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Tour de Georgia a long haul for riders, fans

Bluegrass, fun greet spectators in Dahlonega

POSTED: May 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.
EMILY SAUNDERS/Times regional staff

Tour de Georgia riders make their way up Atlanta Road in Forsyth County near the Forsyth County water tower between Orr Road and Gilbert Road.

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DAHLONEGA -- From the tents selling race-themed gear to the tourists and cycling enthusiasts milling around, Dahlonega's square was filled with excitement and expectation even before the Tour de Georgia cyclists sped into town for the end of Stage 5.

The 600-mile event traverses the state after kicking off Monday on Tybee Island. Today, the 15 cycling teams tackle Brasstown Bald, the state's highest mountain, for Stage 6 from Blairsville. The Tour de Georgia concludes Sunday at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

On Friday, Jittery Joes, a cycling team based in Athens, featured a tent serving coffee and selling team jerseys. The decks of The Crimson Moon, Gabee's Cajun Kitchen and The Front Porch were crowded with people having lunch.

"It's a nice break from a normal day," said Vickie Lynn Nimer, owner of Vicki Lynn's Gifts, which has been on the Dahlonega square for 21 years. "We all get to meet people from all over. I mean, just today I've talked to people from Australia and Montana."

Whether enjoying ice cream cones while sitting on benches around the square, walking their dogs or going for a slow bike ride, they were there for one reason: The chance to spot some of the best cyclists in the world.

"It (Tour de Georgia) is kind of like a tune up to the Tour de France," Robert Anderson said. "The climbs are equivalent to the climbs they have at the Tour de France."

Anderson and his wife, Barbara, are from a small town just outside Orlando, Fla. and plan their vacation each year around the Tour de Georgia.

"It is exciting," Barbara Anderson said. "We enjoy cycling, racing, people and we enjoy the area."

The Andersons had ventured into Vicki Lynn's Gifts with their dog, Lance, named after famed cyclist and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

"Having a business is not always about making money," Nimer said. "We get to show off our hospitality and do things like ask her (Barbara Anderson) if she wants to bring her dog inside."

As the crowds began moving toward the orange barricades lining the concrete path to the finish line, Nimer closed her shop to watch along with her customers.

"I close the store so I can watch the riders," Nimer said. "The energy raises when they start getting close and then come. I just love watching them whiz by."

And whiz by they did, with bluegrass music playing in the background and cowbells clanging. Richard England of Australia won the longest leg of the Tour de Georgia, which began in Suwanee and finished up 133.4 miles later as Barbara and Robert Anderson and Vickie Lynn Nimer and hundreds of others cheered on the Dahlonega square.

Early in the day, four people were hospitalized with minor injuries after an accident in the Tour de Georgia Stage 5 run through Suwanee.

Suwanee public information officer Lynne DeWilde said a 46-year-old man and a 47-year-old woman were struck by a motorcycle driven by a Tour de Georgia employee with a photographer with Photosport International on the back.

The two men on the motorcycle were both in their 50s. Officials did not release the names of any of the people who were hospitalized.

DeWilde said the accident happened about a minute after the cyclists and support vehicle convoy had passed by Town Center Park.

The motorcycle was leaving the park to catch up to the convoy when it struck the pedestrians. It was not immediately clear whether the motorcyclists or the pedestrians were at fault.

The pedestrians were taken to Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville, and the motorcycle driver and photographer were treated at Gwinnett Medical Center in Duluth.



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