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Dodge Tour de Georgia: On the Ground - Stage One
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 4/19/2005
Dodge Tour de Georgia: On the Ground - Stage One

The Dodge Tour de Georgia got underway today with a 128 mile stage ride from Augusta to Macon, Georgia. With a start time of 11:30 A.M., the teams started gathering in their team areas and making their way to the sign-in about an hour before the race. Prior to the race beginning, a lot of people were hanging out on the sidelines watching the riders role up to sign in. This time gives the fans a good chance to snap a photo of their favorite riders and often you'll see the entire team sign in together. Many fans stopped by the Health Net-Maxxis camp for autographs and PR materials.

I chatted with Bob Roll in the middle of the street and was happy to hear he's following some of the race this week for OLN. I can tell you this guy looks fit. And he was happy to sign autographs and pose for pictures until the race began. I had the chance to over hear Bobby Julich talking to the press stating it was his hope that one of the ProTour teams would be sure to take the top honors in this race since there are so many great Americans riding here.

A few minutes later I turned around to have a quick chat with none other than Phil Liggett. He commented that this was his first time at the Dodge Tour de Georgia, and he felt the race was fabulous. He said he would only do some camera work for a few days and then head home to cover the week-end races in Europe, leaving the rest of the race in the capable hands of Frankie and Bob. Asked what he thought about Armstrong's retirement announcement, he smiled that endearing Liggett smile and said, "Well, it's sad, but inevitable." Phil climbed in a lead caravan car and headed out on the race course for an up-close look at the day's stage.

The race started a few minutes late as it was held up while Lance Armstrong tried to make his way through the throngs of fans up to the start. After a prayer for safety and the National Anthem, the gun sounded and it was time to ride. A few efforts flew off the front in the initial kilometers, but were reeled back in until TIAA-CREF young rider Dan Bowman went out and was left to hang there for much of the race. DS Jonathan Vaughters commented: "Once the gap got up to two minutes I said, 'OK Dan, you're in for a long day!' I said, 'Don't let the gap go above ten minutes if you can, because that makes the field nervous and they start to chase.'" Asked at the press conference what he thought about while he was riding solo for so many hours today, Bowman said he told himself he knew it was going to be a long day!

Once the race hit the circuits of Macon, the sprinter's teams lined up for the drive to the line. Health Net-Maxxis rider Greg Henderson said: “The final kilometer was really fast." With 700 meters remaining, the bunch took a right and went over a short climb. “Mike (Sayers) took me up from a long way back. I hooked up with (Chris) Wherry after that and he pulled me up to fifth wheel coming out of the last corner with 400 meters to go. It was so fast, that’s where we all stayed. It was single-file to the finish.” The win went to South African Robbie Hunter of Phonak, who stated at the press conference that his team will defend the jersey, but be willing to lose it for a few days and then gain it back in the mountains.

It was a long opening stage for the cyclists at the Dodge Tour de Georgia but blue skies and low humidity made for good racing and great viewing. Large crowds showed up at the start and finish lines, with many small communities in between turning out to cheer on the peloton as it rolled by in southern Georgia today.

After an hour and a half transfer tomorrow morning, Stage Two goes from Fayetteville to Rome. It's a 122 mile stage with two sprints and one King of the Mountain. It should be another day for the sprinter's teams and we'll be looking for Health Net-Maxxis to light it up on Stage Two.

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