mark, and began to hope that I could finish. There wasn't much work to do for Fred, just trying to save him one percent by picking up his feeds. Before you think that's totally inconsequential, let me describe the feed zone. Team USA only staffed the first zone, which is on a 3 percent grade a kilometer past the finish line. Most laps there was one team train or another absolutely railing it in a six to eight man line on the front. To pass them on the left in order to get over to the right was a ridiculous waste of energy. The alternatives are to pass left as far as possible and then make a bunch of enemies by cutting through the head of the peloton OR you must time which wheel to jump on perfectly in a right side peloton pass. Go too early and you'll be swarmed by 50 guys. The best I managed to do (keep in mind that I'm trying to keep a tight governor on energy expenditure; sure I could attack off the front to be first into the feed zone but it'd be a waste) in nine tries was about 10th wheel.
Stay too far to the right and you have to come to a crawl... then identifying unfamiliar feed zone personnel is another challenge. Soigneurs often wear the team jersey, and the French have identical colors and similar jersey design. Best case scenario I get two bottles... one each for Fred and I. The musette bags seem to have nothing but plain water which simply won't work for the heat and distance today, so one lap I ditched the two full waters and sagged my way on the bigger of the two climbs back to the team car. The course is so full of roundabouts and turns that feeding from the car must be done very quickly. Tom has to hand up the bottles, energy bars, match his speed to mine, keep from hitting a car right next to him, AND turn a 90 degree corner at double the speed any sane person would negotiate such a turn in normal traffic conditions.
Lap 11. The peloton is cracking on every rise, and shatters on climb 2.
Lap 12. I'm still here! 100 guys remain from the original 173. I've been on straight water or Coke for over 20km now. Minor muscle cramping is setting in. There isn't enough left in the legs to go back to the car anymore. This time I see Fred just ahead of me over the top, and he's looking over his shoulder. At the base of the climb there were at least 30 guys behind me, and now there's nobody even in the cars just behind me. I'm second-last wheel. Vogels is struggling too after a long day of towing McEwen around... Fred fades behind me while ahead a gap is opening. I hear Fred shout for me to close it. Initially I try to do so but there is simply nothing there... I can hold about 50km/h, the speed of the bunch on this false flat summit, but no more. Rather than chance opening a one second gap to a dangerous five seconds, I reach a hand back to Fred who takes it and I give him the best madison throw I know how. Technically this is illegal but guys do it ALL the time. It's just considered fair play especially when you were the one to open the gap (not the case this time!). The sudden deceleration sends me right out the back. Vogels is also dangling off but I can tell he isn't ready to call it a day, and the two of us bomb the next two corners and just claw our way back on.
Some people may wonder why McEwen was criticizing the winning Belgian team. What wasn't made clear in media reports is that Robbie was simply pointing out that their team took no responsibility for closing breaks or gaps at the business end of the race. With Bettini attacking and Petacchi swinging at the back (I know what that was like!) the Italians really didn't have to do any chasing, either. It was amazing seeing how many guys sold out their national teams for their Italian trade teams though!
Lap 13: Finale
It's only Fred, Guido and I left as Jason has just been crashed out. Saul went on a rampage for the first four hours; none of the early breakaways would finish this day. I know that I don't have enough to do any real work for Fred and Guido, so now I'm just groveling to hang on to the wheel ahead. Most laps you could bomb a corner here or there, perhaps pull out of the line and advance a few places, but no longer. You are where you are, and where I'm at is not good. It's a long thin line of riders, and I can see the first of them hitting the bottom corner of climb 1 about 30 seconds before I get there. Boom. Gaps everywhere and the peloton blows apart for good. I'm with about 20 guys... a few half-hearted attempts are made to close the 10 second deficit on the descent. With the world champion about to be selected from the front of this race, there will be no further regrouping. Into the base of the final climb, a shout for gruppetto goes out. Basically, who cares whether you are 60th, 70th, or 120th at this point. A couple guys ignore the call and keep racing. My legs are going to lock up if I don't keep at least some tempo going and I really just want to climb off and have a drink, so I ride a little harder than most for the final 10km. We're mostly two-by-two (side-by-side) group riding just to finish now. In just 10km, we lose fully five minutes to those still racing! At the line the mob of fans, press and team support is so thick that we must pick our way through at a walking pace. It takes nearly 10 minutes to go 1km to the USA tent.
Some members of our contingent do the hotel basement dinner hall. We're in Madrid, Spain, come on! Seven of us pile into Tina Pic's rental Audi A4. It's a stifling cramped ride to part of the old city, but well worth it as I finally get to see some historic architecture and one-lane cobbled streets. Tapas, risotto, wine at a sidewalk table. Bike racing barely makes it into the conversation which mostly focuses on religion, thank God. Fred's coach, from the Basque region, shows up and leads us on a midnight bar crawl.
The next place has an old-world charm with Moorish tiles halfway up the walls and rounded plaster corners. Van Morrison and Beatles tunes are playing and the drinks are very stiff. Fred and I can't believe that our metabolic systems are so jacked at this point that we can drink half a dozen drinks and not even feel tipsy. Next up is the Kapital club. It's a 20-minute walk on ancient narrow streets between five story residence buildings. Wrought iron balconies, flower boxes, working shutters and above all silence (lack of cars?) in the midst of a city of five million people characterize this neighborhood. The Kapital may be one of the top three most famous clubs in Madrid, but the DJ is lame, the TV screens flash silly graphics, and the crowd is of a different orientation. On to Club Joy, where most of the peloton including new world champion Tom Boonen is celebrating. The gender ratio is still skewed 8 to 2 M/F but at least here I don't feel like I'm getting checked out by other guys, so I dance a little and hang out with J-Mac. Odd, nearly 280 kilometers of racing and half the peloton seems to be here at 3am, partying and dancing as if they all had desk jobs. It's fun but not nearly as much as if Dawn was here with me.
We get Fred back to the hotel five minutes late for his 4am airport run, and I crash out for five hours of sleep. They've got a killer automatic espresso machine in the cafeteria that I can't miss before my airport run, and after a few coffees and goodbyes, we're off. My ticket is somehow screwed up, the reservation has been cancelled, and I'm on stand-by for the flight out. It's Kiwis everywhere at the airport. Latham, Gudsell, and a newly engaged Kiesanowski (to American cycling legend Jeff Pierce) are all there. A seat comes through and I'm in a full sprint to get to the gate as I pass yet another Kiwi, my longtime team-mate Greg Henderson. The next 18 hours are just like that. Sprint from one gate to another and stand in interminable lines at airports under construction, with Kiwis all about. I sat next to a Kiwi on one flight, ran through a terminal with two Kiwi women trying to catch their Auckland flight... weird.
Interbike trade show
If you are there, look us HN pb Maxxis guys up. We don't have the crushing autograph draw of Hincapie or a cute blonde downhiller, so I can actually talk to you. Here's our schedule:
I get to bail out a day early so I can meet the shippers at the Iowa storage unit. I'm bound for NZ October 10th! Over there the biggest thing going on for me is a quiet celebration of my 10th wedding anniversary, and then a few smaller bike races like the NZ Nationals (right in our new hometown of Palmerston North), the K2, and the Southland Tour. I've also got to buckle down and start research on my next career, urban redevelopment. As well as shop for a new home and connect all the kind people who have written me about the Junior Prestige Series I proposed.
I owe so much to promoters, mechanics, soigneurs, host families, team-mates and managers, and there is no way I could list you all here, but thank you. This 2005 team was absolutely amazing, and every one of you is my friend for life. I'd like to mention a few riders and managers who have made my career really rewarding.
In no particular order, my deepest thanks to: Jonas Carney (should I be thanking you for my coffee addiction? Wish I could snowboard in Chile with you but I'd probably bust a leg); Kevin Monahan (crushed that I missed your wedding for a bike race); Greg Henderson (thanks for the faith, and you are lookin' LIGHT, bro); Hayden Godfrey (next time I'm unplugging the internet!); Glen Mitchell (many more hikes, bikes, and fishin' rods to come); Frank Scioscia (how is that college fund, anyway?); Len Pettyjohn (for rescuing me from despair after losing the Olympic team selection in '92); Roy Knickman (for taking me under your wing from '93-'95); Scott Moninger (Coors Light '88, rock on!); Mike Sayers (absolutely the most giving person I know... I can't hold a candle to the writing about Sayers by Mike Jones (check it out on www.soprojones.com); Brice Jones (the coolest Arkansas intellectual other than Bill Clinton); Fred Rodriguez (your RC-10 had to be carbon fiber to beat mine, didn't it!); J-Mac (our dirt road blitzes will be my best training memories); Jeff Corbett (Crusty, you are the Man, and I'm really happy for you that 2005 turned out to be so personally and professionally perfect); Gustavo Carillo (the multilingual, multicultural, intrepid leader of many adventures); Oscar, Juan, Ron, Davis, Chris, Chann, John, Chris, oh man, this would take all day. You are all the best, and I hope you visit us in New Zealand!
The writing bug may hit me from yet another bike race at some point in the future, but I feel like I'm out of fresh material to continue as a diarist. So, after 19 years racing and about nine years writing, goodbye!
Email John at email@example.com
- Cycling News
September 21, 2005, 1:00 BST,
April 21, 2009, 11:57 BST
Oops. Not really anyone's fault but my own... I incorrectly assumed that email correspondence I had...
September 21, 2005
Oops. Not really anyone's fault but my own... I incorrectly assumed that email correspondence I had sent to the man in charge at USA Cycling would be sufficient notification as to my correct email address. So... to make a long story short, after Sayers and I had good rides at San Francisco, USA Cycling decided to invite both of us to Madrid as "discretionary picks". I was notified via my old email address in plenty of time to find a reasonable airfare. Except I don't check that address anymore!
Further assuming that no reply to my queries meant that I wasn't invited, I planned on concluding my US racing with the excellent Mercy Classic in Arkansas. Imagine my surprise as I found out from a friend via email just this past Saturday! There was precious little time to modify my Vegas ticket (I was scheduled to attend Interbike Show for the team).
I believe that the vast majority of riders at World's are sent by their national governing bodies (NGBs), not their teams. However, in the case of USAC, it has been longstanding practice that if some of the automatic nominations decline their invites, coaches selection or "discretionary" athletes may go but have to foot the entire bill themselves. It's a hard pill to swallow as I feel I put in many good years with USA Cycling as an amateur and have given back by coaching at USAC Development camps. Nevertheless, this year especially I was fully prepared to sacrifice a few more months of saving for a house in New Zealand for this opportunity. Thankfully my wife was equally encouraging.
Those pesky newbies
Speaking of the past, I've had a chance to rifle through old race programmes and scrapbooks as I pack for our move. I came upon one Commonwealth Bank Classic full color glossy magazine and a results sheet from around 1991... I was a stage winner and highly placed on GC as well, but far down the results I found one name leapt out at me... one E. Zabel of Germany riding for "Bosch". Could it be? Hmm. If it was indeed THE Erik Zabel, then the lesson here for us all is never, never look down upon a young rider who is on the third page of the results. You never know if he'll be a champion one day. Another example is my earliest memory of Chris Horner... he was like a buzzing bumblebee to me, a two-bit pro on the big team Coors Light. Years later the roles were often reversed!
Final prep. & the joys of training in Iowa
So! Today I got in my final big preparation ride for Madrid. I elected for intensity vs. quantity. It was a strong headwind out to Pilot Mound. This hill's main claim to fame is that it's the site of the movie Twister. But to cyclists from central Iowa, it's famous as the steepest hill around: an 80kph straight arrow descent to the river valley. For a few kilometers, the farm fields give way to forests, meadows and the shimmering of the slow moving water. Cattle traipse the shallows. Traffic is so light that it's a perfect hill for interval workouts. I did ten 1km maximum efforts, climbing over 1000 meters in total and blowing out the cobwebs with HRs in the mid 180s.
On the ride back, I paused to watch one man in a bulldozer demolish a 100 year-old barn in about ten minutes' time. The massive timbers collapsed like toothpicks into an inferno of flames leaping out of a pit in the ground. It probably took weeks to build but with modern equipment just minutes to take down. As I rolled into Ames, I took my favorite winding bike lane through an urban forest. Braking hard for a sharp bend at a bridge over a stream, a massive deer and I surprised each other. I smiled broadly and kept pace with her as she bounded away at a slight angle from the path. I wished I'd brought my camera today so I could show you how cool riding in Iowa can be. Hey, if it's this good in Ames imagine how great it is in Iowa City where my friend Jason McCartney (Discovery Channel) lives. Actually, I wrote about that once...
It was just four hours' ride time, but I was thoroughly smashed from the intervals. On the positive side, I'm injury and sickness free, with reasonable form and with plenty of motivation. There are only three negatives... less than perfect race preparation, JET LAG, and 273 kilometers.
Dreaming (relatively) small dreams
Madrid sounds like a crazy hard, technical course. I really hope it doesn't rain. I would revel in it, but the chances of a crash that would put paid to my really expensive self-paid trip are too high. Like some Belgian said, it's a lottery. But a lottery only the fittest riders can buy a ticket for!
Hey Fred, can someone go over that bike of yours with a fine tooth comb? I.e., no more mechanicals. Hamilton, Trenton, Lancaster, San Francisco, every race I see you in, man!
My modest dream is to finish the race. Get the world championship monkey off my back...
1991: worked for Armstrong and we both DNF'd.
1995: got a 12 hour intestinal bug and weakly completed less than half the distance. No Americans in the top 10.
2003: worked for Fred and DNF'd after 200km. No Americans in the top 10 despite a sweet attack in the finale by Horner.
2005: ? If I have to burn it all up in the first 200km then so be it. But I sure hope that the American I work for can finish it off with a podium finish. To Fred (and the Federation, his sponsors, et al.), anything less than the podium means nothing but a few extra UCI points. So, the goal is to get to the business end of the race and do the best job I know how for my mates. The actual race strategy and it's execution is TBD... but by the sound of the circuit, I would hazard that anything could happen and a big bunch sprint finale is pretty unlikely.
Email John at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Cycling News
September 08, 2005, 1:00 BST,
April 21, 2009, 11:57 BST
Sunday morning, at the same time Fabian Wegmann told his teammates he would win today (a la Charles...
September 7, 2005
Sunday morning, at the same time Fabian Wegmann told his teammates he would win today (a la Charles Dionne's victories here) I asked of myself just one thing: to be a player for the win in the finale; the last five small laps were where the race would be won and I wanted to be there more than anything. I couldn't imagine dropping out.
My on again/off again hometown of Asheville, NC is certainly one of the best places in America to be a bicycle racer. Relative to the sea-level cities of Charlotte, Greenville and Atlanta nearby, Asheville at 2000 feet offers milder weather and decent winters. Downtown has live music, a wide variety of ethnic cuisine, and independent, unique shops. It's home to a hundred year old bike shop downtown (Hearn's) and the USA's top bicycle store of 2004 (BDS ranking) Liberty Bicycles. Asheville's top feature is training: literally hundreds of quiet, narrow, winding roads over steep hills and long mountain grades.
Evidently my training on these steep bergs with my teammate Justin England is paying off, I felt very good in the SFGP. I followed the most aggressive Discovery Channel riders, Ryder and Jason, and found myself in the winning move with both of them and a tough-as-nails Kiwi, Glen Mitchell. Ryder didn't last long and then it was just three… linked by our common pasts and teams, friendships and now a tenuous rivalry for today's win.
When the two Gerolsteiners attacked the chase group, Doug was there with them. Doug knows now he made a critical error in sitting on them right away. They executed perfect tactics on him, one-two-one-two and then they were away without Doug. The Gerols made quick headway into our trio's lead. Panic stations. Jason hits the gas on Taylor and I feel surprisingly capable of holding his wheel. I do believe that with the NRC circuit as we have it now, it is possible for domestic-based Americans to be competitive with Pro Tour riders, and here is further confirmation as if our team hasn't already shown that at Wachovia USPRO Week and the Tour de Georgia. Glen can't stay on and now it's just two of us. (Glen did manage a very fine fifth place!)
Last lap. Still 37 seconds on the chasing two. Jason and I start to mess about a bit as we think that we won't be caught. Now is critical time, should either of us go full throttle before the final ascent of Taylor that could give the other guy sufficient draft/rest to win solo. At the base of Taylor it is 16 seconds and Jason goes pretty hard (there is nearly zero drafting at 10km/h on a steep hill, so he's not exactly giving me a free ride at this point). The crowd is absolutely insane; it's so loud my eardrums hurt. I can no longer hear Jeff in my earpiece, and with every ounce of strength being poured into forward momentum I can't even hazard a backward glance to see where the now solo Gerolsteiner (the heralded young star Fabian Wegmann) is.
The short story from here is that I switched on autopilot and chased everything. Jason's attack, Fabian's attack, didn't matter. I truly believed that Fabian would be gassed from his bridging effort and that I could take them both in the sprint.
400m to go. Last corner. I've just caught Wegmann and he swings off hard, braking. Attack or no? Moment passes and now I'm on the front at 350. Leading it out slowly, checking over my shoulder like a match sprinter. 250 and Jason goes, and I slot in on his wheel. Perfect. Jason is ramping it up steadily, but I'm no longer checking over my shoulder and can't see that Fabian has dropped off our wheels and gotten a run at us. 200 to go and he flies past in full sprint. Oh no. I'm a good sprinter in long sprints but the late acceleration is going to give the advantage to the first guy who jumps. Fabian has gotten a bike length on us, and with a terrible sinking feeling I know that I'm not going to have enough time to make it up. Jason's early lead-out was obviously at far less than maximum as it takes a big effort to get around him, and now I'm coming up on Fabian's rear wheel, but the finish line is coming too fast and my mind screams "no!" as in the shortest sprint I could have imagined, a youngster of 25 years has outfoxed me and he posts his arms in victory. I'm inconsolable, although Sayers and Wherry try mightily to convince me it's okay.
Sayers has finished an impressive sixth to help Health Net presented by Maxxis take the team prize if not the individual, and all my teammates are very happy for me. I know the sensation of replaying the finale over and over; in fact my loss to Rodriguez and Hincapie in 2000 at Philadelphia (when Henk Vogels surprised us all to win) was the last time I felt this bad about a top result but it suddenly felt like yesterday. And so ended my last major US professional race.
The Carolina Cup and the Junior Prestige Series
Next up for me is the first race I won, the Carolina Cup in Greensboro. Back in 1986, the winner earned an invitation to the US Olympic Training Center for the World's Team selection camp. It was such a dream, the big "O"word, and that win was the catalyst for the next 19 years of my life. This year I return to the Carolina Cup seeking an elusive closure. I'm also proposing a Junior Prestige Series for the Carolinas and the Midwest. Winners would get an invitation to a major international race or training camp. I am organizing seed money for this series, which would encompass three weekends of 2 to 3 races each. The Midwest could include long running established events such as St. Louis, the Quad Cities, and Kansas City, while the Carolina Cup could anchor a similar mix of criteriums and circuit road races. I remember how I won the Cup in a bunch sprint of a hundred junior men after a hard fought 50 kilometers or more. Today's juniors races are 10 kilometers when they need to be 70 to 100 so that the USA can find those who could compete internationally. If you have a contribution or advice for my Junior Prestige series, please email me at the address below with a SHORT message and the subject line "JPS".
Worlds (or no Worlds)
Months ago I asked to be included in the nine-man World Championship team months ago (at my expense as I expected) especially if the team was not "full". I received an email from the Feds saying that only ProTour riders would be allowed entry. This weekend I found out that was just an excuse, since guys like Frischkorn and Zaicjeck are reported to be on the team. Why didn't they just give it to me point blank, "John, you are heading into retirement and regardless of what you have done for the National Team over the years, we feel that our World's team ought to comprise younger riders"? Anyway, I planned on writing about getting left off the team even before I had a solid SFGP. I'll make one more try to get to Madrid. At this point it'll be an expensive plane ticket for me but I'd really like to take my fast-improving form to one more Pro Tour level race. For me it would be an even cooler capstone to a nearly 20 year career than podium at San Fran.
Post Race: partying and musing
At Bucco di Beppa (say that three times fast!) forty riders, staff family members of the most successful team in US cycling history drank and feasted, toasting and roasting one another. I tried not to mentally replay the finale of the race, but felt obligated to tell the story again and again.
I tagged on with Mike and Nicole Sayers for a ride after dinner the Butterfly Bar & Restaurant on the Embarcadero. There we met the Sacramento "crew" and got into more philosophical discussions. I'll always remember this place for the crystallization of an unconscious knowledge about why I love this career so much. Tonight, a realization dawned why I will miss professional cycling: because of two physiological responses which for elite cyclists converging into an addictive natural rush. A marathoner may get a runner's high, and the pilot of the bobsled may get an adrenalin rush from the danger, but professional cycling in the fourth hour and beyond offers both.
Next stop was the Impala bar. Said many goodbyes, invited everyone to visit me in NZ but really don't expect many to front the big bucks for the 'round the world travel. Never know though; perhaps if I can collaborate with existing promoters or set out on my own for a big time NZ pro race, attracting my friends in the peloton to race/visit. Really that's the primary way that we bike racers see new places. When you travel as a bike racer for free to so many places it's hard to shift gears and travel "retail". Only problem with trying to start a race big enough to provide travel monies is the "Pro Tour" and it's eurocentricity.
The Gerolsteiner guys were also celebrating there. Hendy, my pal Jay Bakaler and I somehow ended up in the cul de sac bench seat with Fabian W. et al, but I don't think they recognized us. An Oakley sponsor stood up and got the attention of the bar…for a speech. I think Hendy and I had enough of speeches by this hour and Hendy broke in with a wry and true, "how bout a hand for Lieswyn, who nearly won but didn't!" Thanks Hendy, for clarifying that again! Needless to say, we were already bailing out as he finished his toast!
Perhaps my next entry will be from Madrid, and if not it will probably be from New Zealand's Southland Tour. 'Til then!
Thanks for reading,
Email John at email@example.com
- Cycling News
August 22, 2005, 1:00 BST,
April 21, 2009, 11:57 BST
Tuesday before the US PRO Criterium Championship, I did the local TNW (Tuesday Night Worlds, an...
USPRO Criterium Championships, Chicago, USA, August 21, 2005
Tuesday before the US PRO Criterium Championship, I did the local TNW (Tuesday Night Worlds, an institution in any good size town) and opened the throttles to 100 percent for the first time since the fateful crash at Nature Valley GP Minnesota. The result wasn't encouraging. Throughout Altoona and Charlotte I had to play the worker role, knowing that the torn adductor muscle simply wasn't up to maximum acceleration yet my fitness was high enough to do large amounts of work. This test showed me that I wasn't going to be swinging the big ol' Lieswyn wrecking ball at this weekend's Downers Grove crit champs. If I was to finally bring home an individual national championship, I was going to have to do it through steady riding, cunning, and luck.
Saturday night warmup
Tonight was like racing underwater in a swimming pool. High humidity made for difficulty breathing. Going into the finale, Sayers and I surfed a variety of panicky teams, hanging out between fourth and seventh place. Wherry was looking after our on-fire Dominguez just a couple guys back. At three laps to go the biggest cash lap prize of the night was announced, and Mitchell railed it for his Kodak/Sierra Nevada teammates. Into the last turn and just 150 meters to the money, I overheard one KSN rider shout at the leading teammate to "GO!" as the first guy let off the pedals and opened a gap to his teammate. Oh, the old "Saturn Sit-Up", eh? I know that one! Instantly I dove inside around Sayers and pounced on the confused KSN leadout man, easily sweeping the money. Sayers picked me up 200 meters later, belting out an encouraging "get it rolling, John". He took us to the last half lap, and I did a short turn before Wherry flew through the last quarter lap. Ivan won convincingly over Siro Campognara (Navigators). Now on many teams a performance like this would shift the bullseye onto their backs, but for Health Net pb Maxxis the target is already on us in permanent ink.
Sunday - the championship
I knew I could count on the flying Kiwi to help me win the championship today, but it was odd to not see him at all until three laps to go. But I'm getting ahead of myself…
Scott and Mike Jones took care of business for us for the first half of the race, policing breakaway attempts and towing the constantly shifting waves of the peloton back together again. Ivan mopped up primes. I basically tried to spin over the hill with as little energy expenditure as possible, waiting until 20 laps (one-third of the race remaining) to play my cards. Sayers slipped into a dangerous group of a half dozen or so, gaining at one point as much as 25 seconds on us before the missing Jelly Belly team put together a big chase and nailed it back.
As soon as he was caught, I knew it was time for me to make my bid. Kirk O'Bee (Navigators), a previous winner of this race and an American favorite to win again, popped out to a three second lead and I blasted across to him in one straightaway. Hmm, that didn't feel easy at all… Soon we were joined by KSN rider Ben-Jacques Maynes (BJM) and our threesome began to slowly eke out a sizable lead that hit a maximum of 45 seconds. Here's my dilemma: were I on a small team I could give this break 100 percent effort and just hope for the best at the end against O'Bee. However, on Health Net pb Maxxis I've got a whole stable of top sprinters not to mention the young American Tyler Farrar. I can't go to the line with O'Bee unless I'm crushing him in the pulls. So I ride 80 percent or so, hoping either he'll start to crack or I'll magically start feeling stronger thanks to my "faking it". I'm surprised that Kirk doesn't just sit up and try to reshuffle because he's pulling twice as long and a third faster than I each rotation. He must know I'm saving something.
After ten laps of effort, our gap is stabilizing at about 30 seconds (which is "out of sight" on this course) and the words "the chase is disintegrating" are coming over my earpiece. It's seven laps to go, about seven miles, and I've got to do something soon to see whether I'm going to be able to beat these guys or whether I need to go to full "sit on" mode and allow the break to lose serious time. My weaker pulls have taken the average speed down… I know that were I to go 100 percent we'd be gone, uncatchable. But the tactic is decided. I jump a couple times and encourage BJM to do the same… all three of us know who is strongest here, and the two of us at a disadvantage must not chase one another but make O'Bee do it all. The cat and mouse tactics do not offer us a resolution of any sort, rather they put the nail in the coffin on our break and we are swept up with 3.5 laps to go. I see all my teammates at the front, waiting to pounce, and am confident that they'll deliver where I failed today. And at least I know that my break took serious power out of our Colavita, Jelly Belly, TIAA-CREF, Advantage Benefits/Endeavor, and other opponents.
It's pretty hard to hold position at the front of a charging bunch after you've left a lot of power out there in a break. It's too late to recover and get back to the front to help with so few laps remaining, but I ride around anyway. I may not have won in my last chance to score the jersey, but I'm at least going to finish.
Hendy tells me later he made one big try to get across to me (a move that had it worked would have vastly improved my odds of winning the jersey!) but couldn't get away "clean". So he sets to work delivering Tyler to the line, which he does beautifully. Wily and crazy veteran David McCook (Jelly Belly), an old friend of mine, pulls even with our youngster on the line and it's declared to be a photo-finish. A tiny part of me wonders how cool it would be for someone who last won this race in 1994 or so to win again 11 years later. But it's all whoops, hollers and smiles as the words come across from Jeff, over at the officials stand, that Tyler has done it.
For the third consecutive time, the criterium jersey is won by someone who will not be racing in America to show it off the following season. First Kevin Monahan, who retired, then Jonas Carney, same thing, and now Tyler. He will be racing for a European team next season, on a continent where the only criteriums they have are fixed-result exhibition races.
Before today's race I swore to myself I didn't want to relive the all-too familiar feelings of losing. But I'll simply have to revel in the team's victory, and the knowledge that my sacrifice by riding at less than 100 percent in a less than ideal breakaway contributed greatly to the team's result.
I'm obviously not Lance. I didn't accomplish an unheard of feat in the sport, or make so many millions that I'll never need to work again. I may race as a hobby for many more years, unlike those colleagues who win the jersey (Kevin, Jonas, Lance) and will likely never race again.
My professional cycling career is drawing to a close, and it is insanely hard to handle. I keep trying to focus on the future, knowing I'm getting older and there must be a closure point sometime, reminding myself about my wonderful planned life together with DD and all the nebulous opportunities that are opening before me. But when I'm riding back to the hotel with my teammates, the sky lit up in fiery oranges and reds as the sun sets, I can't imagine another job as cool as this.
Thanks for reading,
Email John at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Cycling News
July 31, 2005, 1:00 BST,
April 22, 2009, 20:16 BST
Four men have held the yellow jersey in the last five days. Three of them from my team! Room 131 of...
July 30, 2005
Four men have held the yellow jersey in the last five days. Three of them from my team! Room 131 of the deluxe Comfort Inn (sarcasm… the place needs to be razed) is the room of US Pro Champ Wherry and former track world champion Henderson, and they've just been swapping around jerseys; yellow GC leader, green points leader.
I came into this race optimistic after my surprise return to form second place in my final Superweek race. Until I managed to re-injure a not-yet-healed adductor muscle where in attaches to the pelvis. So I soft-pedaled the time trial. Amazingly, even a partial effort netted me tenth in a completely unsuitable (to me) short and technical prologue.
On the second day I browsed a local car dealer, killing a bit of free time. The following letter to the editor resulted:
I'm writing from the unique perspective of one of your much loved and simultaneously reviled annual visitors: a bicycle racer. I've spent one week of every summer here since 1991, and seen many changes to your beautiful yet sad city. A conversation I had with a car salesman today, followed by an article about your struggling downtown, provided the impetus for me to write in.
I own an older Dodge minivan and decided to swing by the Dodge dealer on Plank road to check out the new products. I rolled in on my bicycle and it wasn't long before a salesman sauntered over, unsuccessfully trying to keep his baggy pants up around a waist that wasn't really grown to be belted, and obviously unhappy about leaving the airconditioned sales floor to have to come speak with a weirdo in Lycra on a bye-sickle (incorrect spelling intended). He did take advantage of the moment out-of-doors (if you can call the acres of pavement that is all Plank road and it's environs represent) to light up a cigarette. "Where ya from?" he ventured. "North Carolina" I responded. "You ever ridden with that, what's his name, Lance?" "Yeah, back when we were amateurs".
Now he was getting to his main point, which obviously wasn't selling a new minivan. "I'll be honest with ya… I hate that Tour de Toona. Don't get me wrong, I like sports just fine, but that bye-sickle race is just an inconvenience to motorists!" OH BOY! I get to be honest too! "Well, sir, it seems that many American cities turn out in the thousands (Chicago, Charlotte) or hundreds of thousands (Philly, San Fran) to see bicycle racing. In the more than decade I've been coming to your town, most stages of the Tour de Toona get twenty spectators if any. It's representative of the choices you and your fellow residents have made: to abandon a walkable, public downtown and replace it with this…" I waved my hand to indicate the car centered, garish, noisy and ugly strip mall of a street around us. "Yeah! This road is the NEW downtown!" he said proudly, not quite getting my drift. I kept on hammering: "long term, this kind of development will only lead to bigger people, higher medical costs, and the loss of a civic (social) life. But, it'll be really good for you!" He was now looking at his shoes as he extinguished his cigarette on the melting hot pavement underfoot. "With all these people unwilling to ever get out of their vehicles, you'll sell lots of them!" I pedaled away to a guilty sounding "good luck in your race!". After having spent a time training car salespeople in the mid 90's, I had much more to say to this too-honest gent but I hoped to leave him thinking a bit.
Rick Geist should be commended for trying to introduce a healthy, interesting sport to Blair County and Altoona. For bringing in thousands of dollars in taxes generated from the money we spend here over eight days. It's a world class event, featuring athletes from as far away as New Zealand. Rick is able to pull together hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship and many hundreds more in-kind contributions for one of America's best stage races. But even with all the money, the 25 state troopers and their squad cars and motorbikes, the race couldn't happen without 400+ community volunteers. So to that extent, the people of Blair county and Altoona aren't all ticked off about road closures and road hogging cyclists out training. Many residents are tremendously supportive.
So why are residents like my car salesman so hostile? Could it be the way that the Mirror covers the event: "LIMITED ACCESS TO DOWNTOWN FOR MOTORISTS" instead of "here's how to get in to downtown to see the race". Or is there a bias, a fear of downtown, perhaps fostered by the entire page the Mirror devotes to "CRIME REPORT"? The article on the struggling downtown quotes a city manager saying that downtown has a liberal parking policy. How much money do the meters really bring in? As long as we are a car based culture, the only answer for downtown parking is NO meters. Rip 'em out, you'll save money on meter collectors and maintenance. Think about it; would you rather park on-street or in a parking garage? For those of us raised in suburbia, we have a parking garage aversion. Removing the meters will be your first step. Bringing back a major grocery store will give other businesses some assurance that downtown is coming back from dead. Citizens have a conscious decision to make: sit in the exhaust fumes of stop and go Plank Rd traffic to drive to each stop on your day's laundry list of things to do, or park once, grab your re-usable fabric sacks, and walk to stores in a human-scaled commercial zone. It's a choice many Americans are making today, and it's called many different things: "smart growth", "new urbanism", "multi-use development", or simply "walkable communities".
On the way back to the host house, I passed some of the most amazing road signs I've seen in my hundreds of thousands of miles logged all across America. They are "NO PEDESTRIANS" signs. Altoona, what future have you chosen?
Stage 2 - July 26: Johnstown Circuit Race, 108km
I like Johnstown. It's obviously hurting from a massive loss of manufacturing jobs. But the downtown looks alive, and features a ceramic tiled government building designed by a famous architect. Architects of the past decades seem to churn out more and more grotesque designs meant to evoke anything but humanism. This one bucks the glass steel and concrete trend.
Like last year, it rained on us but not too heavily. One positive result of the brief showers; a temporary respite from record breaking heat and humidity. The race flew by: something like 100 kilometers in just over two hours. We tried to deliver Hendy to the final corner…it wasn't pretty but our sprinter fixed the mess and delivered a win after we were drubbed by Colavita in the prologue.
Stage 3 - July 27: Johnstown - Altoona Road Race, 152.6km
I'm defending champ of this stage after having gotten away with Horner in the finale. This year I knew would be different. The pelvic fractures seem to be healed but the muscles and tendons are completely worked. I felt great for the first hour and then typically the injuries began to manifest in minor discomfort. We've come here with six GC/climber types, Sayers for selfless workman, and Hendy for the sprints. (Although he's in yellow now). Somebody has to step up and sacrifice to help out Sayers. Mike "so pro" Jones has already volunteered and soon I join in as well. Jones manages to make the big second group over the day's significant climb of Blue Knob, while I am the first guy not-to-make-it into what Moninger begins calling the "30 second club". Denoting the 37 riders who are within 30 seconds, plus or minus, of the race lead.
Stage 4 - July 28: Hollidaysburg Circuit Race, 96.6km
Stage 5 - July 29: Martinsburg Circuit Race, 123.6km
As far as racing goes, Hollidaysburg annoys me. In 1992 I was part of the total Saturn team domination of a circuit around this town, when it was the National Amateur Road Racing Championship and Race 1 of 2 for the Olympic Team. Defeated by Lance at the 1991 Road Nationals, I'd hoped to exact revenge in 1992. Some of the players: my then-teammate Chann McRae of Plano Texas. A training pal of Lance. Since Saturn had 6 riders in a 10 man breakaway, Lance didn't have much of a chance to win the championship this day. But he could factor in the selection of WHICH Saturn rider would succeed in riding away from the break. Each of us Saturn guys had a turn at attacking, and Lance brought each of us back time after time. Until Chann went! All that was left was determining the lead-out order for our 1988 Olympic 4th place geter and leader, Bob Mionske. Somehow I went first, which crucially meant that I would end up 10th and last out of the breakaway. Two days later I would miss making the Olympic team by a whisker of points… one of my great regrets. SO… Hollidaysburg and Altoona have a strange attraction and repulsion for me. Hard racing, every year. The best road courses in America. And, I've won stages and finally the overall win in 2004. Good and bad memories.
Back to 2005. We worked really, really hard to rein in a storming Aaron Olsen of Colavita/Sutter Home both days. He got in breaks that featured strong riders like Larkin, Lavalee, etc and were very hard to bring back. Had other teams not taken some responsibility for the stage honors or their men high on GC, then we very well may have had to give up the yellow. Had that eventuated, it wouldn't have been all bad. We had big plans for Saturday's "Queen" stage, the Altoona road race featuring three major climbs and an 8 kilometer fearsome ascent of the toughest side of Blue Knob Mountain.
Results - Stage 4
Results - Stage 5
Stage 6 - July 30: Blair County Road Race, 149.5km
In '04 Moninger and I one-twoed Horner to wrest the yellow jersey off one of the hardest men to beat. Today we'll try the same thing. Sayers, Jones and I did our best to control a very agro field for the first couple hours. It seemed that EVERYONE wanted to be in the break. Nothing was sticking, because we were not going to let a group of more than six or seven riders go. During one flat stick jam session, I had finally worked my way to the front only to find us all misdirected. The pack weaved through stopped cars and gravel parking lots until we were back on course. Lots of shouting like "piss stop!" ensued. Someone quoted the cult movie "Anchorman", saying: "LOUD NOISES!". Hahahaha. After a 150 man pee break in an abandoned parking lot, we were underway again. A few more attacks had to be neutralized but we were now getting so close to the climb that most riders resigned themselves to the fact they weren't getting away and garnering a "head start" on the climbers. Two guys dawdled off but the three of us workers kept them close. Target Training (featuring none other than the same Chann McRae I referred to above, the guy who went on to ride for the biggest pro team in the world, Mapei, and finished fourth in the professional world road race championship. He's obviously racing for fun these days) took over and gave me just the rest I needed before the climb began in earnest.
I felt great on the ascent, considering, and was able to offer pace-making and encouragement to Hendy in the small fourth group. Colavita had most of their team in our group, so we knew that we'd be back in the race not long after the summit. By the time we got off the descent, Colavita had brought the 2nd, 3rd and 4th groups together into a thirty strong uber-group, chasing just Justin and Scott at about 20 seconds. A 70 km/h full-lean turn onto a metal surfaced bridge and we were onto a short steep climb. From the car, Jeff was suggesting and Scott was seconding a plan to shoot another Health Net pb Maxxis guy across to the first two. Failing that, Justin and Scott were to sit up and wait until the 2nd KOM climb. Unsure of my legs but encouraged after having climbed Blue Knob so smoothly, I took a big dig… instant gap! Jeff and Wherry were in my ear encouraging me, I'm away cleanly and my teammates are waiting for me ahead. Then there were three! Mark McCormack (Colavita) put in a huge bridge shortly after mine, but tactically we knew he wouldn't contribute to the break. Even though had he done so, it probably would have cemented 2nd overall for the tough Colavita rider. We knew that Mark didn't really care that much about 2nd; he was looking for a way to stay with Scott on the upcoming steeps so he could position himself for a real run at the race lead. Mark is a faster sprinter than Scott and with five time bonuses on the line during Sunday's final criterium stage, the Colavita man's strategy was obvious.
I was to "sell out", or give it everything, to get Justin and Scott to the final climb with a gap. While I didn't quite succeed (three guys bridged up) I was really just happy to be contributing so much to the team effort just six weeks after breaking my pelvis.
At the base of the final climb I was dropped from the break and subsequently couldn't even hold on to the less than thirty guys left in the peloton who came by me about 45 seconds behind the break. Too bad… I was dropped from this big group with just 1km to go to the summit. Had I made it, it would have been free ride for the final 13 kilometers mostly rolling and downhill. Instead I rode the last twenty minutes by myself, which was much harder. I was caught by three motivated riders within the last two kilometers, and was happy to sit on them anyway. At the team van I got the update: Scott had soloed away on the final climb to win the stage and take yellow, while Justin was in the four strong second group with McCormack and Hugh Moran of Aerospace Engineering. With 1 kilometer to go, an SUV driven by an elderly man pulled out right in front of Justin's group. Justin and Hugh went right over the hood. Hugh quickly remounted to finish 3rd or 4th, but Justin was bloodied, bruised (but otherwise OK) and his bike completely smashed. We think the 1km rule (or is it 3km now?) will be invoked to give Justin S.T. (same time) with the group he was with at the time of the accident.
Just one furious 45 minute criterium remains. Hendy has his eye on the green jersey, which he probably should have on his back now. Apparently the second intermediate sprint today he swore he was 3rd in, but the officials seem to have given the placing to the impressive Mercy Fitness rider Brad Huff. So Huff and Hendy are tied up going into a stage with a bunch of points available. Our priority will be defense of yellow, followed by the stage win, and finally we'll look for opportunities to get green too! Based on Colavita's sprinting strength here over the past few days, we'll have our hands full, though!
Final bit of news: our New Zealand work visas came through. Yippee!
Thanks for reading,
Email John at email@example.com
- John Lieswyn
John Lieswyn is one of Cyclingnews' most popular and sometimes controversial diarists. John started road racing in Florida in 1985. After college graduation in 1990, he raced three seasons for the US National team in Germany, France and Italy, turning professional in 1993 for Coors Light. In 1995 he returned to Europe, scoring numerous top ten results and winning the Delemont (Switzerland) mountain stage of the Regio Tour. After taking a hiatus in 1996, he focused on the US domestic scene with over 40 major wins. In the pre and post season (US) he competes in South America, Australia and New Zealand, notably taking three stage wins in the Herald-Sun Tour (Australia), and overall victory at the Southland Tour (NZ) and Tour de Beauce (Canada). He has written for Cyclingnews.com since 1999 and continues this season with Team Health Net presented by Maxxis.