Sunday, May 22, 2011

watching Tour of California Sierra Road

This past Wednesday I took a "long lunch" to go watch the Tour of California stage of Sierra Road. As a consequence, I had to work late and didn't get home until after 9pm and had to skip my planned SF2G rides that week to still get a project done, but it was all worth it. I even went in for a bit on Saturday. But you can't take races like the Tour of California for granted in the United States. History has shown over and over that each year may well be the last.

I rode with some SF2G buddies to just before the summit of Sierra Road. There the road was blocked for some reason, even though it was still an hour and a half to an anticipated finish. So I was denied the last 100 meters. The climb was fun: I was enthusiastic at the start, dodging other riders, caught up in the crowd, until I looked back and realized I was in my 34/21, a gear well beyond my present fitness for this hill. I backed off to the 34/23 and took it easier the rest of the way, even though the best grades were already behind me at that point.

It was cold on the summit in my long sleeve jersey and base layer. I wished I'd brought a jacket. I descended to a spot 1.7 km from the finish, one with good sight lines, a view of the valley below, and sunshine. Antler Guy was here, I noted. He fitted his well-racked football helmet and periodically did a practice sprint up the hill. He didn't really talk to anyone, but then maybe it was because nobody seemed to talk with him. I later regretted the lost opportunity.

Antler guy does wind sprints. From TourOfCalifornia2011

Spectators struggle up the hill before the racers. From TourOfCalifornia2011

I was still chilly here waiting for the riders. I chatted with some Stanford Physics PhD's about the product they were preparing to deliver to market, and about what was up with various alumni of Stanford Cycling. But once the riders came I forgot about the cold.

my shaky video

Verizon reception was marginal, but I'd managed to get an update that Horner and Leipheimer were riding with Rider Hesjedahl. I was chagrined, therefore, when Horner rode into view alone. When asked who I thought would win the stage I'd said "a young guy". Horner's anything but at 39.

A gap. A surprisingly large gap. Then a bunch rode by.... 65 seconds after the solo Horner. So much for my theory on this climb shattering the top ten: this sizeable group was likely to arrive in a tight spread. I focused on pointing my Flip camera and didn't catch any identities except for Leipheimer.

After this, however, riders arrived either solo or in groups of just a few. Finally Sierra Road had its rightful place in the Tour of California.

A spectator asked if that was all. No, I answered, there will be a big group of riders and later the broom wagon. When you see the broom wagon you'll know that's all.

However, I was the one who cracked first. The early finishers were descending the hill, and I wanted to get back to work; I knew I would be staying until the 7:48 pm local train as it was. So I said goodbye to my companions and started my descent.

Around the first corner, however, there it was: the grupetto at last. A sizeable crowd. I picked Michael Creed out of the group and shouted his name. Call me a big fan.

The grupetto. From TourOfCalifornia2011

Then I continued my descent. It's inspiring how smoothly pro riders descend, even such a steep hill so crowded with unpredictable spectators. I didn't try to keep up.

At the bottom, I connected with most of the riders with whom I'd ridden out. I was a bit surprised at one point to look over and there was Andy Schleck riding by. Sometimes the coolest moments at a bike race aren't during the race at all. All those who said "I'll watch it on Versus" today miss out. There's a vast difference between "watching" a race on television and actually being a part of it by being there on the side of the road. Live spectators are the icing which completes the cake. It felt good to have been on this cake.

I felt energized the whole ride back. Work is in the post-industrial wastelands of Mountain View, but I was lucky that it was the one day of the week where the local burrito place stays open past 4 pm. So I was able to get at least two and a half hours in before I caught that 7:48 pm train.

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