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The Faces of Georgia
 
By Staff
Date: 4/27/2004
The Faces of Georgia
 

Story and photos (except where noted) by Cathy Mehl

In taking a final look back on the Tour de Georgia, I find my notes filled with scribbles about people I encountered as the stages wore on. I think about the woman who came out of her house and crossed the street to help Celia and me with directions when she saw us looking at a map on the hood of my car. I think of the young waiter Phil asking if we liked it in Georgia, even though “we’re a little slow.”


Photo by Celia Cole/www.sportsshooter.com/celiacole

I think of the many confederate flags still flying proudly in yards where 140 years ago the people of the South fought and lost a battle. I think of the generous spirit of Chris who gave me her pager number so she could help me connect to the internet at every stop we made, no matter how late I arrived. I think of the students lined up en masse in small towns to see the peloton roll by. I think of all the people who burst into smiles when I told them I was with the Daily Peloton and exclaimed, “I read that all the time! It’s my Home Page!”

I think of the racers I became familiar with and came to love over the week. I think of Gord Fraser who was so well spoken at all the press conferences, extolling the high caliber of racing in America. I think of Jens Voigt in an early press conference saying when they go back to Europe and tell others of the clear roads and the enthusiastic crowds, other European teams will come. I think of Nieko Biskner, who held the Young Rider jersey for the first few stages, and the fact that he lives in my hometown and I can follow his career from now on with just a phone call. After all, twenty years ago his coach’s daughter was my flower girl. Cycling is a small world!

I think of the Mills Brothers (Keith, David and Paul) situated near us on the climb to Brasstown Bald. These three all ride Treks and do races around Georgia, and had gotten up the hill in the early, early morning to ensure a chance of seeing Lance go by. They set up a blue shade structure at the point of the climb where it “gets a little easier,” and they became a road marker of sorts to the recreational riders: “You just have to make it to that blue tent!”

One rider said, “If you’re lying, can I come back and kill you?” Another rider puffing up the hill exclaimed, “I’m from Florida. It’s FLAT! I don’t even know how to spell hill!”

I think of the Washington, DC, version of “Friends,” as we spent most of our day with a group of five that had made a twelve hour/overnight/rented van/camping trip to see the stage. Brent Kendall was the only real rider in the group, but his wife Kerry-Ann told of her wedding trip surprise for Brent to the 2002 Tour de France. She wrapped up an article about the Tour, took him out to a French dinner and asked him if he’d like to go see it—tomorrow! Kacie and Rob Weston, along with Tina Fitanides and her dog Molly (all pals from law school) rounded out the group, and even though Rob caught up on some sleep before the stage began, this was a lively, generous group that was having tremendous day on Brasstown Bald. Celia and I enjoyed sharing it with them.

I think of the two rude spectators who kept crowding Celia’s shots, but were eventually taken care of by her “bodyguard,” a good size fellow and his five-months pregnant wife who had walked many miles to get to the top. In exchange for a ride down the hill for his wife, he would make sure the people stayed clear as Celia shot her images. Pretty good deal for both, I’d say!

I think of the traffic jam we encountered at the bottom of Brasstown Bald, only to find that the real cause was not the race, but “ELVIS” riding around in a white limo, passing out Mardi Gras beads (mine are silver!).

I think of missing the end of the race because the traffic was just getting too horrific and I didn’t dare risk missing my flight. As I sat in the rental car shuttle going back to the airport, I called Celia at the finish line and left her a message to call me to tell me who won.

Another passenger, overhearing my message said, “Oh, I was listening in my car. I think Junior is in the lead.” I felt a little disappointed in myself, thinking I’d learned a lot about riders and racing this week, but somehow I’d missed “Junior”. Then I realized he was talking about NASCAR! And I laughed and said, “Oh no, I mean a real race, the bike race!” Blank look on his face…

I think of charming Mario telling an enthusiastic crowd that, “I not come back to Italy. I stay here!” And who could blame him? He gained legions of new fans and was treated like royalty. Hopefully this race will continue to grow in size and status. And in the South, there is always room for one more at the table, so bring on the riders.


Cipo and Miss Columbus last week. Photo by Celia Cole/www.sportsshooter.com/celiacole

I love to cook. My passions in life are cooking and following professional cycling. A few months ago I started providing occasional meals for a 23 year old cancer patient named Brandon Yates in Santa Barbara. Sadly, Brandon lost his battle while I was in Georgia, and yesterday I was given the news that the brain tumors just couldn’t be brought under control and that Brandon has moved on to a more peaceful place.

The Cancer Coalition of Georgia was a big sponsor of the Tour de Georgia, reminding people of the importance of early detection and their presence kept reminding me of Brandon, who followed his passion of surfing. With his passing, I thought of following one’s passions.

A year ago I would never have envisioned myself realizing a dream of following a stage race, reporting about it, and experiencing it, but now that I’ve made it through one, I feel happy and content, knowing that passions and dreams are realized when we step beyond our self-imposed boundaries and go for them.

In memory of Brandon, Carpe Diem.

Ciao,
Cathy

 
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