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Amgen Tour of California

King-of-the-Mountain Ride

Skyline Cycling Club

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video of the action at Bob Thompson's site


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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  3/1/2008

Back to the Races

This is the third year the Amgen Tour of California has come to town. And this time it came to two of my neighboring towns -- Palo Alto and San Jose. Hot dog! I got to ride to one stage and party at another.

The ATOC hype started in January, with local organizers and host cities striving to raise the money to finance their participation. Appeals arriving by email touted everything from casual rides to opportunities to spend all your cash.

"The VIP Experience"

One way to raise money was to sell VIP privileges, "the perfect way to entertain your . . .clients, reward your employees on their hard work or treat yourself to the experience of a lifetime." For sale:
  • Team Dinner. Eat with the teams "after the stage of your choice." $500. (In hindsight, this may have been unfortunate, seeing as how so many racers came down with an undiagnosed "crud" thought to be spread at the team dinners.)
  • Meet the Racers on race day, with autograph signing and "your very own yellow leader's jersey." $500
  • Ride in a Team Car. ". . . as close to the action as you can get without actually riding for one of the teams." $2,000
  • Ride the Prologue. Before the actual prologue began, 25 wannabe riders were "allowed" to buy a personal time trial around the 2.1-mile course. Minimum bid: $500
Lower key was the effort by the City of San Jose's "Week of Cycling." The only pay-to-play event was the King-of-the-Mountain Ride on Saturday the 16th.

Prologue Day

On February 17 I rode with a small group from Skyline Cycling Club to the Stanford campus where we could be near the finish line. We arrived early enough to find no lines at the free bike parking corral run by Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Right next to the parking was the "Lifestyle Festival," where they were giving away some free swag, but I had nowhere to carry it. I already had my camera, lunch, water and bike shoes stashed in a plastic bag. Incidentally, I was walking around in my stocking feet because I couldn't squeeze an extra pair of shoes into my bike pack.

We walked down to the oval in front of Memorial Church, where the racers would be turning around and heading to the finish. On the way, we caught Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll taping their intro for the Versus coverage. "Smile, Bobke," I called out as I snapped away. "No!" he smirked, then smiled anyway.

At the bottom of the oval, who just happens to be course marshal? None other than Ranger Rick Madden, who was busily blowing his whistle as the pay-to-play wannabes approached on the course. Among them, Palo Alto Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto looked fit in her Webcor kit. Specialized CEO Mike Sinyard was riding a utility tricycle with "Adequate" painted on the back of a cargo bay.

It was too hard for us to pick out the racers without a list of numbers. Even the few who had a list had no time to search for the numbers (not in numerical or alphabetical order). The riders were flashing by way too fast.

I almost missed Levi, as last year's winner the final rider. I had expected to see him in yellow, but he was decked out in team kit like the rest of the Astana team. As soon as he'd passed us, I headed for the porta-potties near the exhibits. Too bad I stopped just short of them to put my shoes back on. As I straightened up, I spotted Phil Liggett making a dash for the nearest door. Darn! No time to grab my camera!

Stage 3: Party on Sierra

In the days before the February 23 Modesto-to-San Jose stage, emails were flying through the club lists to the effect that cyclists would be banned from Mount Hamilton Road after 10 am. Naturally, the lead group of four didn't hit the feed station at San Antonio junction until 12:16, putting them at the bottom of the climb around 12:30.

Spencer Frink, who led the regular Wednesday "Hills R Us" ride to the top on Hamilton, reported: "We had an officious CHP officer blocking the road at the turnoff to the observatory and he would not let us past to watch the racers climbing the hill. This was a full hour before the racers arrived. Fortunately, there was a Mercury News reporter there, and we all started bitching about how unreasonable this was while he took notes for a story." Result: the cop "wandered off" and the cyclists resumed their spectator positions.

Ranger Rick, who served as course marshal all the way to Pasadena, later reported: "I heard that the University Police on the top of Mt. Ham was going overboard with the spectators, telling cyclists that they could not be up there to watch. I guess CHP took over the situation and tour organizers told him 'uh, we kinda like the spectators up here!'"

As for the rest of us, we were on Sierra Road as in years past. Connie and Eric Jorgensen once again hosted a swell party at their house and front lawn. They live right smack at the top of the first steep pitch on Sierra, one of the best spots to watch the racers struggle up what they quickly realize is no little bump.

In '06 they were shocked at the sudden change in terrain. Last year they were resigned but not always ready. This year they tackled Sierra after climbing Mt. Hamilton the infamous back way. Note: Hamilton is rated "hors categorie" but Category 1 Sierra is actually steeper!

An estimated 60-70 club members and friends made it to Connie and Eric's. We all scarfed down a great spread of lasagna, fruit salad, cookies, cake, and sodas. And we killed some time chalking names in the roadway. I added BEN, for Bissell rider and Sierra Road resident Ben Jaques-Maynes, and JACKSON for BMC's Jackson Stewart, of Los Gatos. There was a constant audience of 10 to 20 folks watching live coverage of the race on a laptop set up in the family room. So, unlike years past, we knew exactly when to pour out into the street with cowbells and balloons to hoot and holler as Hincapie struggled up the hill with the chase group in hot pursuit. You can catch a video of the action at Bob Thompson's site.

According to VeloNews' live coverage, the gap was about 40 seconds as the road was "tipping up." That was right as he passed us, folks! Four minutes later he was caught while passing Big Hair SuperFan, who'd stopped to greet a few of us about half an hour before.

The press was there, too. A Mercury News photographer planted herself in front of the house and took copious notes. Result: My friend Ruth on the front page Thursday morning, ringing her cowbell as the front group raced by.

Then came the next chase group, then a long gap until the peloton arrived, then a even longer gap for the stragglers just ahead of the broom wagon. Finally the last team cars roared up the hill, including the Slipstream car with poor Tyler Farrar in the back. VeloNews reported he looked "kinda green." He looked gray to me, and seemed to be fighting tears after abandoning wearing the yellow jersey but sick as a dog.

For myself, though, it was a great day. But there was still something missing from what race organizers were touting as the American version of the Tour de France. Where was the lead caravan? No swag in the road? Not a single car tossing out water bottles, jelly beans or power bars? You call this a bike race? I'm afraid we've got a ways to go, folks, before we achieve the true grandeur of TdF.

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net



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