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Dodge Tour de Georgia: Health Net Report Pre-Race
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 4/18/2005
Dodge Tour de Georgia: Health Net Report Pre-Race

Photos by Celia Cole

Welcome to the Dodge Tour de Georgia. Monday was the pre-race organizational day for all the teams as the 2005 edition of the race ramps up and the teams prepare to take their show on the road. Checking in with the Health Net-Maxxis crew early this morning, we found mechanic Nick Legan hard at work at an early hour. The riders had already left for their two-hour training ride, leaving Nick and his assistant Jim to fine tune the time trial bikes and be sure everything was in order for the start of the race. Even though the time trial stage is not for several days, Nick runs a tight ship and didn't want to leave those bikes for the last day. Noting that the course had changed a little from last year, Nick said they were determining the gearing today for the time trial and for Brasstown Bald, stages 3 and 5 respectively. Nick also remarked that the biggest difference in this year's race was the elimination of the double-stage day, and when I commented that he looked a little relieved that it had been changed, he agreed that the double stages cause havoc for the mechanics. I made sure Nick knew I thought it was a nice day for a bike ride and I wouldn't mind borrowing a bike to go for a spin, but the look he gave me made it immediately clear that wasn't going to happen. Nick did generously share his newly-found-at-a-rest-stop helmet and the look is one that could catch on....

With no racing but plenty of meetings, press conferences and organizing going on, the day seemed to fly by. The first press conference of the day showcased some of the top riders and included Ben Brooks, Gord Fraser, Bobby Julich, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Nathan O'Neill, Saul Raisin and Andrea Tafi. Gord Fraser was asked about the team's strategy for this year's race: "For Health Net-Maxxis, if we can even come close to what we did last year, we'd be very happy. It was a pleasant surprise last year. At this level, you have to take whatever you can get -- and we got more than we thought we would get. As far as myself, coming off Sea Otter, it's not the easiest double to do. But we have a pretty deep team, both sprinter and climber-wise, so if I'm not feeling up to it, I'm sure Ivan Dominguez will be very good, as well as Greg Henderson."

Later this evening we sat in with soigneurs Debbie Lipski and John Sessa as they prepared for Tuesday's race. Filling bottles and bottles and bottles, they told us they fill the bottles with various liquids: some water, some Coke, some energy mixes. With only one feed zone Tuesday, their work load is lighter than some days will be, but since it's the first stage of the race they were carefully reviewing their lists to be sure they had what the riders would need. I asked how they could possibly pass out the rider's preferred drink since the amount of time through the feed zone is so brief. Debbie said that they are hooked up with radios in the feed zone and the riders will "call in their orders." A radio call back will tell the rider which feeder has which product and it's then up to the cyclist to find the right person and come by them. Sometimes the riders will have to pass the right bottle off to a teammate, or just be satisfied with what they received. Product is identified by the different color top for the bottle and the team brings boxes and boxes AND BOXES of bottles to a race.

The hours are long for the Soigneurs. During a stage race they are also responsible for handling all of the laundry, and despite John Sessa's claim that he has a wash board which he sets up in the bathtub each night, we think we might find them in the laundry mat of the finish town one of these nights. Everyone gets a massage every day, even on the pre-race day, and with two Soigneurs working this race, Debbie and John will be doing four massages a day, everyday, of thirty to forty minutes each.

"We're pretty much the caretakers. That's what 'Soigneur' means. On the table they might pour their hearts out and de-stress," explains Lipski. The race in Redlands was Debbie's first assignment for a road race, although she's worked mountain bike races in the past. Speaking about the Dodge Tour de Georgia, Debbie commented that "I think this is a different level of cycling, so I definitely don't want to miss a feed, especially since we're only feeding them once." Something tells me the Health Net-Maxxis riders are in good hands.

With Lance Armstrong's retirement announcement coming at the second press conference held today, anticipation is building for six days of fabulous racing. Health Net-Maxxis is ready to roll.

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