Story and photos by Dave Shields
I have a question. When did they install mountains in Georgia? I always
figured the Peach State was relatively flat. Also, what is it the road builders
there have against switchbacks? On hills as steep as Brasstown Bald you’re
supposed to make lots of “S” turns so that ordinary vehicles, and mere cycling
mortals, can get up the things. Someone in the down south apparently didn’t get
Cycling fans should be pleased at that oversight, as a new Mecca of road
cycling has been crowned. Race announcer Dave Towle masterfully whipped the
crowds into a frenzy on a daily basis. As he goaded cyclists past the one
kilometer kite and onto the final excruciating slope of Stage 6, Towle was in
rare form. Looking up at the edifice that dominated the overhanging peak of
Brasstown Bald he termed it “…the Temple of Pain!” That’s a brilliant
description, and judging from the looks on the cyclists' faces, no truer words
were ever spoken. It didn’t seem possible to get from this point to the summit
in only one K of road unless it went nearly straight up. It did.
Dave Towle solidified his reputation as the best on-site
announcer in the business.
I return from the Dodge Tour de Georgia with nothing but praise for the
people who made this race happen, the athletes who participated, the fans that
attended, or the state whose scenic byways we explored. Because of my unique
position I believe I had an opportunity to see a side of the race that no other
journalist did. I found myself thumbing rides three to five times a day, and
virtually every time I heard another enlightening story about the effort that
went into putting this race on.
The crowds turned out en masse, giving the event a world caliber
The only person I ever got multiple rides from was Cara Maglione from the
press office. She had previously worked for eleven years in the front office for
the Atlanta Braves. Now she’d abandoned a short break in her life in order to do
anything and everything it took to pull this event off. I ran into her and many
other staff members working both early and late on a daily basis. I’m not
certain if any of these people ever slept. Cara said that World Series included,
she had never seen crowds that rivaled those watching this race. In particular
she was stunned at the craziness that ensued whenever Lance was in the vicinity.
So was I.
I spent an animated hour with Fred Patton, or Gypsy as he is
affectionately known. He walked me through the bizarre twists in fortune that
had taken him from a kid who happened to love bikes to a man who has played an
integral role in nearly every bicycle race of consequence on this continent in
the last several decades. Under his current incarnation he provides the best
timing equipment available anywhere. Gypsy is surrounded with co-workers who are
equally passionate about their roles, and it certainly shows. One of the things
that really struck me, though, was that among the guys who got their hands dirty
to make this thing happen, Gypsy and his buddies' knowledge of cycling was by
far the exception rather than the rule.
Fred Patton has seen and done it all in years on the bike racing
Most of the laborers that built the start and finish villages had no idea
what the cyclists were trying to accomplish, why the fans were so enthusiastic,
or why everything had to be undertaken in such a mad sprint across the state.
Apparently they figured that since I was taking notes I must be the guy they
should make suggestions for improvements to. Their ideas varied from “Why not
hold this whole thing in one place with the same start and finish line each
day?” to “There ought to be two days rest between each stage.” They looked more
exhausted than the cyclists as the event concluded in Alpharetta, and I say that
as a compliment because they stuck with it and pulled off an important job even
though they never had any real opportunity to understand why they were doing it
in the first place. Bravo, guys. I hope you get a chance to see the OLN coverage
because you should be very proud of yourselves.
Jason McCartney had a breakthrough performance.
Along my winding road I got to speak with the men whose vision was
transformed into a reality during this great week. Executive director Stan Holm
and deputy executive director Chris Aronhalt were two of those most responsible
for the ideas that became the Dodge Tour of Georgia. I saw both multiple times
during the week working feverishly to make sure everything came off just as
planned, so it surprised me when I talked to each man and discovered how calm,
cool, and collected they both were.
Holm and Aronhalt both mentioned how critical it had been to put a passionate
staff in place and then let their people do what they knew how to do best. I was
in awe of the result because the logistics of a bicycle stage race exceed the
logistics of every other event of comparable size. Sure, the Olympics might be
harder to pull off, but that’s the exception. I told Stan, “This is the second
most impressively organized bike race I’ve ever attended, and the only one
that’s better has a 99 year head start on you. I’m not going to be a bit
surprised if you surpass the Tour de France’s organization within one more
Stan Holm (right) awaits the Stage 7 finish.
One of my final rides was with Ginger Roberts as she navigated a nearly sold
out supply truck of t-shirts and souvenirs from Brasstown to Alpharetta. Ginger
is the president of a company called eCorporate Solutions. Two years ago on the
eve of the race she was contacted by the organizers. They had run into a problem
with the previous souvenir vendor and needed someone to step in place quickly.
Man, did they ever call the right person. Ginger is a human dynamo. She worked
sixteen hour days before, during, and after the event in order to assure that it
was the best it could possibly be. She personified what the directors had said
about finding passionate people and turning them loose.
The crowd was blown away by the intensity of cycling.
When this year's event was without funding until only eighty days before
start time, Ginger found herself repeating the process again, only this time
thanks to Lance Armstrong they were staring at the prospects of crowds two to
three times larger. So what did she and her staff do? They worked like crazy,
and made the event even better than before.
Interestingly, in those two years no one at the company has ever had time to
learn much at all about bicycle racing. Their knowledge of the sport has been
pretty much limited to, “The fans like to buy t-shirts.” Finally, Ginger was
able to break away from her booth for half an hour or so on the penultimate
stage at Brasstown Bald. She climbed to the finish and watched the cyclists. “It
was something else,” she said. “Those men seem awfully dedicated and the fans
are absolutely crazy.” I talked to her a final time on the last day, and we
discussed the upcoming Tour de France. By that time I think she’d caught the
bug. It bit a lot of people in Georgia over the last week. I’m glad I got to be
there, and I can’t wait to return.