Monday, May 17, 2010

Almost Meeting Lance


Checking in, I was assigned at the "center of the intersection" of 2nd and B Street. I looked at the route map and saw that that was one block from the route in any direction. I was disappointed at first but Adam Bridge, the coordinator, called it a super location. And he was right.

It was right beside the USA Bicycling Hall of Fame and a block from the start line. But the location didn't make it great - the assignment did. There were three sawhorse barriers and three traffic cones blocking the street. Our job, working with a security guy, "Mike," from St. Louis, was not to allow any vehicles other than team vehicles to enter the street. We got to direct all the team buses, vans, and cars, except for Team Radio Shack, to park on this street.

USA Bicycling Hall of Fame

One by one we directed each team down the street until the street was full. Then we were done with one hour to go before the start of the race.

Davis is the self-proclaimed bicycling capital of the U.S. And not necessarily self-proclaimed. Bicycling magazine, the League of American Bicyclists, and maybe others have bestowed this upon the community. Bikes are everywhere. The city's sign features a bike on either side.

But where are the helmets? Almost every rider I saw in Davis was forgetting the $39 piece of fiberglass that will help protect their head when they have the accident. While embracing the bike culture they seemingly snubbed their noses at protection. It was a little strange.

There were very few vendors set up in Davis which was disappointing. But we found the Radio Shack bus and decided to stand 5-6 deep watching for Lance Armstrong to come out. Around 10:30 he came out and was besieged with autograph seekers. There was a fenced barrier and people were orderly and I believe he signed everything handed to him.

Three-time defending champ, Levi Leipheimer

He got lost in the sea of people and disappeared, I'm guessing he went for a quick spin. Most of the crowd dissipated and we waited to see Levi Leiphiemer, Chris Horner, Johann Bruynell and others.

Three kids who didn't get their chance to get an autograph were invited inside the security barrier by someone with Team Radio Shack and stood outside the bus door when Lance came back from his quick spin. After a minute or so, the door opened and the three of them went in the bus. They came out a couple of minutes later wearing autographed Team Radio Shack hats and grins from ear to ear.

Lance - No telephoto lens needed

There was only a few minutes before start time when Lance came out the second time. No one could blame him for dismissing everyone because he had to go but he again walked the line signing anything put before him. I gave him my Ride Against Cancer card and asked him to carry that with him today. He obviously knew that it would get soaked and destroyed so he handed to an assistant, probably with instructions to make a sizable donation to the cause (he writes, tongue in cheek).

Lance then left, made it to the start, and we had a few minutes left. The gun went off and the peloton did a ceremonial neutralized lap and came back through the start chute. Then they were off. And I was ready to say goodbye to the Tour of California for another year.

The first four years the ATOC was held in February. But last year featured a week of cold, windy, rainy weather and they moved the race to avoid cold, windy, rainy weather. But in Davis it was overcast and 60 degrees with a forecast of rain.

I also came to California to go riding and was initially headed to San Francisco. But as I drove the weather got worse. I was driving into continual rain and the temperature dropped. No need for me to be riding in that. My next trip across the Golden Gate Bridge would have to wait for another time.

I had previewed the stage but really didn't know where it was going. I remembered Yountville and entered that into the Garmin. When I reached Yountville I continued and thought they would head up Oakville Grade Road. I was hoping I would see it and figured I would come up to an intersection heavily paroled by the California Highway Patrol. And I did.

I turned left on the mountain road and immediately started climbing in the car. Wipers on, it was cold and rainy here. I surveyed a place to pull over and didn't see any. Everywhere I saw a pull-off it was already taken by other vehicles.

I passed the third King of the Mountains check point on Oakville Grade Road and knew there was a descent and another KOM up ahead. I was one kilometer from the summit of the second KOM on Trinity Road when I saw a driveway to a gated house. I parked the car in the driveway. The police were shutting down the road so even if the owner wanted out they weren't going anywhere.

Besides, I was beside another car which had parked there. Its owner came back and we talked for about 20 minutes before hearing the "whoop" of a distant police siren. My friend, a former Belgian cyclist now living in Vegas was following the Tour every day. We talked about cycling but also about Floyd Landis. He was adamant that Floyd was clean and the French set him up, not wanting another American to win. Interesting.

Once the police started coming through I got out in the same miserable wet weather I didn't want to ride in. I went down the road about 200 meters to where the peloton would come through the last of some switchbacks on this climb.

I stood beside two cyclists just off the surface of the road. They had ridden from Davis. I don't know if they followed the same route but hopefully something more direct. They left at 7:30 a.m. and the time was around 2:00 p.m. They were both shivering which confirmed my decision not to ride today.

Two leaders were in a breakaway but after they passed us 30 seconds behind came the train of Team Radio Shack. There were five guys in the front with Levi on third wheel and Lance on fourth. And they were marked by Garmin-Transitions.

Levi Leipheimer on 3rd Wheel, Lance on 4th

Wave after wave of riders came by as this climb broke the field apart. Halfway through George Hincapie came through drafting the BMC car. He pulled alongside the car and I watched as he took a "turbo bottle." I laughed.

George Hincapie

There were no race referees in sight and I suppose, if the cameras caught it, they do use some form of video review. But the cameras weren't there either. And it made me wonder how the peloton patrols and monitors each other. George is on the downside of his career and universally respected. I'm guessing that a temporary boost from a turbo bottle is a right earned after riding in the peloton so many years. Some rookie might not get away with it but George could. If it happened at all that is (wink).

About 17 minutes down came the yellow jersey of Mark Cavendish. But he was joined by perhaps 30 other riders. They formed the "autobus" (grupetto) which consists of the sprinters, other riders who can't just fly over the mountains, and anyone having a bad day. One can be eliminated at the end of the day on time but not if 30 riders are together and outside the time limit. So for this stage they all form up and stay together.

"Grupetto" led by the Yellow Jersey, Mark Cavendish

About 3-4 minutes after them one last lonely rider, Sean Mazich (Jelly Belly) made his way up the hill. Boy can I empathize with him. Cold, wet, and miserable - sometimes the legs just don't have it and you pull yourself inside out to get over the next hill. Sean had already been eliminated on time but refused to get in the Broom Wagon, instead he rode the entire route by himself. Then was eliminated.

My time at the Tour was great. Getting to help out the tour in the morning at Davis then having the freedom to move to another location as a fan made it worthwhile. I had thought about volunteering for a week but will have to rethink whether I want to spend a week working all day long or simply volunteer for a couple of stages. This seemed about right.

This was also an excellent decision because I hadn't realized until Sunday that I'm not as far along in my recovery as I believed. As Dr. Mostwin told me last month, I still have 18 months of healing left and I now know he was right.

Epilogue - Just two days later, the first of many emails of Floyd's were made public. He admitted to using performance enhancing drugs through most of his career. Very disappointing. Although he stands by his denial that he never used testosterone.

On my return flight I flew from Oakland to Phoenix on the first leg. I met Paul Mittman, President/CEO of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine who used an upgrade for me to sit in first class. Thanks Paul!

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