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Tour de Georgia brings fans to Road Atlanta
Bissel Pro Cycling team member Aaron Olson pulls up the hill at Road Atlanta next to an appreciative crowd during the Thursday afternoon’s Tour de Georgia team time trials at the Braselton track.

BRASELTON — Cyclists and couch potatoes alike turned up to see what professional cycling was all about in the Tour de Georgia’s first visit to Road Atlanta, a track usually reserved for motorsport events.

Some spectators, like Fred Towers, arrived skeptical that a quality team cycling event could be held on a racetrack. But Towers, who timed a visit with his daughter in Norcross to coincide with the Tour de Georgia, left the event pleasantly surprised.

"Really, it was very much better than I had expected it would be," Towers said. "I had a few misgivings about what it would be like, but it proved to be a super venue."

Towers, who expected to have to sit far from the event, said he liked being able to mingle with cyclists in the track’s infield or sit on the grass next to the track.

Towers said he found that the 12-turn, 2.54-mile track in southern Hall County was a "lovely circuit" with hills that created challenges for the cyclists and a good vantage point for the spectators.

Towers traveled from Birmingham, England, to catch the last three stages of the Tour de Georgia. Coming from a part of the world where professional cycling is much more established than in the United States, Towers said he was not only surprised by the quality of the venue, but the quality of the American cyclists. He said teams like Symmetrics, Toyota-United and Slipstream-Chipotle that he did not see much in European races had a strong showing at Thursday’s Stage 4 of the Tour de Georgia.

"You have to admire the smaller North American teams, as you can imagine they are dealing with significantly smaller budgets," Towers said.

Fans from as far away as California and Minnesota or as close as metro Atlanta cheered for their favorite blur on a bicycle or rode their bikes Thursday
afternoon across the infield of Road Atlanta.

Jennifer Katz, a first-grade teacher from Fort Myers, Fla., stood on a concrete barrier next to the track dressed as a "Levi’s Angel." Katz, a cyclist herself, and her family came to see favorite cyclist, Levi Leipheimer, in the timed team trials with Team Astana. She has plans to watch him race to the top of Brasstown Bald today, and finish the Tour on Saturday in Atlanta’s Centennial Park.

Katz, who became interested in cycling events after reading Lance Armstrong’s books, said she dressed like an angel, because she saw mountain spectators dressed as devils and other interesting characters while watching Le Tour de France on television.

"I figured if I’m coming for a couple of days I might as well dress like an angel," Katz said.

Even those who only traveled a few miles down Ga. 53 to see the world-class event said it was exciting to have the Tour de Georgia at Road Atlanta.

"It’s neat being (here) the first year its held at Road Atlanta," said Chad Truelove, a Gainesville resident and avid cyclist.

Truelove, who bikes recreationally, said he enjoys getting the chance see the pros do it first-hand when the Tour de Georgia comes through the area.

Truelove, like many others at the event, brought his own bicycle as a good source of transportation to the track’s two miles of vantage points and the booths in the infield.

"It’s just exciting seeing all the professional guys up-close," Truelove said as he watched Team Astana warm up on stationary bikes in the infield before the team had to hit the track for its timed trial.

While some sat as close as they could to the action, others set up tailgate parties in the shade, enjoying the view from a comfortable distance.

Tim Hansen and his daughter, Marta Hansen, relaxed in their lawn chairs next to the fence, not too far away from the action, after a long ride to Braselton from Onalaska, Wis. The father-daughter duo favored different cyclists — she a member from Slipstream-Chipotle and he, an athlete from the rival Team High Road — but both said it was the success of American cyclist Lance Armstrong at Le Tour de France that whetted their appetites for cycling.

The two said they spend Saturday afternoons cycling 30 to 50 miles through the Wisconsin countryside.

Both Hansens said they were looking forward to seeing the cyclists climb more challenging heights in today’s stage of the race.

The four members of the Young family are spending the latter part of their daughters’ spring break from a Charlottesville, Va., elementary school following the last three stages of the Tour de Georgia. Cathy Young, mother of Hannah Young, 7, and Kelly Young, 5, said the event provided a good springtime diversion for her daughters. They sat on the ground surrounded by free coloring books, stickers and towels they had picked up at the children’s health expo after riding their bicycles through the track’s infield.

"Here, you can see them come around a couple of times," said Cathy Young, who said she decided to make the trek from Virginia with her husband after he had experienced the Tour de Georgia several times without the family.