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Tour de Georgia Exceeds All Expectations
 
By Staff
Date: 5/8/2004
Tour de Georgia Exceeds All Expectations
 

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 the memo.

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 feel.

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 circuit.

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 year.”


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.

 
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