Sunday, May 16, 2010

Amgen Tour of California


Last year I came to Sacramento to volunteer for the Amgen Tour of California. I had a great, even an amazing, experience, and returning this year was one of my post-cancer treatment goals.

After last year's event I was in contact with Medalist Sports for a week-long position traveling with the Tour. In February I was contacted by them but respectfully declined as I didn't know whether I would be recovered enough for the demands of the job. But I still wanted to help and going to Sacramento would be the first step.

I arrived at the volunteer check-in location before anyone else including the coordinator., Gail Keeter, When she arrived she made it known that being first didn't mean getting the best location, which would be downtown on the inner circuit which they passed three times. I guess that if the "best" assignments were for those who got there first, there would be a rush to be first in line. This was probably conveyed to those who could attend the orientation meeting, which I couldn't do.

So I went for a walk. A long walk. A two-hour walk along the bike path which is beside the Sacramento River. When I got back there was a check-in line formed and I was deep enough in line, I guess, to get a downtown location. One problem though, while it was "downtown" it wasn't on the finishing circuit.

A replica of the Golden Gate Bridge across the Sacramento River - for cyclists

It was at 30th and Folsom Blvd. and I was to guard the exit from the parking lot of the KFC/A&W restaurant. Across the street was volunteer Tamy Quiqley, from Redding, California, who was dutifully patrolling the empty parking lot of the Wells Fargo Bank.

With more than 90 minutes before our required reporting time, we decided to walk downtown to the finish. We were able to watch the last six laps of the women's criterium, won by 17-year old Coryn Rivera. She won the junior group at USA Cycling Nationals two years ago at Seven Springs, Pa., which I also marshaled.

When we returned to our posts a policeman was just finishing taping off the entrances with yellow police tape. And she told us she was assigning junior rangers to assist there. When asked if we should stay there she told us we weren't needed.

So we then set out to get to the downtown finishing circuit to "help." We found the corner of N and 15th Streets and started helping the marshals on site. With a phone call or two to friends watching, we could tell the spectators the ETA of the peloton.

Eventually the helicopter arrived overhead and we knew the riders were down below. Two blocks up from us they flew through the finish line at the start of Lap 1. About one minute later they bore down on us.

When you ride you know you're fighting, or pushing the wind. But one doesn't realize the extent until you stand downwind from the peloton. When they were about 25 meters from our location a wall of wind hit us in the face. They made the 90 degree turn, at our location, but would not be so lucky at some other locations. Two major crashes knocked out a number of riders and neutralized the racing on the final two laps, except for overall time bonuses for the first three positions.

Peloton charging hard into the corner

One worries not only about the riders cornering safely but also the cars. These drivers are part dare-devils and many squeal their tires as they corner much too fast for the normal person.

Mark Cavendish's HTC-Columbia Team formed the perfect lead-out train and he stayed on their wheels the next two times they flew by our location. After the last rider passed we ran two blocks to the L street where they were flying by to the finish but missed the lead-out train delivering the Manx Rocket to the finish line. We did see the middle and end riders come in, all with the same time since the peloton had been together when they crashed.

George Hincapie

If you can limp on a bike, a number of a latter riders came limping on in. One rider from Cervelo Test Team had his entire left thigh bloodied and exposed. George Hincapie didn't show quite the same road rash but wasn't feeling too well either.

Believe this is Heinrich Haussler. Ouch.

We tried to get to the podium and could see a corner of it but the crowds were too large. One gentleman asked us who won and we told him Mark Cavendish. He said "who?" "But how did Lance (Armstrong) do?" And maybe more than 50% of the spectators fit that category. They came to see Lance and he was supposed to win. But it's always fun talking cycling with the spectators.

It was a long but rewarding day. Glad to be back in California.

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