This is true! I had checked out a giant defy at the end of last summer it seemed nice for the price. A friend of mine uses this for his tri.He said it was responive & quck. I then when to jonny spockets on broadway. Talk to a guy there he let me try it I did like it. It was fast.Well I believe Novara is fabricated in Taiwan by Kinesis who manufactures a lot of lower end bike frames. It seems to be a comfort fit 6000 series Aluminum frame with a Tiagra/Sora mix. Novara is REI's house brand I believe but you can probably find the same frame branded under a different manufacturer as well...
Have you thought abut the Trek 1.2, 1.5 and 2.1?
How about Giant OCR series?
Specialized Allez, or Sequoia?
Always go bike shopping with a knowledgeable friend about bikes especially to the larger chain stores, as the employees do not always know anything about a bike parts/bike fit.