Story and photos by Cathy Mehl
CSC signs in. Click for larger image.
Navigators sign in. Click for larger image.
The National U23 team. Click for larger image.
This was a day I will not soon forget: I got to ride in the team car with
the Navigators for Stage One! Yippee - a real dream come true. Truthfully, I
almost screwed up this morning because I missed the 9 AM media meeting where the
reporters and photographers were matched up with team cars. So I decided I’d
better get myself in gear and drum up something interesting to share, so I hiked
out to the back lot where the team cars were all being washed, the bikes were
being tuned up, food was being loaded into cars, a real hub of activity a few
hours before race time.
The back lot. Click for larger image.
I noticed an abundance of CocoPuffs at the Domina Vacanze van, which I found
highly amusing. Now that’s a true American delicacy! While strolling through
the lot, I introduced myself to Ray Cipollini of the Navigators and asked if I
could ride along. He thought a photographer was going to hook up with them, but
said to check back at the start line.
Twenty minutes before race time I hit Ray up again for a ride, and since the
photographer had never shown up, I was in! I met DS Ed Beamon and mechanic
Neil, with whom I shared the backseat, holding wheels. Some cars were really
packed, but we just had four so we were good. The race began, and a lot of
people showed up in Macon to support this race. Everyone was waving and yelling
and ringing cowbells. I thought I was in France…
The peloton stayed together until 6.8 miles when a breakaway occurred with
Tim Larkin of OFOTO and Marc Hagenlocher of CSC. This began the gap updates on
the radio, which seemed to come every five minutes or so, but not often enough
according to Ed! It was pretty quiet in the car much of the time (“Quiet is
good!” said Ed) at the start of the race. We’d receive radio updates about the
gap, or number of miles into the race or average race speed so far or upcoming
conditions we needed to be aware of.
Ed would pass information to his team each time he received something
important to riders, while Ray kept notes about the riders in the breakaway and
checked out the technical aspects of the course, telling Ed of things to come.
My ride! Click for larger image.
The cars created their own little sub-race really, moving up to help their
riders, passing each other just to relieve their boredom or if they got tired of
being at the back. I’m surprised the chase cars don’t have more accidents, the
way the DS drives, talks on one or more radios, eats a sandwich and looks at the
map all at the same time!
One joke came about when the first guys hopped off their bikes to urinate.
Race organizers had been specific to the teams that fines could be levied for
urinating in public. It was only allowed in obviously remote areas (note: it all
looked pretty darn remote!). So we kept saying there sure were a lot of riders
not going to the bathroom! I could’ve snapped a photo of two particular USPS riders and then sold them to some gossip rag, but I refrained! (Smile!)
People were watching from the roadside all along the route, there was rarely
a stretch of more than a few hundred yards without someone parked and watching
the race go by. And in the small towns we went through, it looked like everyone
had stopped work and come to cheer. Entire schools had their students out by
the curbs waving signs and cheering. Factory workers took a few minutes to
stand by the road still wearing their hardhats and wave at the peloton.
impression is that the Dodge Tour de Georgia has done a great job promoting this
race to the people. Of course I saw lots of Lance support signs (favorite was a
bus parked in a field with the letters of his name spelled out in the windows)
but I also saw some for Bobby Julich and Mario and big cheers for the Navigators
car when we went by. It especially amused me to see a “T-Mobile sucks” sign held
up high in some dinky little town. And Jelly Belly was a very popular team car.
Must be because they were throwing packets of jelly beans to the crowds. We
even got some thrown through our window - yum!
View from the road. Click for larger image.
Since we were behind the race, I didn’t get to see the feed zone in
operation, but we had riders come back for water, cokes, sports drinks and gels
three or four times. This action was a fine art all itself, with Ed hanging
stuff out the window and trying to match the speed of the rider so he could grab
on. Neil had the feeders give us back a sandwich for me, since I was a last
minute addition to the car. And Neil had to perform some repair with a wrench
out the window at one point while I held the extra wheels. How do you train for
THAT part of the job?! And these guys were cool and calm most of the time. I
think Neil even took a nap! No nap for me; I was too stoked to be there!
Road ballet. Click for larger image.
The gap got to just over 7 minutes around 42 miles into race, and soon after
that the peloton brought them back in. Once the gap started coming down, it
seemed to come down very fast, and at 64 miles they were caught. Soon after
that we hear over the radio that Domina Vacanze is driving the train, and Ed
starts telling his riders to get organized, get together, pair off and get
behind Domina. At 8 miles before the circuit portion of the race, last call for
feeding from cars comes over the radio, as well as the rider numbers for random
medical testing at end of race: Mike Creed of USPS, Kirk Albers of Jelly Belly
and Chris Wherry of Healthnet, or numbers 45, 104 and 93 (no names on the
Ed starts warning his riders that the circuit is coming up, that it looks to
narrow down quite a bit, that there are a lot of rights and lefts, and suddenly,
we’re on the circuit of downtown Macon. There was one section that was brick
pavers for several blocks, very much the cobble section! So many people were on
the sidelines for the three trips around the circuit, screaming for all the
riders. As the turns around the circuit increased riders started getting
dropped, and sometimes would get stuck between cars, and sometimes these cars
wanted to MOVE UP and fast! This was a real white knuckle ride, flying through
the streets of Macon in the caravan!
Near the end we heard the news of the crash, but even now I don’t know any
details, and while Domina was leading much of the circuits, they dropped off for
some reason, and Gord Fraser took the stage, with Ivan Dominguez of Colavita
second and Jens Voigt third. Young rider award went to Nieko Biskner of OFOTO
(whom I hope to ride with during the time trial, while Celia Cole rides on a
motorcycle for DP photo ops!). Off to the press conference with the winners,
all of whom were happy and friendly and seemingly not too tired! Later in the
elevator I saw two Sierra Nevada riders going out for a ride! What?!!
Nieko Biskner of Ofoto. Click for larger image.
It was tremendously exciting to experience the race from this unique vantage
point and I want to thank the Navigators for giving me such a great ride. It
was such a treat! Go Navigators!
Ivan and Jens. Click for larger image.
The Stage One winners. Click for larger image.
Race leader Gord Fraser. Click for larger image.
Nieko and Gord. Click for larger image.