Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Watching the 2013 Tour of California: stage 7

The Tour of California went from south-to-north this year for the first time this year, ending with a series of three critical-stages in the San Francisco Bay area. This made for the most significant racing in the region since the unfortunately defunct San Francisco Grand Prix.

Friday was the time trial in San Jose, a combination of a course used there previously, climbing Willow Springs Road, and ending with the "Metcalf Mauler": Metcalf Road. Low-Key did Metcalf in 2010 after years of it just missing the final cut due to its relative lack of total climbing. But what it lacks in endurance, it makes up for in intensity. I watched the time trial in short spurts from my cubical, as I had a pressing deadline I had to meet, and it was impressive watching Tejay spin up the climb in his time trial bike to win the stage and consolidate his GC lead. I haven't seen the split times for Metcalf, but there were Strava times. The best of the times posted to Strava was Mancebo posting as an alias. But a remarkable second was Low-Key's junior and overall champion from 2012, Adrien Costa. Adrien's still a junior and missed Mancebo's time by only 4 seconds as he did the climb to finish off a scenic 100 km from home to the stage finish to watch. Sure, he had to ride hard for less than 10 minutes while the pros rode for 50. But Adrien also had to dodge spectators on the course, and in any case he crushed Nate English's standing KOM. Forget the comparison to the pros: that alone was super-impressive.

Saturday was Mount Diablo. I took BART out to Pleasant Hill then rode up North Gate Road to the junction. North Gate is clearly the more challenging of the two sides, with more sustained climbing and overall elevation gain, but the pros were climbing South Gate to the same point. South Gate climbs at a descent grade from the private residential road at the bottom (previously known for its wheel-eating potholes, but repaired in anticipation of the 2012 ATOC). But then after passing through the south gate of the park it levels out, still net climbing but gradually, until it reaches the junction.

I encountered a lot of riders going up the north side, including a guy who claimed to have been Tejay's coach not so long ago when Tejay was a young junior. He'd flown in from Montana to watch. Eventually I reached the junction and it was a mass of cyclists. Car access was cut-off along each of the two Gate roads below this point. The Mount Diablo Interpreterive Assocation was selling Diablo park jerseys, a brilliant move, as they had constant business. I went over and told them that Low-Key used to do a climb of the mountain and give proceeds to them, but we abandoned Diablo after the rangers gave us a hard time about it, despite our use permit, one time too many. That experience still leaves a sour taste in my mouth, though, and there's plenty of climbs on public roads where cycling consistent with Vehicle Code is explicitly allowed.

Anyway, I moved onward, descending South Gate. Slightly below the summit I passed multiple stands providing free samples: Osmo (excellent), Gu electrolyte tablets (good), and Bonk Breaker bars (excellent: I buy these anyway). The Bonk Breakers table was still empty, but I got them on the return.

spectators climbing Summit Road

As I decended I passed well over a thousand riders climbing. It was a steady, consistent stream. There were groups wearing the same jersey, obviously members of the same club or tour group, and a lot more just riding solo. It was incredible.

I finally reached the bottom of the descent in the residential area (still maybe 1 km from the Athenian School, which marks the start of fall's Diablo Challenge). I then took a drink, paused for a bit, and began the climb back.

I slotted in to a group wearing Carmichel Training Systems clothing. They were on a tour riding every stage of the Tour. I later wondered how they handled the final stage, which begain the next day at a bright-and-early 8:20 am. Perhaps they trailed, rather than led, the pro race.

I eventually passed them and caught up to Bill Bushnell, riding his electric-assist recumbent. I chatted with him awhile until I was stopped to talk with Jason Thorpe of SF2G and the Apple lunch ride. He was there with his family watching the fun from near the Live Oak campground.

I continued onward, getting my Bonk Breaker sample, then continuing to the junction and onward. It was the most relaxed climb of Diablo I've ever done. I didn't feel the slightest bit of fatigue.

I reached Juniper campground at 2 miles to the summit. It had been reserved for team vehicles, those with camping reservations ejected. I thought this was unfair to those who'd planned to hike in or bike to the campground. I'd seen riders climbing here when I did the climb the week before DMD with full panniers. They were riding the pacific coast. I thought this was probably exemplary of the State Park's pro-car bias: assume every camper takes a parking spot, and in this case the parking was needed for the race. But the lot was basically empty. The team cars were still on the road.

Beyond this point, fans were grouped at the side of the road in large numbers at good viewing spots. I was told by several that access to the summit was restricted. This wasn't a surprised, but I had to keep riding until I was turned back.

At 1.5 km from the top, a volunteer was directing cyclists to park their bikes along the Summit Trail, which emerged from the road to the right, and continue by foot. I thought about this, but then decided I wanted to stay closer to my bike so I could descend with the returning pro riders sufficiently soon after the broom wagon had passed marking the end of the race. So I descended back to approximately 2.3 km from the finish, immediately past a huge group of spectators at 2 km. I found Bill at the side of the road and stopped there. We were at a spot with a bit less line-of-sight, but also fewer spectators with which to compete for the view we had. Bill was interested in getting photos, so preferred this, even with the questionable lighting conditions.

waiting for the pros

We were later joined by James Porter and Ron Brunner, two other friends of mine, which made a nice group. I tried to follow the race on my Android phone, but Verizon wasn't cooperating. So instead we tracked the progress with the overhead helicopter, and via views of various segments of road we could see blow us on the clear day. Bill is one of the most detail-aware people I know, and he was able to identify the location of each of these road segments. I was impressed as always.

Mancebo dangling off the front
winning break
lead group

Finally the riders came. Mancebo was dangling off the front, getting pulled back, clearly doomed. A small group wasn't far behind, dangling off the front of a surprisingly large group containing Tejay, the riders moving quickly but steadily. I didn't realize at the time this was the winning move, and indeed I'd forgotten about it until I reviewed my photos, as it seemed at the time like an insignificant gap. Then there was a large stream of team cars occluding the riders following. It was clear these cars helped some of the more marginal members of the group to keep in contact: on the gradual portion of South Gate, riders could latch onto the draft of the caravan if they got momentarily gapped.

And quickly the main group was by, their presence echoed by the loud cheers of the huge spectator group around the next corner. Following riders were lost admist the long caravan. We were standing on the outside of the corner for a better onobstructed view, but were more prone to obstruction.

Once the caravan passed we did better. Riders passed in small groups, rarely solo, then there was a pause. The gruppetto was next. And there it was, to the cheers of the group immediately downslope, a large group of the sprinters and other just putting in the pedal strokes to reach the summit with minimal damage. Peter Sagan was clearly visible on the outside of this pack. His eyes were penetrating. He seemed alone in some sort of zone.

After this some spectators made the mistake of assuming that was it: the race was past. But any multi-time race spectator knows it ain't over 'til the broom wagon passes. But eventually it did, trailing a solo rider struggling with the hill to make the time cut. He did, it turned out. Results and the CyclingNews story are here.

It also turned out the critical attack occurred not far above our position. Maybe it was even within view of that group just up the road. Ah, well.

By the time the broom wagon passed the lead racers, at least those not detained by the awards ceremony, were descending towards the team van area. I slotted into the road and heard German conversation immediately behind and to the left. And then I was passed... by Jens Voigt.

You'd think the pro riders would be conservative descending immediately after a race. After all, they have nothing to prove taking risks, and the road was clogged with riders of questionable skill and experience. But they are so confident on their bikes, so balanced and aware, what I might think a relatively fast descent is nothing to them. I didn't try to keep up.

My first stop was Juniper Campground. It was full of team cars, but only Bontrager riders were visible here. They had chairs set up, and a few of their riders were congregated. A Leopard-Radioshack rider coasted in, but was sent onward by a guy with a Belgian accent further down the hill. The teams were obviously meeting in the lower lot, at the bottom of North Gate Road.

I stopped at the Skratch Labs tent for more of their excellent energy drink, which was still available. They were still cooking sausages on the grill. I was getting ready to leave when two Orica-Green Edge riders passed, turning their heads in obvious interest. Soon after I set off, and they were stopped in the road, looking for a gap in the descending streem to go back to the Skratch tent.

I reached the junction where there was a large crowd. I went back to the MDIA stand and asked how many jerseys they'd sold. "A lot" the volunteer told me with wide eyes. Good. The park can obviously use the money.

Peter Sagan had reached the junction. He looked confused about which way to go: North Gate or South? He decided on South.

Since many spectators had arrived from South Gate, there was much less spectator traffic on North Gate Road. I descended in a group with 3 pros including a Bissell rider. They descended smoothly but safely, and it was a joy to follow along.

Finally I arrived at the team van section past the gate. I'd been here before: after one of the CCCC Mount Diablo time trials. Hopefully that happens again this year: I'd like to go if it doesn't conflict with something else.

Most of the riders had returned, and teams were packing up to leave. It's cool looking at the team bikes, though. They're always in top shape. I always seem to struggle to keep my bikes functioning properly: there's always something wrong. Pro bikes are just at a different level. They're always running as-new. I noticed most of the bikes seemed to have 25 mm tires. Wide is definitely in for 2013. I approve.

Eventually I'd toured all of the buses, and I set off. I ended up getting slightly lost on the way back to Pleasant Hill BART, on a whim taking a designated bike route which rudely dumped me onto Ygnacio Valley Road. I ended up braving the heavy traffic of the road and going to Walnut Creek BART, downstream of Pleasant Hill. I thought this might make it hard to get my bike on the train, but I was able to do so, and eventually arrived home.

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