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Almost!

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,
John

Email John at jlieswyn@cyclingnews.com

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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.