"What do we have to do to get noticed?!"
Ask the 7-Up - Nutrafig guys how they're feeling right now, coming off the biggest win in their team's history, and the chorus basically is: vindicated. With the exception of the Daily Peloton, (see link below) 7-Up - Nutrafig, despite an undeniably strong season, complete with a National Championship win, were left out of most of the pre-race write ups. In this week's report from Chuck Coyle, he asks "What do we have to do to get noticed?" Well, how about snatching what is arguably the biggest race on the American calendar out from under the noses of all the favorites?
Since his victory, Charles Dionne has been swamped with media attention in his home, Quebec City. When I caught up with Charles, he was just returning from being the guest on a Canadian news show, and had been through all kinds of trouble finding the studio. "Just a little more stress for me," he said. "I didn't have enough emotions in the past week. I needed some more! There's no rest for me these days. Every five minutes, the phone is ringing, and I'm on the radio or a TV show or something. It's been crazy here in Quebec City! But it's all good!"
The next morning, Charles was off at 5:30am to a stage race in Mexico, but he, 7-Up director Jeff Corbett, and his teammates Doug Ziewacz and John Lieswyn, who had great rides of their own in San Francisco, took some time to tell the Daily Peloton about their huge victory, how it feels to win what is arguably the biggest race of the year at the San Francisco Grand Prix, and what Team 7-Up - Nutrafig looks forward to in the future.
What was 7-Up's strategy was going into the race? Can you tell us exactly what you wanted to see happen, and how well that was carried out?
Jeff Corbett: We didn't really have a dead-set structured plan. We just wanted to race up front and be represented in every move. John and Charles were our leaders for the day, Doug was an outside chance and Oscar, Kevin and Hayden were workers. John was worried about the early move since that's the one that stuck last year. He was really on a mission to make that first move and he was successful. He didn't like the odds up there so he tried to break it up with some attacks but the Italians and Prime Alliance wanted it back and chased hard. Doug covered the next move and then Charles, so yes we did what we set out to do. It would have been nice to have 2 in the finale but with only 6 riders we couldn't be too picky.
Not being the biggest team around, the guys have learned to look after themselves well when they are out numbered in breaks. The final group in Chicago had three Saturns and four Navigators but Charles and Kevin came up good against the odds.
John Lieswyn: When I was in the early move that took off on lap one, I kept remembering last years' ignominious end for me. Getting pulled. Never seeing the front of the race. I felt great this year and probably should have been far more conservative. In hindsight, we probably could have allowed a huge group to go up the road without 7UP representation and it would still have come back. But as a high level team you can't race that way. The first time you bluff in a big race then 20 guys go up the road and never come back (Philly 02, for example).
Did Charles surprise you all, or did you know he had it in him?
Jeff Corbett: We knew Charles had a big win in him. At the beginning of the season I would have been more likely to say that that big win could come at Lancaster, Trenton, Philly, or Housatonic. But really San Fran isn't to much different than Housatonic. Short steeps that gradually wear people down. Charles was 4th at Housatonic so we knew he could get over those types of climbs. He was also great at Beauce.
John Lieswyn: As far as being surprised with the victory, we pretty much knew it was in the bag when we saw how fast Charles was climbing with 2 big laps to go. Nobody was significantly faster on Fillmore than Charles, and he was bound to out-sprint anyone he was with. The only danger would come from being outnumbered, but George went too early and that meant it was just Lance and Eki to go 1-2 against the rest of the break. They were super marked by the break so essentially the odds were even up there.
Doug Ziewacz: Charles's performance was not so much a matter of if, it was more like when. There was no doubt in any of our minds that he was going to come through with something really big. Charles is very talented, dedicated, and confident and he will go a long way.
Everyone was really surprised by your win, Charles, except your teammates! Did you surprise yourself?
Charles Dionne: Well, I don't know if you've seen my reaction? (laughs). I was going to San Francisco to do well. I was bummed because I was supposed to go to France for the Tour de L'Avenir, but I couldn't and that was a big disappointment, so I only had San Francisco to prove myself in a big, international race. I think I took the moment in the best way by winning the Grand Prix!
I expected to do well, but I never expected to win the race. Of course once it started, I wanted to win, or my team to win. When I started the first lap, I wasn't that good and at first I was like, 'oh... it's going to be a rough day!" But, after a few hours I was just going better and better. I felt good, so in the last 5 little circuits I knew I was going to do something, maybe be on the podium. I still didn't know I would win, but every time after Taylor Street I was in a break with someone. With 4 to go it was Ekimov, with three laps it was three Postals and me, and with two to go, it was Ekimov and me again. In the final lap I was with Ekimov and the Acqua e Sapone guy (Massimo Giunti), but he never pulled through. I knew I was good.
How big is this victory for your team? How important is this victory for Team 7-Up?
Jeff Corbett: Huge, huge, huge! How it affects us financially may not be known for some time. But from a confidence angle it will help tremendously. The guys and I have always known they could do it. Now everyone else does too. It should also help us get a little more respect in the press and with the fans.
Doug Ziewacz: Indeed, this has been the greatest victory in the history of the 7-up program, but there have been significant victories along the way. This program, unlike many other programs, did not buy riders and results. Jeff and Scott have given opportunities to riders to show their stuff, where as other programs may have ignored them.
Lots of credit has to be given to some of the founding fathers of the team, Clark Sheehan and Anton Villatoro who took a chance on the program and gave it legitimacy through their names alone. Clark has inspired us all with his knowledge and passion for the sport. His presence is always felt within the team even when he is not with us on the road.
How did it feel to win there, against such a strong field? Did you all party like rock stars?
Charles Dionne: I didn't start crying, but almost! I was just so happy. I hugged my soigneur, Stephanie Roussos, and was just really happy. A few minutes later, I was on TV being interviewed with Lance, and Ekimov came up to me and said "hey, good race," and George Hincapie came to me and said "good race." I was just amazed.
Just before the race I was seeing Lance with tons of people around him... Being in the same race with him was really impressive for me, and then being in the same breakaway with him, it was terrible! And then to beat them at the line? It was a top dream for me.
I'm still in the clouds!
John Lieswyn: It took hours to decompress. I think Charles is still unwinding. He's absolutely exhausted from a full slate of telephone and TV interviews in Canada. It's a really big deal for the Quebecois as the general population views this win as a defeat of the invincible Lance Armstrong. You, I, and any informed fan knows that Lance peaks for the Tour, not the SFGP. Even the world's best rider doesn't win everything, at least since Eddy Merckx.
We couldn't quite believe it after the race, we were all mobbed by friends who had flown out to watch. I have to emphasize how many people flew in to the SFGP - literally thousands of fans aren't even California residents.
Doug Ziewacz: We had a very intimate celebratory dinner with the team and our Cannondale sponsor. Most of us were basking in a victory that was brought to reality through much hard work and dedication.
Jeff Corbett: After the race everyone was exhausted, not just physically but emotionally as well. We had dinner that night with Scott Montgomery of Cannondale at a nice little Italian place. The owner brought over two hotties from the bar who wanted to meet the winner. After introductions Charles kept saying, "How bout a kiss for the winner?" He was just playing but they finally gave him a little peck. Then the owner bought us all dessert.
We went to a few bars after that, but San Francisco was dead on Sunday night and we were tired. I think we all made it home by 2:00 except for our sougneur, Stephanie, who came walking into the hotel while we were eating breakfast Monday morning. She is a rock star and could put us all to shame. I think Charles saw how bad Kevin was the day after Chicago and didn't want to be puking the whole way home on the plane.
7-Up has been really strong, but also, really underestimated all year. Do you think Kevin's win at USPRO and now Charles's win in San Francisco will do a lot to turn that around?
Jeff Corbett: Being left out of race previews and stuff like that is kind of a mixed bag. On one hand it shows a lack of respect for our team's abilities and that pisses us off. On the other hand, it pisses us off... and that's not always a bad thing. We will see if this last month changes those things. It should, but if not that's ok. Let them keep underestimating us and we'll keep hittin' em over the head from behind.
John Lieswyn: We are still getting left out of the "Big Four". I'm reading race descriptions that ignore Doug Z's presence in a very major breakaway from laps six and seven, and descriptions that read like this: Mercury, Prime Alliance, Saturn and Navigators flew the colors at the front. What about 7UP? Chopped liver?
It's great though. We'll just keep trying to talk with our legs.
Doug Ziewacz: Undoubtedly we have been consistently shunned in the media. It's quite a shame, even coming into San Francisco we were not mentioned in any of the preview press. Although our program may be fiscally smaller than other programs, it is now heading into its 6th season as 7UP. We have consistently finished in the top 5 of the NRC for the past 3 years, and this year we're currently 3rd. Amongst our team members is the current US Pro Criterium Champ and we just won the biggest race on the US Calendar. All of our sponsors are American and we race the American calendar all year, opting to not go to Europe like other teams. I think more emphasize needs to be placed on smaller teams to ensure their vitality for years to come.
Charles is still not contracted for next year. What's in the future for him and for Team 7-Up?
Jeff Corbett: We would love to keep Charles, but he has dreams of the Tour. If he gets an offer from a European based team then I will wish him well and tell him to go win a Tour stage and remember the little people. If he wants to stay in North America then we want him in green. We are taking it slow right now. Charles is going to wait and see what his options are and then we will talk. Good for him that he isn't tied to some crappy contract, now he can fully exploit this win. Whatever happens I know Charles has had some good times with 7UP the past 2 seasons and we have enjoyed having him here. I'm sure he will remain friends with many of his 7UP teammates for years to come.
John Lieswyn: If Charles decides to stay in the US we will likely be able to keep him on with us. He is just 22 and has his sights set on the euro circuit, so we aren't going to hold him back if he gets a good offer from there. One thing we've heard a lot about in the last two days is conjecture about whether USPS will pick him up now. My two cents... it wouldn't be the optimal match. He needs to join a smaller Div 2 team for the increased opportunities to race for the win.
Charles Dionne: I don't know. We'll see. For sure I've been dreaming all my life of the Tour de France, but we'll see. I don't want to say too much about that. 7-Up has been great. I've been enjoying my teammates, and the whole trip: the wins, the loses, everything . We've had such a great season. My dream is to be in the biggest bike races in the world, and doing great, so? But right now, I just want to take the time to enjoy the win with my team, 7-Up-Nutrafig, and in the future? We'll see.
For sure this is not the end of it for me. This is just the start of it! It's all good!
John Lieswyn: Team 7UP isn't a one man show. While it may not be in the cards, everyone deserves a raise for their hard work and top performances this year. Our Colorado neo pros Schmatz and Coyle made huge advances over the course of one season. Oscar is totally unheralded but very deserving for amazing teamwork. Hayden Godfrey was taken down hard at a local race in the Quad Cities this year and it really stumped his season, but we expect great things next year from him. Greg Henderson is a superstar who you didn't see much of this year due to crashes and sickness. Both of our Kiwis were on a steep learning curve this year and now that they know what to expect and which races to target, they'll be ready for March.
We have a powerful core of riders that our management and I am committed to keeping together. It's not like we'll parlay Charles & Kevin's big wins into increased budget to be spent on ex-Mercury riders. One reason we came out strong in March was that we all knew and trusted each other.
I'm hearing from nearly everyone that the American Peloton is stronger than ever, and growing in depth and competitiveness. Would you agree with that?
Jeff Corbett:I think the North American peloton is much stronger than most people give it credit for being. So many fans have their head so far up Europe's ass they can't see great rider right in front of them. Did the Euros dominate San Francisco? Do they dominate Philly every year? When they came to Redlands and Sea Otter and Beauce did they dominate? NO. I know the argument that they only send the "B" team. Ok, well the B team just got worked so send us your A team. We'll take all comers. If they beat us bad it will only make us better.
I think the whole North American scene is getting stronger. Yes we have sponsorship ups and downs, but the riders are getting stronger. I get asked a lot about taking the team to Europe. My answer is always NO. I don't want to go to Europe, I don't care about Europe. I want to grow the sport here. I want North American riders and North American sponsors doing bigger and better North American races. I want it so strong that the Euros are coming here. We have a lot of really great, really motivated promoters in North America. Why would I dis them by going to Europe instead?
What can I add to that, except: lucky for American race fans, and GO 7-Up! Thanks to all at Team 7-Up for an exciting race, and for all their cooperation in this article!