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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  6/1/2010

Tour of California Report: Party On!

Every February for the past four years, I've been completely sucked in by the Tour of California. After all, it's a real bike race taking place on roads I've ridden. Why shouldn't I be excited?

Even last year, when it rained for practically the whole time. So they moved it to May. No rain then in California, right? Yeah, right.

Nearly every cyclist I know around these parts gets jazzed too. Consider Jerome's experience: On May 15 he was riding the American River Parkway west to Sacramento from Folsom. "We had some fun sightings. First the Rabobank team whizzed by going the other way. Soon it was team Bissell. Then Liquigas. Radio Shack, complete with Lance and the boys, were soon to follow. Finally it was Garmin, also cruising up river. Guess Garmin didn't have enough active rest - they turned around and zipped by a short time later. This might be my one time to ride with the pros, I thought, so I jumped on it and rudely got on their tail. They were just cruising and chatting. As they negotiated the bikers, joggers, walkers and turns, their speed ranged from 20 to 25 mph.

"Most interesting was how closely they rode. Guess the closer the better for drafting. At their age, close calls and quick recoveries are no problem. One laggard decided it was time to move back up to his spot, so he squeezed up on the right, only inches from the gravel at the edge of the pavement. As he moved into his space and the others adjusted, I heard the dreaded sound of tires rubbing. Unlike a club ride that I might be on, there were no wild gyrations followed by a crash. For them, it must have been business as usual; everyone just continued to cruise along. No cussing, shouting or other comments. Having enjoyed their big draft and unknowing hospitality, it was time for me to drop off and return to my mundane world."

No, I wasn't riding with Jerome (I can't keep up with him!). But that didn't stop my favorite TOC activity -- partying! Once the peloton approached our home territory on the SF Peninsula on Stage 3, the roadside revelry began. A bunch met up at Tunitas Creek Road near the top to ogle the leaders and the watch pack head over Skyline and down Kings Mountain. (If you were a really quick pedaler, someone pointed out, you could conceivably leave the top of Tunitas, take Skyline south to Skylonda and watch the pack head back over the summit on Highway 84 (aka Woodside Road) to La Honda Road (also Highway 84). Again, yeah, right. Especially on that slick wet roadway.

You'd be better off joining Guy at his van, parked about a mile up Woodside Road. He offered "tables, chairs, drinks, snacks, music, and a truly great time for all of us," reported Pete Letchworth. "We were on the outside of a big U-turn, so we could watch them both coming up towards us and continuing on up away from us. It was drizzling most of the time, but nobody seemed to notice. It is a very exciting sight to see a wall of bicycles coming towards you, with the Radio Shack team covering the front and Lance at the point."

Karl and Kathy Laucher hosted the fun and games just down the coast a piece from the Stage 3 finish in Santa Cruz. All had a great time riding around the area in the AM, watching Zabriskie make his claim to the yellow jersey, and checking out the swag at the finish. Lucky folks. As Ann Killion pointed out on the Sports Illustrated web site, "When David Zabriskie edged out both Michael Rogers and Levi Leipheimer -- and wasn't even sure himself if he won, it was so close -- the only folks who actually saw the result were lining the finish in downtown Santa Cruz."

She was referring to a Versus SNAFU. In past years Versus did a so-so coverage job, but at least they followed each stage to the bitter end. But this year they had a contract with the NHL. Whoops! A Heidi moment ensued just minutes before the photo finish, when they switched to a pregame show. Oh, you can watch at the TOC site, Phil and Paul announced. Suuuure, by the time I fire up my 'puter and stream the video, they'll be rolling up the sidewalks in Santa Cruz. LOTS of flaming emails ensued. Even Lance chimed in: "Who's the dumbass @versustv that cut off @AmgenTourofCali coverage w/ a mile to go for pregame hockey?? #pathetic," he tweeted.

Stage 4 went a little better, and the party was outstanding. For the fifth year in a row (yes, every year since the birth of the TOC) I have been attending a superior soiree at the home of Connie and Eric, who just happen to live at the top of the first "wall" on Sierra Road in San Jose. And, yes, the killer climb on Sierra has been a feature of the Tour every year as well.

The first three years saw the course hit Sierra as the lead-up to the finish in downtown SJ. That was outstanding roadside viewing, with the leaders charging waaaay ahead of the chase group, waaay ahead of the peleton, waaay ahead of the lanterne rouge, the poor guys totally exhausted at the rear, barely ahead of the broom wagon.

But the past two years the stage started in downtown San Jose, just a few miles from Sierra. Result: the pack blazes through our location, still fresh and rarin' to go. Last year if you blinked, you missed the whole thing. This year things were a bit different. Not only did the "official" swag wagon appear right across the road well ahead of the racers (I snagged an "official" baseball cap), but once the riders hit the hill there was already a bit of a breakaway. The four guys out in front were just yards ahead of the peleton, which quickly swallowed them up at the top of our little wall.

And once they did, we all repaired indoors to have lunch, schmooze, and try to keep up with what was happening on the other side of the hill as the race sped towards Livermore. There were quite a few club riders who'd ridden from south San Jose to join the festivities. And several more who'd done the ascent to the top of Sierra earlier that morning turned around once the pack had summited and rode back down to party with us.

All of which begs the question: Will the Tour of California return to Sierra Road in 2011? Will the partying continue? Let's hope so.

P.S. Thanks to Franz Kelsch and Jim Chaskin for some terrific photos!

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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