Stage 5 Journal

A long day for the riders, a short day for me. One stop alongside a lake, shots at the finish, and the day is over. Skilled drivers, aka the Versus camera crew, can make 4-5 stops on a day like today, finding every side road and driving with just the right amount of aggression to stay ahead. I was more interested in finding a scenic shot that I'd be really, really happy with, so Mario and I skipped the start once more to begin our voyage along the course that moved slowly up in elevation towards the warmup climbs for tomorrow's course. There was an unfortunate accident during the opening circuits with one of the photo motos: a fan ran out onto the course as the caravan was moving through and collided with a photo moto -- four were injured. Another accident, thankfully without injuries, occurred when the Health Net car ran into the back of the BMC car. The BMC crew ripped off their busted bumper while the Health Net team managed to tape their air bags down.

While all this chaos was happening, we were busy driving along the course to look for the spot that screamed "shoot me." Barns, fences, trees, cows and a small goat offered themselves to our lenses, but we declined. Just before the start of the KOM climb we found what we were looking for: a lake, with a mountain overlooking it. Given that this was the first real mountain stage in the Tour de Georgia, it was the combination of scenery and story that we were looking for. A four-man break came through almost ten minutes ahead of the peloton, giving me the opportunity to warm up my telephoto lens while I waited for the bigger pack. It was quite a successful break, seeing as Edward King (Bissell) took the KOM jersey and Tim Johnson (Health Net) got himself Most Aggressive.

Breakaway - (c) Ken Conley Lake - (c) Ken Conley Lake - (c) Ken Conley

We went straight to the Dahlonega finish from there. Dahlonega had really good crowds, perhaps the best so far. I liked the town a lot, even though I experienced very little of it. It had the same sort of town-square-centric blueprint that every other small town in Georgia seems to have, but it felt more charming. I've been joking with people here that town-square courthouses are to Georgia what cathedrals are to Europe. You love the first few, but soon you're saying, "not another courthouse!" Dahlonega managed to overcome my rising aversion.

We tried to cover as much of the final two miles as possible. The finale featured several technical elements that could prove decisive: the short, steep KOM climb, two 90 turns on the descent, a hairpin turn 100m before the finish, and a descent then climb up to the finish line. I dropped Mario off at the Crown Mountain KOM, where we hoped that a move would be made. He was treated to a perfect catch: the chase group containing Hincapie, Leipheimer, Sevilla, Sutherland, Horner, and others swallowed the break just as the climb ticked up to its greatest slope on Crown Mountain Road. Levi looked back at Sevilla to make sure the GC threat was contained. Later, stragglers came through and were treated to pushes to the top. It's a good rehearsal for tomorrow's Brasstown Bald.

Over at the finish line I camped out on the final hairpin turn, standing on the awards podium next to the Versus camera. Levi's dad was up there taking photos as well. I decided to forgo the traditional arms-raised finish line shot to try something different and get more variety: Richard England looking back at Sutherland, launching his attack, careening around the hairpin turn, and charging to the top. I just managed to catch a double Bissell victory salute and the pop of a flash before my camera buffer ran full. I had done a test run with the sequence of shots I was going to take to see if my camera buffer would run full if I was shooting in RAW. Clearly I didn't plan right, but luck overcame skill.

Richard England Makes His Move - (c) Ken Conley Richard England Makes His Move - (c) Ken Conley Richard England Makes His Move - (c) Ken Conley Richard England - (c) Ken Conley Richard England Takes the Uphill Sprint - (c) Ken Conley

We had to wait quite awhile for the podium presentation as there were two delays: there were a lot of riders off the back that had to roll in, including yellow/blue jersey Greg Henderson. They also had to get out the rulebook to figure out which Slipstream rider would inherit the yellow jersey. The podium ceremony began, as always, with introductions of local public officials and raffles for various prizes. I'll let you in on a little secret, Dahlonega: the basic script, including all the little jokes and praise for the stage and the finish town, is the same every time ;). The PA announcer seemed really happy about the Bissell win as he really stressed the enunciation of the team sponsor, which also happens to be a Tour de Georgia sponsor. A stage win and KOM jersey is an impressive haul, especially for the official sponsor of the broom wagon.

Richard England - (c) Ken Conley Edward King - (c) Ken Conley

Health Net is to the Tour de Georgia what BMC was to the Tour of California. They've really tried to animate this race with daring attacks and breaks and they also animate the podium, as you can see below:

Rory Sutherland - (c) Ken Conley Tim Johnson - (c) Ken Conley

I'm now in Helen, Georgia, which seems the Georgia equivalent of Solvang, except it is a Bavarian-themed village instead of a Danish-themed village. It looks pretty similar to me -- I'm sure that offends Danes and Bavarians alike. It's a short drive from here to Blairsville and Brasstown Bald, where the long-awaited GC showdown will occur.

related articles: Tour de Georgia 2008
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