Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Random Thoughts on My Tour of California Experience


Random, so I don't have to put any thought into how I organize them

  • It is something I would definitely recommend for cycling fans but even for casual on-lookers it is pretty neat too
  • It's very different from a typical sporting event where you pay money then watch your favorite athletes or teams perform for 2-3 hours in a game
  • About 2,000,000 people will watch the Tour at various vantage points -- all for free.
    Depending where you go, you get to wait for one or two hours to get to see the riders go past you once.
  • Best stage is a time trial where you get to see every rider individually
  • Or you may like a stage finish where there is sometimes chaos coming down the stretch for the win
  • Or you may like to be on a hill climb where they are going slower and you can see the pain in their faces
  • I worked with four different volunteer coordinators. Best at communication was Maura Noel in Santa Cruz
  • Most helpful was Susan Ryan in Santa Rosa. She emailed me a couple of times to make sure I had a place to stay
  • Maura and Susan both sent me my assignments well in advance
  • In Sacramento and San Jose, unless they were holding out primo spots for certain volunteers, when you checked in you were given the next assignment available to cover

  • The order for the prologue time trial was by draw except Levi Leipheimer, as defending champion, would go last. It's not even that each round of 17 was drawn because in the last group of 17 were two Garmin riders.
  • I understand that each team got to choose who would ride last -- usually their team leader but maybe their super time-trialist.
  • The final 12 riders went as follows: Kim Kirchen, Tom Boonen, George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton, David Zabriskie, Lance Armstrong, Christian Vande Velde, Fabian Cancellera, Ivan Basso, Michael Rogers, Floyd Landis, Levi Lepiehiemer.
  • The largest cheer was for Lance but at this point they were all loud
  • But nothing like Heinz Field for the AFC Championship game when Troy Pololmalu intercepted the pass at the end of the game to send the Steelers to the Super Bowl
  • Hilton Garden Inn is becoming my favorite Hilton property. Their breakfast is better than Embassy Suites.
  • Hampton Inn's soaps and Internet sucks although the Internet may be a location by location situation
  • I enjoyed the volunteers I met at every location. In Sacramento was Tamy Quiqley who came from Redding, Calif. to volunteer. She was the most fun to talk with.
  • In Sacramento we were given the start times so there was no guessing as to when the riders were coming.
  • "Lance starts at 3:39 p.m." "Lance starts at 3:39 p.m." "Lance starts at 3:39 p.m." "Lance starts at 3:39 p.m."
  • In Santa Rosa we had a couple who had race radio which was helpful. But being "on Calistoga Road" didn't mean a lot to this Virginian.
  • In Santa Cruz the neighbors were great about coming out and mingling. One woman brought tea and offered up her house for bathrooms.
  • "Bonny Doon Road" meant nothing to me either but after a few minutes I talked to the residents like I knew exactly how far the riders were and the pain they would be suffering
  • Also in Santa Cruz, one brain-dead person decided she had to go to work and get her car out of the driveway and drive the course after the it was closed for the race. All the publicity and the door to door flyers for the people on the route and she "didn't know there was a race" -- how stupid.
  • The riders in Santa Cruz came in waves. In between, just as the crowd started cheering, came what appeared to be a college student, flying down the road on his bike. Don't know where he came from.
  • And I don't know where the California Highway Patrol (CHPS) motorcycle cop came from either but he was on that kid's butt in about three seconds time. Don't know if he got cited or just pulled off the course. I'm betting citation.
  • Just saw a recap of yesterday's stage and saw my arm -- MY ARM! -- taking a picture of Francisco Mancebo cresting Sierra Road for King of the Mountain points
  • If I go again I would not go to the top of a mountain road but part way up it where the viewing was unobstructed
  • If you saw me then you'd see more than my arm
  • One goal I had was to see Phil Liggett and/or Paul Sherwin
  • I would have settled for Bob Roll
  • I thought briefly about heading over to Modesto for the finish after I ran down Sierra Road but I was soaked to the bone and wanted to get out of my wet clothes
  • I am more sore today than when I biked up Mount Washington or rode the Blue Ridge Extreme Century. Not sure if it was the walk up the road or the 3.5 mile run down.
  • It was cold and wet on the hill. No trees -- just pasture. Cold. Wet. No porta johns led to creating my first ever urine bottle when I reached the car.
  • Biking IQs -- Sacramento -- 110. Decent day and people came in from all over to see cycling. This was an above-average knowledgeable crowd. Yet it was also the worst crowd. Some people tried to play frogger and cross the street between bikers.
  • One woman in Sacramento in her 60s knew more of the riders than I did. Or at least as much. I was very impressed. She said she was "Chris Boardman's" mother although she wasn't -- they just shared the same name.
  • Santa Rosa -- 115. Like Sacramento, people had to come in to downtown but the weather was so miserable that cyclists tended to show up more than the mildly curious.
  • Santa Cruz -- 80 (my section). I was on a residential street where no one outside of Santa Cruz came. Most were very nice retirees.
  • Sierra Road, San Jose -- 130. These were the Mensa bikers. Everyone on top of this pass was a cyclist, cyclist fan, or family of one of the riders.
  • A treat throughout the tour is to read the daily blog by Phil Gaimin on
  • Sorry to learn today that Scott Nydam crashed out of the Tour. I met his fiance at the top of Sierra Road yesterday. She was so cute writing his name in chalk at the top of the climb.
  • Flight time from Chicago O'Hare to Reagan National (DC): 1:20
  • Time spent on the plane not in the air: 2:10
  • Dinner Friday: In-N-Out Burger
  • Dinner Saturday: In-N-Out Burger
  • Dinner Sunday: In-N-Out Burger
  • Dinner Monday: In-N-Out Burger
  • Hey, if it's good enough for Floyd's training table, it's good enough for me
  • There was no lunch any of those days as it was a big breakfast then out to the course until dinner time
  • I still believe Floyd did not dope

  • Two days in a row the Amgen email folks ruined a good Tivo veiwing of the Tour for me. While watching the recorded program and checking email up pops "Cavendish wins Stage 5." Why not "Stage 5 Results?"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sierra Road


Rain came down, hard at times in San Jose. The boys have two mountain passes today on their way to Modesto. Have a safe trip!

My last day at the Tour. I decided to spectate. I had a good time volunteering throughout the tour. In Sacramento, Santa Rosa, and especially Santa Cruz, I was the face of the Tour for many people and the face of cycling for these folks. The good people who came out in Sacramento and Santa Rosa were somewhat informed but still were inquisitive.

The good folks who came out in Santa Cruz were simply curious. My position in Santa Cruz was along a residential street and the only spectators, and there were a few, were locals who lived in the neighborhood, mostly retirees. I had to begin with Cycling 101. It was fun. My position on the course was necessary to keep people off a dangerous part of the course but was an bad place to view the race.

After three days of being stuck in locations which were helpful to spectators but boring for me, I decided to head to the hill where I could simple spectate.

Sierra Road was the place. It immediately leaves the Silicon Valley and starts a climb. Sierra Road climbs from an elevation of 264 feet to 2041 feet over 3.6 miles. It has an average grade of 10%. Walking it I passed a number of walkers and a couple of cyclists.

My thought while headed up the grade was "wow, this is really steep and this is really long." Only after I returned did I look up the stats and discovered it's half as long as Mount Washington, doesn't reach 6,000 feet, isn't nearly as steep (12% is, after all, 20% steeper than 10%), and actually has some flat and even downhill sections where the body can recover.

Some cyclists walked. Other kept plodding along. A few cyclists came by with a pretty good pace and then a Liquigas rider came flying by. He left them in the dust (well, road mist). I know some people by kits of their favorite teams but who owns the complete Liquigas kit other than a true rider? I figured Liquigas brought an extra rider or two and they are riding ahead of the peloton for their fitness. 

Once I reached the top the temperature dropped, the winds picked up, and the rain started. And it was cold. My estimate was mid 30s with a wind chill in the mid 20s. I had an umbrella and shared it with another guy.

Unlike Sacramento, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz there weren't any curious onlookers at the summit. Everyone there was a cyclist or knew cycling. I figured the people who were erecting signs for Steven Cozza (Garmin-Slipstream) were his parents. At the top were the parents of Scott Nydam (BMC) and his fiance. She was marking the pavement with his name in chalk although it was a losing battle against the rain. It's neat being at the top and chatting with the families of the riders. Try that in France!

There were probably 100 of us at the top and, who knows, a few hundred more at various points on the way up. I had one time to get it right and decided to make my last view of the Tour from the King of the Mountains summit. If I had a second time I would pick a location about halfway up where I could see the entire course without my view blocked by the masses. But I don't regret being at the summit.

We were cold. People were jumping up and down to keep warm and we cheered everyone who came across the summit. Mountain bike. Yeahhh! Walker. Yeahhh! Policeman. Yeahhh! Cheering kept us warm.

One cyclist recognized me from Sunday's stage. "You were in Santa Rosa." He thanked me for talking with him there then asked if he rode down 100 yards and came back up if he thought we would cheer for him. I assured him we would. Cyclist goes down 100 yards, turns around and comes back. Yeahhh!

The police came through followed by a group of four riders followed closely by the peloton. Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) was first. Although we were only 8.1 miles from the start, and many riders were grouped, it was surprising to see some real stragglers. I had already started down when another rider came up. I assumed it was a recreational rider -- he was behind the team cars -- but it may have been Alejandro Alberto Borrajo (Colavita-Sutter Home). He abandoned today.

The rain picked up and was really coming down. They were very big rain drops, almost hail. I was wet and cold and wasn't looking forward to my trip down. My pants were weighted down with a camera, cell phone, wallet, and car keys. I could not run but run I did. I started slowly. I didn't have running shoes -- turf shoes that I probably ruined all the little nubbies. My gait was a half stride, because it was downhill and because I couldn't really run or else my pants would fall down.

I carried the umbrella and fought the wind. It only turned inside out once. I made it down passing lots of people along the way and made it back to the car. Even with an umbrella, I was soaked. Again. But no longer cold. At the lower level it was near 50 and with two riding jackets I was sweating.

I opened the car, peeled off some of the wet clothes, and reflected on four days of fun. The Amgen Tour of California is a great event. It will become a major American sport just like the Tour de France is (when soccer becomes as popular as American football) so you better plan to see it while you can still mingle with the parents and girlfriends of the riders, and even meet them at their trailer.

I would like to come back-- maybe volunteer at one stage, but not four. Spectating is much more fun. Now if they offered me a position as traveling course marshal -- we'll talk. Especially if Lance comes back next year.

It's unfortunate that the Tour of Georgia will not take place this year. But it would be great to see the Tour of California slot into that April time slot. This February weather sucks.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cold, Wet, and Windy



All day long the rain came down; hard at times.

As was typical with the Tour, volunteer check-in was hours before the assignment. I checked in at 9:00 a.m. but didn't need to report to my location until noon. It gave me a chance to walk around this town -- in the rain, of course.

The downtown area is quite neat. Except for the driving rain, it's a great choice for a tour city.

The tour cities make a day of the event. In Sacramento we worked a community ride over the course two hours before the event. In Santa Rosa it was a professional women's criterium. And it rained. And rained more. They did a nice job staying upright. The winner was the Swedish national champion Emilia Fahlin although for my money Lauren Tamayo was the rider of the day as she led out the breaks and did most of the work.

After the race, which ended at 2:00 p.m., we had to kill time waiting for the arrival of the boys. The bad weather grounded the race airplane and getting information was hard. Even Versus was affected. One marshal at our location was connected to ham operators and he kept us informed as to their locations. That was useful in answering the many questions "what time will they arrive?"

Last year there was a crash on the run in to town. In cycling, the officials can give everyone who are together the same finishing time if there is a crash within the last 3 km. This rewards the risk takers.

But what is the last 3 km? The finish is circuits of the downtown on a 3.1 mile (5 km) loop. Is a crash on the first circuit within 3 km of the "finish?" It is usually literal, within 3 km of the finish line.

Last year, favorite and Santa Rosa native, Levi Leipheimer, got caught in a crash on the first loop. At the time he was near the front but lost massive time due to the crash. The race officials then decided to give all the riders the same time, making Levi very happy. It was controversial, to say the least.

Today we were not informed. But the race director made the decision that once they got to Santa Rosa the first time across the finish line would be the actual time. In essence, the second and third passes didn't count -- at least for time.

Fransicso Mancebo (ESP) came though town first about two minutes ahead of some chasers. Although the chasers eventually caught him, they were racing on the final two laps to be the stage winner although he would have the best time regardless.

Francicso Mancebo

I was marshal at a very difficult location. Although it was not a curve which I hoped for (they go slower there), it was a potential bottle neck on the course. The lanes went from four to two in the space of an intersection. And we had no barriers to keep the people back.

I worked with a Santa Rosa policeman and we moved some road barriers through the intersection and the people did well to stay behind them. This was also at the end of a 500 meter downgrade, not steep, but definitely 2-3% downhill and they were flying. Maybe worse, the cars were flying.

I would estimate a couple race cars went by at 60 mph just seconds before they had to hit this narrow, somewhat curvy two lane stretch. My big concern was making sure no one tried to cross in front of the cyclists (ugly) or a race vehicle (death). No one died.

As in Sacramento, people came to me seeking knowledge about the race and cycling in general. And I was glad to oblige. I stood on the inside of the barriers but as the riders approached I knelt down so they could take pictures, ugly day that it was.

My most vivid memory was not of the pro race but a local ride that also occurred. About 3:30 p.m., a cyclist came down the street and stopped to ask for directions to the finish line. He was about my age but he could barely speak the words. As he tried to talk his mouth just shivering uncontrollably. I don't know where he was but clearly was affected by the day's cold (about 48 degrees -- 9 C), but more importantly, the bone soaking wetness. We directed him the quickest way through the course to his destination even though we weren't supposed to allow riders on the route at that time.

After the racers finished and the crowds left, I passed through the team bus parking lot. There, at least 100 people gathered in front of the Astana bus but one could find the others much easier. I made my way to Jelly Belly to speak with Phil Gaimon. Phil is in his first pro race. He is also the only rider in the Tour of California who can say that he has beaten me in a race -- last year's Newton's Revenge up Mt. Washington, NH.

Who are you and why are you stalking me?

We spoke briefly -- he wondering why the heck I was there but I delivered a personal message to him from Mary Power, the events director at the Mt Washington Auto Road.

Soaked, really soaked, I got in my car for the two 1/2 hour drive to Santa Cruz through flooded roads.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tour of California - Prologue


Although reporting time was 8:30 a.m. I was checked in by 8:00 a.m. In line with me was a volunteer from Redding, Tamy Quiqley, who would be paired with me as volunteers. After getting our bright orange course marshal T-shirts we headed to our posts. But it was much too early. So we walked the entire 2.4 mile (4k) course. Even then we were back to our posts by 10:30 a.m. and the race would not begin until 1:30 p.m.

The temperature was in the low 40's but eventually warmed up to 50. The rain that was feared held off until the last rider, Levi Lepiheimer, finished.

Early on we were treated to watching individuals riders and teams warming up on the course. And we helped get a community ride started at 11:30 a.m.

My volunteer manual asked us not to take pictures because our role was to watch spectators -- not riders. Indeed, the toughest part of our task was keeping people from crossing the street once the race was underway.

But we were able to see Team Astana warming up and I felt no guilt snapping a picture of Lance Armstrong.

Lance Armstrong

But what happened to Anthony? Anthony Colby, Colavita-Sutter Home, was listed in our handbook as a climbing specialist but did not report to the start line. I was carrying a personal message for him from Mary Power, the event coordinator at the Mt. Washington Auto Road. I was proud to tell anyone that Anthony beat me (and 160 others) last July in the race up the mountain.

But I was glad to see Phil Gaimon race. He just joined Jelly Belly over the winter and was named to their starting team. Phil also beat me at Mt. Washington. He finished 2nd in July but won the Mount Washington Autoroad Bicycle Hillclimb  in August.

Phil Gaimon

I was on the first part of the course which went out and back. That was my penalty for signing in early -- assignments were handed out in order. Maybe if I had showed up late I would have received the finish line. The out and back section created a large four block median in which people were trapped once the race began.

It was dangerous to cross the street during the route. These time-trial machines with their aero bars and disc rear wheels fly and are very hard to control. Our instructions were to keep people from crossing the street once the ace began. If we weren't serious about this, the Sacramento police showed up and walked the lines with us to enforce it.

Some volunteers took this more serious than others. I tried to identify those who looked like they wanted to cross and just talked with them. With thousands of people needed to cross the street if for no other reason than to use the porta johns, the crowd eventually won. I'm for safety of both the riders and the crowd but to have no where out for three hours or more was unworkable and when enough people ignored the volunteers and even the police, they eventually instituted one intersection where we could send people to when they needed to leave.

The first rider went at 1:30 p.m. Thereafter, one rider per minute until all 136 riders came through. Excitement rose towards the end as all the big names came by. I even violated my own rule by trying to take a picture of Floyd. Great to see him ride again.

Floyd Landis

As the first riders departed they got cheers from the folks behind us (I was on the inside of the median island) and I often turned to see who was riding. The early riders took about 1:10 to go from behind us out to the turn to pass us on the way back. But the big boys, Lance, Fabian Cancelarra, Levi, and others, could do it in 60 seconds. And when they went the cheers were louder. We were enveloped in a sea of cheers. While our group was yelling loudly for Floyd, just one minute behind was Levi going out to loud cheers. It was a great sound effect.

According to VeloNews, "George Hincapie described the scene at the Amgen Tour of California prologue in Sacramento Saturday, saying only Tour de France crowds could compare. And those crowds were treated to a Tour de France-caliber show, with Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) blazing the downtown 3.9km course with a winning time of 4:32."

But it was a long day. I was on my feet from 8:00 a.m. until 4:10 p.m. when I got in the car to drive to Santa Rosa. But it was a great day, made greater by the fact we missed the rain.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

These Guys Are Fast


Sitting in the auditorium at South County H.S. in Lorton, Va., yesterday at our annual high school soccer referee clinic, I kept looking out wanting to ride instead. It was unseasonably warm (low 60s -- 16C) and I hadn't ridden in more than three weeks. Following the Steelers on their run to the Super Bowl was worth it all though.

Although there were rides listed on the Potomac Pedalers site, I trekked up to Reston to ride with Evolution Cycling Team. One thing that was different about today -- I was on time. So rather than jump on the rear I asked if I could ride with them. One warned me they ride at an A pace -- or something like that. I nodded.

There were six of them and one of us. We headed out towards Great Falls. On the way we were on a lightly traveled road and they wanted to ride a pace line. That was my first time in a true pace line. My summer rides with DC Velo is more me hanging on the back but this was a single pace line, all moving up in unison then falling off. They riders were gracious to this old rookie.

Once we got to Great Falls we broke apart a little. There were some steep descents and steep climbs. The one woman in the group, Tanya, had a hard time matching pace, especially on the descents. Then she was already behind the 8-ball for the next climb. As long as they were waiting for her I could hang in there.

Eventually I sensed they wanted to go faster without Tanya and without me. But they would never suggest that. She told me she didn't have legs going out or back today and I felt I didn't either. Although I'd been riding indoors, it's not the same as being out on the bike.

We were near the end when Tanya and I headed over to the W&OD trail and let the others go flying on without us. It was a good ride but I wonder why I think I can ride with the guys 20 years (or more) younger than me.

Garmin Stats (note that I forgot to start the computer at the start)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Looking Forward to the Tour


An unexpected trip had me at the Super Bowl on Sunday. Thoughts of working the Tour of California disappeared beneath the excitement of the Steelers 27-23 victory in what some experts proclaimed the greatest Super Bowl ever.

Getting back to earth, I am looking forward to working the Tour. The rosters were just announced. How about these names?

Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Christopher Horner, Yaroslav Popovych, José Luis Rubiera, Andy Schleck, Fränk Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voigt, Stuart O'Grady, George Hincapie, Mark Cavendish, Kim Kirchen, Michael Rogers, Christian Vande Velde, Thomas Danielson, Danny Pate, David Zabriskie, Tom Boonen, Oscar Freire, Ivan Basso, Cyril Dessel, Carlos Sastre, Thor Hushovd, Alexandre Moos, Floyd Landis, Rory Sutherland, Ben Jacques-Maynes, Kirk O'Bee, Anthony Colby, Phillip Gaimon, Oscar Sevilla, Tyler Hamilton, Victor Hugo Pena, and Freddy Rodriguez.

You've probably heard of Lance. Probably Levi and most of these guys. But how about Anthony Colby? Or Phil Gaimon? These guys are on our domestic teams -- Colovita-Sutter Home and Jelly Belly, respectfully. I've had the privilege of having them kick my butt up Mount Washington, New Hampshire.

Anthony won the Newton's Revenge race July 12, 2008 while Phil finished second. In August, in the Bicycle Hill Climb Race up the Mount Washington Auto Road, Phil won (and he would want me to tell you that Anthony wasn't there).

I know I won't be able to get close to Lance. I hope I can talk to Floyd even briefly. I sure want to say hi to Anthony and Phil. Mary Power, the events director at Mt. Washington, even sent instructions with me to give them both a hug from her. I think I'll pass but will pass on her greetings.

This is going to be good.