Making the team

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

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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 since 1999 and continues this season with Team Health Net presented by Maxxis.