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.

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