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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  3/1/2009

Twice the TOC Stages, Twice the Fun

Every February since 2006 the Amgen Tour of California has been sending elite racers our way in the South Bay. Each year they came up Sierra Road, one of San Jose's most formidable climbs. This year we got an extra bonus, with two stages rolling through the "bottom" of the Bay Area. Stage 2 on Monday the 16th headed down the SF Peninsula to Santa Cruz. The next day Stage 3 started in San Jose, heading for Sierra straight from the start.

Stage 2 Looky Loos

Both stages prompted rides to the best viewing spots on the routes, and more than one party along the way. Monday Vickie and Karen's guests caught a quick glimpse of the Stage 2 lead group and peloton bolting down Highway 84 through La Honda. Folks attending Karl's party in Santa Cruz could saunter along downtown to watch the finish.

Those who chose to ride had the same problem as the racers themselves -- the rotten weather. Most of them ascended King's Mountain Road from Woodside to the top of Tunitas Creek Road at Skyline/Highway 35.

"We had a great ride in the rain," reported Paul Wendt. "Lots and lots of cyclists climbing Kings Mountain, and more than the usual number of motor vehicles, but I had no problems whatsoever with bad drivers, slippery roads, etc. Many more cyclists and peds...and parked vehicles on Tunitas Creek. . ..

"I especially wanted to see the racers on the steep climb section, and found a spot with good a view of small bends each way, and a steep climb. . . .there were an amazing number of CHP motorcycles and patrol cars...all with many flashing red and blue lights and LEDs in full Xmas tree array. A couple of Amgen cars with loudspeakers came up shortly before the racers giving really good info about the status of the riders behind them.

The breakaway pack was about 2 minutes before the main pack...but the latter was HUGE. I felt sorry for the riders at the end of the main pack, as they were riding amongst the scores of support vehicles, and clearly appeared to be hurting. Still, as much as they were hurting, the slowest riders at the end of the pack were climbing LOTS faster than I could ever hope to do!"

Scott Nicol and the Ibis crew took a break from their workday in Santa Cruz to go up to Bonny Doon. ". . .we just happened to be sitting in exactly the right place on the Bonny Doon climb and witness Levi turn to Lance and say 'let's do this' whereby Levi launched the attack that got him into the yellow leaders jersey."

At the finish, one never-say-die Lance fan got the ultimate souvenir. Margie's boot will never be the same.

Stage 3 Party Time

The next day on Sierra Road, members of Almaden Cycle Touring Club and Skyline Cycling Club converged on the home of Connie and Eric Jorgenson for the fourth year in a row. They live at the top of the first steep pitch on Sierra and they've been throwing a shindig every year.

On ScreenAlthough we'd been enjoying sunshine right up until the start time, it suddenly turned very blustery in San Jose. Lots of rain and wind, with a ceiling no higher than 5,000 feet. Eric had hooked his laptop up to the wide-screen TV and tuned in to the race video coverage on the Amgen site. It looked like Joe Silva and Frankie Andreu, the Amgen commentators, had gotten caught in the downpour themselves. They warned us right up front that there would be no coverage due to the weather.

TOC coverage reported "thousands" of people were lining the climb. From where we stood, it looked a lot thinner. Not that many folks were riding up. Even the hardiest of the ACTC riders were arriving on foot.

Later three riders showed up. Gary, Joanne and Linda had ridden from their separate homes and met up at the start downtown. Then they headed for Sierra and the party. (Of course, the peloton beat them to it.) But the rest of us drove, parked where we could off the course, and walked up the 17+% grade to the house.

Photo Moto Some took the day off from work. "I told my boss it was a bike thing," Pat said. "He just nodded." It helps that she is one of Google's top bike commuting advocates.

One photo moto stopped right at Connie and Eric's front lawn. We chatted with the photographer while he waited for the early breakaway group to come up Sierra, As soon as it did he hopped back on and his driver sped away.

The rest happened in a flash. The peloton was jammed together like a flying wedge. Still, more than one of us managed to get some great shots of Lance and Levi keeping pace near the front. Levi and Lance

In spite of the pre-race chatter on club e-lists, a few folks were puzzled about how solid the pack was and how fast it went through. "Last year it took them so long, there were so many more coming up the hill," said one. True, but that was when Sierra Road was near the finish in downtown San Jose, and the pack had been spread for miles. This year we were just a few miles from the start so all the racers were together just meters behind those making the break.

Once the bunch and all the support vehicles had passed, lunch was served. Lasagna, salads, brownies, and Connie had made some wonderful home-made meringues! The crowd in the family room swelled to watch the action. Only, as warned, there wasn't any.

Instead, we watched the talking heads and listened to Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll do a few turns with JoE and Frankie before Versus coverage started at 2:00.

WatchingIt was hard for some observers to understand why they couldn't watch the entire race from beginning to end. Race marshal Rick Madden (formerly known as Ranger Rick tried to set the record straight: "I have to defend the sports networks and, in particular, the media guys who are out in these horrid conditions trying to get 'the shot' for the home audience. It's a very tough job handling a 500-lb Beemer with a cameraman hanging off the back. . . . imagine if Tiger had a mechanical while Mickelson attacked. . . .it's just not as orchestrated as other sporting events. There is no boundary other than the road that stretches 100 miles. Add to this the weather conditions, which had knocked aerial coverage out...and this includes race radio, which all the caravan units depend on for developments in the race. Please have patience with the army of folks (takes about 900 people, both on the road and behind the scenes) to bring this event to you."

"I'm not disappointed," said Mike McGeough, patiently relaxing at the Jorgensons. "Even if there's no coverage at all, it's fun being here with all these people."

By 1:20 only a few folks were still watching the wide screen in the family room. That's when the moto video feed actually started working! And right after that was when Levi lapped Lance's wheel and went down near the front of the peloton. By this time over half the crowd at Connie and Eric's had given up and gone home, hoping to catch the Versus recap that evening.

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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