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.