Tour de Georgia
by Dave Sanderson and Lamar Martin
Traveling Marshals Story
From Monday April 21 through Sunday April 27th, Threshold Sports kept all 48 of us Traveling Volunteers very busy starting with a three hour training session on Monday night before the Prologue in Savannah on Tuesday and ending with a long day in Atlanta for the Circuit Race in downtown Atlanta.
A traveling city of 400 people including racers, race officials, support vehicles and race management staff was nothing short of fantastic planning on the part of Threshold Sports and local volunteers/officials in the various venue cities, to include meals, room assignments at hotels every night and stations to work every day along the route.
There were five teams of ten people each, assigned to five Chrysler-Daimler
Sprinter Vans. We each had a Captain and a navigator. Our team consisted of Randy Lewandoski from Savannah, Lamar
Martin and BJ Godby from Vidalia, Bill Brockwell, TJ Kidder & Mary-Stewart Latta from St. Simons/Brunswick,
Jean Liberty from Crossville, TN, Ron Shook from Atlanta, Dick from Peachtree City, and yours truly, Dave Sanderson
from Pooler. We became good friends during the six days of working as a team to complete our assignments as marshals for the
week. We were given three T-shirts and a baseball cap with Tour de Georgia logos, credentials and three manuals outlining
everything you need to know about the Tour de Georgia. Our daily assignments included being dropped on the route
at road intersections as many as four times a day to
help with traffic control, help warn riders of turns by waving a red flag, policing the area of nails, gravel, road kill and obstructions at each station and public relations to fans along the way.
Some highlights of the week were ...... seeing these race guys come off the mountains at 60 mph .... observing the Macon to Columbus stage and the racers averaging 30.7 miles for this 116.7 mile stage (and these guys are B-Team racers!) .... Tying strings of flags to orange traffic control barrels to a mile long stretch of street in Atlanta for three hours before the race and looking behind us and see the rising wind blow over the barrels and having to go back and take the strings down and re-arrange the barrels .... Driving VERY fast from Elijay to Dahlonega on back roads with 12 highway patrol cars passing us at near 100 mph to get to Dahlongea BEFORE the racers to help with traffic control because of little or no local volunteer support ..... to see the crews set up the start/finish equipment and banners every day (there were two crews and two sets of equipment, so that a start and a finish for the day was erected) .... as marshals, given free stuff and heavy discounts on merchandise after the circuit race in Atlanta ...... to see outstanding news paper and TV coverage at every stage EXCEPT Savannah .... and, as a event planner myself, seeing this masterful job done so well by Threshold Sports including signage for the route, Marshal placement, design of the route, and all logistics for room assignments, meals and equipment transport was fantastic! The event was truly a rewarding experience for me!
The Hyatt on River Street was Race HQ in Savannah, where we (traveling marshals) attended a mandatory orientation meeting on Monday evening. We learned what our job entailed and that, indeed, we would be the face of the Tour de Georgia, that we should be knowledgeable of the event, and attempt to relieve the frustration of those caught unaware by the road closings, explaining what it was all about and convince them that they were indeed lucky to have front row seats! Once I had seen the peloton myself a couple of times, I told the motorists that opted to make the most of it, "Wow! you are about to see more cop cars than in a Smoky & The Bandit movie!" which was not much of an exaggeration. The peloton was usually proceeded by dozens of police cars and motorcycles, then the 144 racers, followed by 70 team cars/support vehicles. I could best describe it as a really cool parade moving at 30 mph, average. Unfortunately, poor coordination by the local police often meant the roads were closed much too soon. Also, in the middle of the long stages, the breakaways from the peloton and racers straggling behind often meant the entourage was broken up and spread out for several minutes. As a result, the roads would be closed for as much as an hour, or a little more... So, as thrilling as the event was to us cycling enthusiasts, it was a very long wait for the motorists who chose to sit in their cars and steam about it. Maybe in retrospect they will take solace in the fact that they witnessed a part of the Inaugural Tour de Georgia, which hopes to someday be listed with the Tour de France, Italy and Spain as the top 4 multi-stage touring races in the world.
The Race began on Tuesday with an Individual Time Trial on a 2.6 mile route through historic downtown Savannah, including 3 of the city's beautiful squares. There were enough traveling marshals and local volunteer marshals on hand to assign us to a particular corner or intersection. There were no policeman in the square I was working, so it fell on my shoulders to keep vehicles who lived or worked inside the barricaded part of the city from getting on the race course, as well looking out for the many pedestrians that is typical of the squares on Habesham. They were allowed to walk across the race course itself, so it was important to keep an eye out and make sure no one stepped into the path of a racer, the motorcycle marshal that preceded each racer or the Team Car which followed each racer. There were 144 racers at 1 minute intervals and this was by far the easiest day for us. We helped clean up after the race, under the direction that we would leave no footprints (no tell-tell signs the race had been there).
Then the complete entourage of approximately 400 people, including the racers, had to be transported to Augusta, to be ready for the first stage of the race, from Augusta to Macon on Wednesday. As traveling marshals, we had very nice accommodations for the entire week, some meals provided, and per diem to cover the meals which were not provided. In some cities, the complete race staff and racers stayed at the same hotel, but we were separated at others due to no hotel large enough to accommodate the entire group.
As Dave mentioned, the 50 traveling marshals were divided into five teams of ten people. Each team was assigned to a Chrysler-Daimler Sprinter Van. The vans, which bore the Dodge badge, were built by Mercedes Benz and had turbo charged diesel engines, electronically limited to 85 mph, which is where our no fear team captain/driver kept our Sprinter much of the time. The vans were ideal for the task, having seating for 10 adults and even our tallest marshal at well over 6' tall, could walk upright in the interior of the van. Each seat had shoulder and lap belts to keep us in place while our driver, Randy, and our prayers, kept the van on 4 wheels around the curvy mountain roads later in the week. The van was spacious enough for us to get in and out of quickly.
I think it was fellow team member TJ Kidder, from Brunswick, who first called our happy group, "Team Randy", pronounced RRAAANNDAY! We were continually poking fun at Team Captain Randy Lewandowski, a former taxi driver, pizza delivery guy and current bicycle racer (with no fear of speed) about his heavy, I should say, HEAVY foot on the accelerator. Truth is, we were tasked with nearly impossible to impossible assignments throughout the week and it required some very good driving (and the grace of a higher power) to get it done.
Each night our captain would work with the other team captains to divide up the route for the next day's race course. All intersections had to be manned by course marshals. Since a 135 mile stage would require as many as 200 marshals, and since there were only 50 of us, we had to leap frog. Our captain would have 3 or 4 assignments for us each day. This worked, or didn't work, depending on how fast we could be deployed, do our job at a group of 10 intersections, (the driver would get the last intersection then drive back to pick up the other 9 marshals, which were often spread out over a 10 to 20 mile section of the race route). Then the driver and co-pilot/navigator would have to find an alternate route that would allow us to get to another section of the race course (before the racers got there) and deploy us again. Trying to do this 3 or 4 times a day with the peloton traveling the most direct route, and at speeds that averaged near 30 mph, was stressful and we were not always completely successful. We usually managed to get to our assigned section of the race route ahead of the racers, but the time it took to deploy 10 marshals in reverse order, meant that the driver and co-pilot missed getting to their designated intersections in time, on two occasions. We completely missed covering one section due to being reassigned to help in Dahlonega, which was having a festival and was unaware of the race! The tiny town was full of people, not there to watch a race, but caught by it.
As the co-pilot for the first two road stages, I will never forget how Randy and I had deployed everyone else from the van, then we kept speeding toward the on coming race in our attempt to get to a certain spot before they did, only to have to turn off the road into a driveway at the very last moment. After meeting police cars coming at us in both lanes, with sirens blasting and lights flashing, (the 5-minute warning) we kept going until we saw more police cars, followed by the motorcycles, but we kept going until we saw lycra! We literally heard the race official yelling at Randy, "the driveway!" then saw the lead cyclist bearing down on us. Randy squealed tires into a narrow driveway, with about 3 seconds to spare! All we could do then was admit defeat, sit and wait for the rest of the peloton, which was not far behind. We had a great vantage point!
Even with Randy's awesome driving, and Jean's excellent map reading
(I gladly gave up being co-pilot on the 3rd road stage), our biggest smile of the week came the day we made a jump that
put us back on the race course ahead of the peloton, but behind the race leader who had broken away early in the stage and was
going for the King of the Mountain points on a climb. It is definitely
not allowed to pass a racer(s) without permission from the Race Commissioner,
who would be in an official car on the course. We sped up behind the Com Car and Randy radioed for permission
to pass but was told, "NO!" STAY BACK!" That was because the racer was being filmed as he raced up the hill
to claim KOM. When we were given permission to pass, Randy threaded the Sprinter through the eye of the needle, passing
with the entourage of race officials and race team cars on our right and the cyclist and moto-marshals on our left. We made it
to our next deployment just seconds ahead of the
breakaway rider and about 5 minutes ahead of the peloton's arrival. Then Randy picked us all up and we were on our way, grinning from ear to ear, to do it again. Whew!!!
The race continued on Thursday with a 124-mile stage from Macon to Columbus. The last 5 km took in some of the historic river district of Columbus including several blocks of bone jarring brick/cobblestone streets. Friday morning our day started early, transporting everyone to a remote start at Callaway Gardens. It was a 138-mile stage that began at 11:30 a.m. with circuits inside Callaway Gardens and ended with circuits in the city of Rome. Rome was my favorite venue. The Macon Telegraph and The Rome News-Tribune provided excellent coverage and color photographs of the Tour de Georgia.
The above picture ran on the front page of the Rome News-Tribune. Mary-Stewart, from St. Simons Island, and I were standing less than 50 yards up the road from here. She was cautioning the racers about a bad railroad crossing (none heeded her signals to slow down), while I flagged them through a small country roads intersection.
We spent Friday night in Rome, which required another early start Saturday morning because Stage 4 began in Dalton, about an hour's drive. Fate was on our side, for Team Randy had been assigned intersections on the toughest KOM points climb of the event, Fort Mountain. As for me, I had a post on the downhill side and saw blurs of lycra hitting speeds well over 50 mph. The stage ended in Gainesville, but we didn't spend the night there; rather the whole entourage drove to Atlanta after the race and spent the night at the Hilton in downtown Atlanta. The final stage of the race was 9 laps of 9.1 miles on some of Atlanta's most scenic and busy streets, Spring Street and West Peachtree for example. Even though it was Sunday morning, we still had to accommodate traffic on those streets by using barrels to set aside 3 lanes for bicycles and leaving 1 to 2 lanes for cars. This was a fun and rather easy stage for us traveling marshals, especially for Team Randy because we finally got to be Team 1 for the day, i.e., we were assigned the Start/Finish area, out to about 1 mile. The other teams got to cover the rest of the 9 miles. My section was shady and actually had a few people who came to watch the race (a nice contrast to those who were a captive audience out on the highways). After the peloton passed my position for the 9th and final time I abandoned post and went to find a place to watch the final sprint to the Finish Line. No luck getting a good view point, the area was packed. It was an uphill sprint worthy of the TDF, and I bet it was an awesome sight!
All in all, this was a very exciting, challenging, working vacation,
and I intend to do it next year if possible. I recommend it to friends and enemies (friends because it is a lot of fun and enemies
because it also involves pushing a broom some of the time, and potentially having to shovel up road kill!!!).