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Tour de Georgia on My Mind
 
By Staff
Date: 4/21/2004
Tour de Georgia on My Mind
 

Story and Photos by Cathy Mehl

I Finally arrived in Macon around noon Monday and tried to check into the hotel, but alas, they weren’t handling the throngs of people too well, so had to wait a few hours before getting settled in. In the meantime I had secured my press packet, staked out a front row seat for the press conference, found a store to buy more batteries for my microcassette player, and generally gotten a feel for this headquarters setup for the kick off of the Dodge Tour de Georgia. People are everywhere, zillions wearing staff shirts, teams coming and going in groups, riders getting in some time in the saddle. A real buzz of activity, and some people even seem to know what they are doing.

The press conference started at 2:45 with the organizers and sponsors talking about how fast their Tour has grown and how much bigger and better they intend to make it. I found myself sitting right next to the wife of the Executive Director of the race, so we had a nice chat about the event and the huge leap in attention it has received this year. She said they have attended the TdF in order to get a feel for flavor to add to the Dodge TdG. First up were a select group of riders, which included Bobby Julich, Chris Horner, Eric Wohlberg, Jonathan Vaughters and David George. Chris was asked about his intentions to defend his title. He claims he’s in fine form and has come to repeat. Bobby Julich talked a lot about how happy he is to be with CSC and is extremely happy to be racing in the US. He feels a stage race like this makes it more of a reality for up and coming riders. I promise I’ll get some press conference stuff for DP readers once I get a chance to catch up!    


Bobby Julich meets the press


Eric Wohlberg and Chris Horner meet the press

The next session was none other than Mario Cipollini, striding in wearing a white warmup suit and looking ever the dashing Lion King. He brought his interpreter with him, and even though there was often a long delay for relaying the question and then the answer, this dude was charming! He smiled and laughed a lot and seemed genuinely happy to be racing this race.

Lastly, Johan Bruyneel and Dan Osipow of US Postal came in to take a few questions just before Lance arrived. When asked directly if USPS was at the Dodge Tour de Georgia to win, Johan said the team is in good form and they hoped to have a contender. Once Lance arrived the questions came faster and he fielded them all like a true veteran of the press. My favorite moment came when a reporter from the Chicago Tribune asked him the same question about intent to win that she had asked Johan: was USPS here to win? Lance started to give an answer because he said he thought he knew what Johann would say, but then he said, “Oh, what did Johan say?!” But no way, he had to stand on his own, and his answer was that the team wants to do well, but isn’t looking to win... Oops, got that one wrong, Mr. Armstrong!   


Armstrong gets his facts straight.

  


Bruyneel looks philosophical

A few hours later, after struggling with internet connections and the like, I realized I had to get down the street for the evening’s festivities, which included a red carpet reception of the athletes and later the team presentations. I dashed down the hall and caught the elevator, just me and Mario riding down fourteen floors! I smiled and said hi, and said in broken Spanish that I’d enjoyed his press conference, and that I thought he was funny…here’s hoping that Spanish is close enough to Italian that I didn’t insult his mother or anything! Yep, rode the elevator with Cipo and he posed for a photo—that was the highlight of my day, for sure.

At the dinner, people who had paid (I was told) $100 each dined with various team members from all 15 teams, except USPS which was very late, for some reason. They were the last team presented, and hadn’t even arrived by their cue, so things were held up a bit. The event was well attended, and if you couldn’t splurge with the 100 bucks, you could sit in the balcony for $10, and watch the team presentations from above. Each team was presented and the lead rider was interviewed—big applause for all the teams, especially local favorite Jittery Joes. At the very end all the teams gathered behind the curtain on the stage, with Lance, Mario, Chris and Bobby in front, and the announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, your 2004 Peloton.” That was a really cool moment. Later I read elsewhere that Cipo was trying to get guys to moon the audience, which explains why the guys were laughing and shuffling around before the curtain came up! That guy!!

Racing starts Tuesday. I’m going to hit the sack and try to be ready for the first day. According to views presented at the press conference, everyone is going to contest the race and put it on the line! I think we’re in for some good racing—here’s to Stage One tomorrow afternoon!

 
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