Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Amgen Tour of California VIP Experience at Mount Diablo Summit

My dear Diablo Wife bought me an AMGEN VIP pass for my birthday (April 28 in case you want to remember me next year).  Last year I told her I preferred to be on the course rather than confined to a tented area even if it was a great view.  But when I broke my pelvis in March I started to worry that I wouldn't be able to ride by the time May 13 rolled around and in early April I asked that she consider the VIP pass as a possible birthday gift and she made it so.  Cost was $175 plus some kind of processing fee, after some kind of discount she got.

It was hard trying to figure out how they were working the logistics, I e-mailed the VIP sales rep and he said that shuttles would bring us to the Summit but he hadn't finalized where or when they'd be picking us up.  I knew that bikes weren't allowed to go all the way up so I figured the shuttles would stage at Arbolado Park or somewhere.  Up until a couple weeks ago, I didn't think I'd be riding my bike at all.

Then I got an e-mail with the staging details - the shuttles would be starting at Turtle Rock Ranch - the ranch that used to host corporate picnics and such, not Diablo Ranch, which is a private residence.  The Ranch is also where they'd give me my credentials. Now I thought I'd ride my bike to Turtle Rock, lock and park it there and then shuttle to the Summit.

So Tuesday morning I start riding up about 9 am hoping to maximize my use of VIP perq's.

Wildlife Encounter:  a deer eating flowers at one of the houses before the Gate.  He was standing right on their front porch!

When I got to Turtle Rock I turned off the Strava tracking on my phone (thinking my ride was over) and picked up my VIP pass - actually they ran out of the cool passes and all I got was a wrist band, but they said VIP bikes are allowed to go to the Upper Parking Lot - that I could just ride right by the "no bikes past here" sign at Muir.  Excellent!  The VIP pickup point and the volunteer coordination parking were all in the same area - it's nasty gravel road and really dusty back there.

A few miles up and I realize my phone had fallen out of my backpack at the Ranch and I wouldn't be able to do an Instagram selfie in front of the podium or document the ride on Strava.  (Later in the day, the guy who found my phone got in touch with Diablo Wife and then I got my phone back in the evening... disappointing that I didn't have it but I'm glad I didn't have to buy a new one.)

Wasn't much going on at Junction yet - still pretty early, so I soldiered up.  It was getting pretty warm - forecast was for 95°F by mid afternoon.  Also the bugs were really bad.

Shuttle buses and team cars and a few recreational cyclists started passing me on Summit Road and it began to feel like a race day.  When I got to Muir I showed them my wristband and they waved me right on by - this was the first time I actually felt like a VIP today.  When I got to the Lower Lot they directed me to the VIP bike valet parking - I had no idea this was going to be there.  Nothing on the website or other communications indicated that this service would be available.  They helped me park my bike, wrote out a claim ticket, everybody was really nice.  Shannon the supervisor also made some calls to see if someone had turned in my cell phone.  I changed out of my jersey and put on some flip flops, cargo shorts and a T-shirt.

The Summit Wall is 300 meters if you start counting at the Lower Lot;
275 meters from the swinging barrier.

My bike was the first one in the valet parking,
but this other guy snuck in before I could take a photo.
VIP bike parking was totally full a little later.

The Lower Parking Lot was full of official vehicles, souvenir sales tents, and staging areas for volunteers, safety folks, and security folks - including a bomb-sniffing dog just to remind everyone that some people really suck.  After checking it all out I hiked up to the Upper Lot - they were constructing the barriers on the "go up" side of the Summit Wall so we had to go up the down side.  At the top the only place we were allowed to go was straight to the VIP area.  There was a security guard there too and he took a long time to inspect my backpack and look inside all of my pieces of PVC pipe that I use as a flag pole.

The Upper Lot was about 50% occupied by the podium, press areas, and VIP tent - there was hardly any room for bike riders.  One of the volunteers said they were going to send them all right back down the other side unless they were getting a jersey or podium time.

No room for losers.

I checked out the catering tables and they had garlic mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, grilled tofu-asparagus, and some kind of meat-burgers.  Also they had fruit and samples of bike food from one of the sponsors.  And there were lots of things to drink including Michelob Ultra; the only two Michelob Ultras I've ever had were on the top of Mt. Diablo.  I was a little worried about dehydration so I drank a lot of water, fruit juices, and Coke Zero - everything was in cans or bottles about half the size of ordinary containers.

The VIP tent was still pretty empty - maybe 50 people, so I just sat down at a picnic table and pretty soon another guy who'd ridden up by himself sat down with me and we started talking and spent the rest of the day together (hi Will!).  Then some other folks joined us (hi Claudia and Terry!) and we had our little gruppetto.

Vegetarian options at the VIP catering tables.

I didn't get one of these, but I got a photo of one.

Podium girls Joanna and Allison are more famous than most of the racers.
They had lunch at the table next to ours.

I was right next to the main TV camera, not a bad angle to view from.

By 1:30 there were probably 500 people in the VIP area; about one-third bike riders, one-third bike racing fans, and one-third none of the above.  It was getting pretty hot now and it was still a long time before the race got there so people were trying to stay cool.  Terry had the great idea of moving our picnic table up against the barriers to sort of reserve our premium spot, and that worked great.

At about 2:30, famous cycling announcer Dave Towle and his sidekick Brad Sohner started giving live commentary on the race while watching it on a TV next to the podium.  That made everything a lot more exciting but it was still an hour before the finish.  People started crowding the barriers for the best view.

Then finally, the finish - it was exciting and really cool.  Those guys really looked hammered and most of them needed help to just not fall over; there were a couple dozen staffers whose job was just to hold them up and give them bottles of water.

There was a press conference in the Visitor's Center but they wouldn't let anyone without press credentials go in.

The first hundred or so riders all got hero's welcomes, but there were still guys coming in 20 minutes out of first place; in fact the very last finisher was none other than Mark Cavendish at 21 minutes down.  By this time the official area was crowded with all kinds of people and some of the last riders up hardly got noticed by anyone; they just worked their way around the crowd and went back down the other side.

The crowd goes crazy as the lead group climbs The Wall

I'm pretty sure this will be the top line on Rohan Dennis's resume.

Top American and Best Young Rider Lawson Craddock was third.
The next Eddy Merckx.

Los Cinco Maillots

Home-grown local favorite and US Pro Champion Fred Rodriguez.

The VIP catering started to clean up about the same time as the podium ceremonies, and then afterwards everybody started the walk back down to the Lower Parking Lot.  There were at least a hundred bikes in the VIP bike valet area, and quite a few volunteers checking tags - it was a really neat site.

Getting down was a bit of a madhouse, but most everybody was patient and everybody was safe.  I stopped again at Turtle Rock but no one had seen my phone.  Here's also where I saw a guy who was riding with a crutch in his backpack (!!!) - when he stopped to dismount, he did a really slow, painful-looking leg swing to get his left leg over the saddle and I thought he must've had the same kind of injury as me... but I was off crutches for several weeks before I even tried riding again.

Lots more coming - check back later.

I could get used to a life of privilege.

This is my favorite photo from the press.
Right on DarrelParks/PezCyclingNews!

Here's a list of all the Amgen TOC stages I've seen:
2014 – Stage 3 on Diablo Summit VIP area
2013 – Stage 7 on Diablo Summit Road
2012 – Stage 3 on Diablo South Gate Road (race didn’t go to Summit)
2011 - Stage 4 from Livermore on Mines Road
2010 – Stage 3 on Bonny Doon
2009 – Stage 1 in Santa Rosa and Stage 3 on Altamont Pass
2008 – Prologue in Palo Alto
2007 – Prologue in San Francisco

Update - blog reader Curtis posted his own experience of the event HERE on his blog and while I was looking through his truly remarkable photos and reading the story of he and his wife enjoying the day with a group of guys they just met... I recognize the guy who found my phone!  Let that sink in... the small group of complete strangers among the thousands of riders on the Mountain on Tuesday, who found my phone on the side of the road, wound up meeting friends of mine and spending the afternoon with them enjoying each other's company, while one of them had my phone in his pocket.


Iron Horse Rider X said...


Terry @ La Bella Vie said...

Awesome, we were to the left of you at the finish of Mt. Diablo. I will be posting to Youtube, two video's; one for Sacramento and one for Mt. Diablo....you we're a great neighbor!
Look for Amgen Tour May 11th and Amgen Tour May 14th...
Happy Riding!
Terry Beaudry