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Tour de Georgia Traveling Marshal: Stages 2 and 3
 
By Staff
Date: 4/25/2003
Tour de Georgia Traveling Marshal: Stages 2 and 3
 

By Chris Hurt

April 24th -  Stage 2: Macon-Columbus

10:30 AM: We’re en route to our first post of the morning.  Sounds like a party in the van, we now have ten people on our team.  Someone mentions they spoke to Jonathon Vaughters and asked how he felt after his prologue crash: “You have to go fast to win, sometimes it doesn’t work," he mused.


Postal's Antonio Cruz autographs a fan before the start of Stage 2.
Photo by Michael Pugh.

Today we may find ourselves in the rain so I’ll get to use my official Tour de Georgia poncho, also known as a bright orange trashbag.  As we ride the course it’s clear it won’t be an easy day for the riders.  The course is not flat as it has been described, instead it is a constant series of rolling hills.

We just got picked up from our 1st drop of the day, Garret and I were at a quiet highway junction accompanied by four rural sheriffs who told us a bit about chicken farming.  Apparently, chicken feet are a big export to Japan, where they are considered a delicacy. We didn’t have to wait long for the peloton to come ripping by.  As they came by strung out in a line I could make out Floyd Landis about fourth wheel not appearing to be laboring.  (Quick side note: it is very hard to pick out various riders in the peloton so I settle for picking out teams that are easy to locate, Postal being one for me).  Soon after they passed me a three man break went away with Sierra-Nevada and Saturn represented.  We postulated that they were winding up for the sprint in Thomaston.  As for us, we’re hauling ass to our next drop.

As we speed to the last drop we get behind the caravan again and ride there for an hour or so.  We then turn off to get around them going upwards of 80 miles per hour (128 kph) on country roads, but the police don’t bother us.  In fact sometimes they pull over to let us by.  At this point I should note that our driver Joel has been amazing; he fearlessly drives us from point to point in the most unflappable manner.  It doesn’t hurt that we are pretty much given free rein and we have orange flags that we improvise with when we need to get around a sticky spot in traffic.

Next up, I get dropped off with George at the top of a tough climb that is apparently higher than the KOM that immediately preceeded it.  When the race goes by someone from the Dutch national is going off the front, but they don’t get far.  There are a dozen or two folks that have come just to watch the race at this spot and some others who are stuck in traffic, but are very interested when we tell them about the race and cycling in general.  People are always interested in the speed and the distance. We also meet Bill and Judy Seitz from Birmingham, Alabama; they come up to us wearing matching KOM jerseys from the 2000 Tour de France.  They are very enthusiastic about the race and spend half an hour or so talking with us about the race and our experiences.

An hour or so after the race goes by we get picked up for the run into Columbus, we miss the end of the race, but not the mediocre food that waits there, or the rain.  Now we’re in our hotel getting ready to celebrate John’s birthday with most of the rest of the team.

(Personal note, too much to drink at a variety of bars last night leaves many of us feeling a little rough around the edges at 6:30 the next morning when we meet).

April 25th - Stage 3: Callaway Gardens-Rome

Up way too early this morning after last night's partying, there is a constant rain which we have feared. We eat a too-fast breakfast at the hotel before piling into the sprinter.  We’re off to Callaway Gardens where we’ll be at the start this morning.  We get there to see all the team cars and riders milling about.  Thankfully the rain abates soon after and we can walk amongst and learn to recognize a few more of the riders.  Because of the rain the 2nd and 3rd neutral laps around the course are cancelled.  So we’ll be a short time here.  My post is a golf cart path that sees only one cart while I’m there, so I’m able to watch the peloton as they go by. 


Photo by Michael Pugh.

I’m staged a ½ mile from the start of the stage and already three riders stop for “naturals" -  must be a nice spot.

Next stop is La Grange where I get a spot at the sprint point.  It’s in the middle of town and there is a nice crowd.  The sprint is won by Lionel Syne, a Belgian from WebCor.  A solo pursuer (Matt Dubberley from Sierra-Nevada) comes by ten minutes or so later.  The peloton, which doesn’t contest the sprint, has been held up by George - apparently there was no way to change the train's speed, so George stopped the peloton for a couple of minutes while the train went past.


Photo by Michael Pugh.

I’ve now moved on to “Upper Caldwell,” out on the top of a hill in the middle of the boonies.  Just now Syne passed by me again looking okay, I hear the sirens indicating the approach of the peloton.

Six minutes back from Lionel, Jonathan Vaughters has joined Mike Dubberley.  I yelled out the gap as they go by.  The peloton is looking itchy as they go by, snaking from side to side on the road.


Photo by Michael Pugh.

They trail off and we hit the road shortly thereafter.  What follows is what we believe has been unanimously voted to be the most exciting moment on the tour so far.  It comes about because we’ve made a wrong turn somewhere in Alabama.  After the bad turn we find ourselves behind the caravan again with another two drops to make in rain and sketchy weather.  The stress level has gone up in the van because there doesn’t appear to be a way we can get around the peloton without actually going through it.  So Ryan, captain that he is, initiates the communications necessary to do so.  Eventually we get permission and start forward.  Along the way all the commissars move over and wave us by.  After a few rounds of this we find ourselves directly behind the peloton on a series of rollers.  One of the race motos starts beeping his horn and moving up the left side of the road.  The peloton slowly starts to move aside, and I’m reminded of some jeep riding through a herd of gazelles in Africa.

This whole scene was awesome on several levels, first being the fact that we are performing a dangerous maneuver with all of the racers.  Secondly the interaction with riders was cool, we were hanging out of the windows talking to them.  A Formaggi Pinzolo rider, Matteo Cappe, playfully grabbed on to the window and hung on for a second.  Also noticeable in the peloton with a nice posed smile was Saul Raisin, currently wearing the jersey for best young rider.

Anyway, the moment rocked and everyone got a chance to snap a picture of us mixing in with the thundering herd.

After this we are getting severely dumped on rainwise. We weren’t in sight of the peloton at this point, but I can only imagine it really sucked for them.


Photo by Michael Pugh.

The end of the day found us missing our finally drop, even in the presence of several severe driving infractions.  We did get to the finish line and get a chance to watch the three trips around the finishing circuit.  Along the way the rain came along and we finally got to see Fred Rodrigez rip it into high gear and pull out a stage ahead of Clinger and Cruz.


Freddy takes it. Photo by Michael Pugh.

 


Fast Freddy Rodriguez -Vini Calderola-Sidermec. Photo by Michael Pugh.

 
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