Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tour of California, Stage 2.

The plan today was to meet Rick at his house and he would drive to somewhere near Sierra Road which is the toughest climb of the whole week. Word was there’d be a lot of riders there and the road would be closed to cars. He knows that area pretty well and easily found a good parking spot at a sports facility (with restrooms!) about 2 miles from the bottom so we unloaded our bikes and started riding from there. Turns out though that he had to leave right after the race and go to a job site so I would be getting a ride home with Nicole who drove to the start earlier and was planning to walk part way up (no bike).

I brought Eddy because I wanted to wear my SPD shoes since I knew I’d be standing around and walking a lot after we got there. Plus I always get smiles from people who remember the old 7-Eleven team days.

The route sheet said the race would get to the TOP of Sierra between two o’clock and two thirty, but I thought that sounded a little early. At the left turn onto Sierra it was already starting to fill up with people by noon. The police were everywhere and turning the cars around except for a few who had “local traffic” status. We found Nicole who had staked out a comfortable place underneath a tree near the bottom and was sitting on a portable stool reading some magazines. It was surprisingly difficult already and I was glad to have a little breather. Then we started up again and there were a few houses with very big properties that were apparently having a party and some of the cars that were going up had invitations. After the first mile or so though there were no cars at all, and no more houses – just hundreds and hundreds of riders and a few dozen hikers all going up this steep hill. And it was hard. I made this comparison chart to show how Sierra Road compares to the first three and a half miles of Summit Road on Mt. Diablo.

For the Sierra Road curve, the elevation pretty much starts at zero, and for the Summit Road curve, zero is really the elevation at the Junction. Interesting, no? You can double click on it for a bigger picture. I have the whole Mt. Diablo road profile in the "MY PHOTOS" section; click the link up on the right to go there.

I was dressed for cold but I was putting out a lot of heat so I took off my jacket (with about five pounds of junk in the pockets) and wrapped it around my neck but it sometimes felt like it was choking me and sometimes slipped around one side or the other and was a hassle. Anyway I think it took us about 45 minutes to go three and a half miles – we rode all the way up to the area where the official cars and “king of the mountain” flags were but the view wasn’t as good so we rode back down about 250 meters where there was a better view point.

Cell phone reception up here was sketchy but we did manage to contact Nicole and told her to give us an update once the racers went past her. Then we mostly people-watched for a couple of hours while the sides of the road filled up with bike racing fans. There were also some folks on horseback on the uphill side of the road and it looked like they had great vantagepoints, plus they could move around easier, and they seem to have gotten their pictures taken and published everywhere. I also met the independent photographer who was on assignment with PezCyclingNews and he was passing out some little cards to win a trip to the Tour of Georgia. I think the best shots of our crowd there at the top are on the Pez site.

Finally about 2:30 we started seeing the race caravan of officials, police motos, and one Cliff Bar van passing out free samples (I scored three mini bars!). Then the noise started to escalate – everyone was on their feet craning for a look. The cowbells and whistles and cheers got louder and closer and the crowd opened up and there was Leipheimer and Kohl, and Floyd wasn’t far behind them. Got really good looks at Simoni, Creed, FredRod, Hincapie, lots of famous guys. It took over 20 minutes to get the rest of the field up and there were a few stragglers even beyond that.

Here's a shot taken from almost my exact place on the hill - shamelessly copied from the web somewhere:

Then we rode down to Piedmont and watched most of the riders finish the loop before they turned into town. We hooked up with Adam who had ridden all the way from work, including 10 miles or so with a T-Mobile rider who wasn’t racing but was doing the whole route just for training! (If you saw the T-Mobile rider with no helmet and no race number toward the very end of the hill climb that was him – Bram). They were ahead of the race until the end of Calaveras, then they pulled off to watch and started again after everyone went by. Adam said a lot of fans were cheering them on, not realizing they weren’t part of the race and he was a little embarassed but also jazzed to be riding along with a Euro Pro.

Here's Bram Schmitz. Adam says he's a good guy and he liked riding the Calaveras Reservoir section and thought the fans in California were better than in Europe!

Best excuse I’ve had for taking a day off from work in a long time!

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