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By Bryan Jew, VeloNews assistant managing editor
Before I dive headlong into my notebook from the Tour de Georgia, er, the Dodge Tour de Georgia, I have to take a few minutes to say thanks to State Trooper Stewart of the Georgia State Patrol, who was kind enough to drive me to the finish line of Thursday’s stage in Columbus after the Navigators team car I was riding in got a flat tire. After logging onto the VN Web site and checking back on our final-hour live coverage, I realize that my editors took a few, um, liberties with the details, so here’s the rest of the story.
The Navs pulled over with the flat about 10 miles from the finish. Mechanic Mike Spilker had the back of the Audi wagon cleared and the spare tire out in under a minute, and we looked well on our way to a sub-five minute tire change. But, Spilker and team director Ed Beamon were unable to pry the guilty wheel off, and instead we found ourselves stranded at the side of the road, calling for AAA assistance.
So, no, we weren’t back on the road and flying toward the finish as the race wound down. Instead, we were standing next to a busy street, listening to race radio, and then all trying our cell phones to hunt down someone who could tell us who won.
At this point, State Trooper Stewart, who had been trying to help us all the while, had to split, but was able to offer me a ride to the finish before he made his two-hour drive back home.
Along the way, I found we had a bit in common, despite him being from Georgia, eight years younger than me, and, oh yeah, did I mention, a state trooper. His 13-month old son is just four days older than mine, and we’re both loving fatherhood.
The state trooper also admitted to me how much he loved his job. “It may not seem like much, but I love having this job, and being able to help people,” he said.
That of course got me thinking, because the best part of this job is simply being around people who really love what they’re doing. Whether it’s a 26-year-old Georgia state trooper, an old Berkeley college teammate like Tim Larkin — who’s “doing the architecture thing part-time” while riding for the Ofoto, because he still loves racing — or photographer Casey Gibson, with whom I shared some Country’s Barbeque after a long day on the road and filing stories and photos, it’s the people and their stories that make this job worthwhile.
Okay, enough sap. On to some notes …
Fast Freddy Rodriguez and his Vini Caldirola squad are a little bit miffed with the officials in Georgia, who assessed him with a 20-second time penalty for prolonged motorpacing on Wednesday’s stage 1. Rodriguez was involved in the big crash on the opening laps in Augusta, and needed some assistance in getting back up to the group. The team director was prepared to take the monetary fine that goes along with such violations, but the 20-second penalty wasn’t something that sat well.
“My team’s not too happy that they do these kind of things. If this race wants to be part of the European calendar, it needs to play by the European [rules]. They need to send the officials who work here over to Europe, to get a hang of the way things work there,” said Rodriguez, “because that’s what my team expects.
The time penalty was indeed costly. After Thursday’s second-place finish, Rodriguez sat 36-seconds behind race leader Henk Vogels. Without the penalty, he would be 16 seconds behind, and sitting comfortably in the top 10.
Ofoto’s Erik Saunders was one of the animators of Thursday’s stage, going off on a long 40-mile break with Phil Zajicek and Troy White. Saunders is originally from Virginia but has spent most of the last 10 years racing in Europe and all over the U.S. With this inaugural Tour de Georgia, Saunders was happy to be back in his home region. “I miss people that say ‘y’all’ every other word. I like being back here, I think it’s cool,” he said.
After Tuesday’s prologue, cyclist-turned-Ironman triathlete Steve Larsen commented that the 2.6-mile race was “about 120 miles short of my specialty.” Larsen has been spending much more time racing on the road this season, much of it with the Northern California Webcor squad.
“I’m trying to get back to what worked for me a couple of years ago, when I first started doing triathlons,” he said. “This works better for me than trying to train as a triathlete.
“It’s paying off already,” he said. “My bike fitness is much better.”
Expect to see Larsen at a few other high-profile U.S. events, including Wachovia Week in Philadelphia and the Cascade Classic.
Another cyclist/triathlete had his season get off to a rough start. Schroeder Iron’s Chann McRae crashed hard at a race back in March, resulting in sinus problems. “I was really messed up, and on antibiotics,” he said.
The reigning USPRO road champion has a busy schedule ahead of him. Next month he’ll compete at the Wildflower triathlon in California, and then he’ll try to defend his USPRO title at Wachovia Week. After that, he heads to Lake Placid where he’ll try to qualify for the Hawaii Ironman. “I have to qualify this year,” he said. “They only let you in free once.”
Oh, back to barbeque. Thanks to the readers who suggested Country’s Barbeque in Macon. After filing stories until 7:30 at night, nothing hits the spot better than a barbeque pork platter, complete with cornbread, baked beans, potato salad and a Budweiser (I passed on the “tight-wad beer.” The menu said “don’t ask,” so I didn’t). Two thumbs up, and all was well within the guidelines of the VN editorial expense report.
As the shirt says, God bless America, and its barbeque attitude.
What to watch for
Stage 4 of the Tour de Georgia on Saturday. The stage is the most anticipated of the race, with the two most difficult climbs of the week. However, it may be the last 30 miles of the stage, after the second climb, that prove to be the hardest part of the day.
“The last climb is kind of big-ring,” said Jittery Joe’s Jonny Sundt, who shared some insider information with us, based on the training camp rides that his team did in the area earlier in the year. “After that there’s about 25 miles of downhill, which is kind of fun.
“The last 30 miles is really hard rollers – small-ring, quarter-mile rollers. The last 30 miles is just gonna be carnage,” he said.