Pro Cycling Shines in Sacramento

20170514_152403It is hard to beat Sacramento for watching a bike race on a sunny day. AMGEN Tour of California Stage 1 ambient temperature was a perfect 73 degrees with barely any wind. The only kink in my plans was the coincidence of Mother’s Day. There were many fans along the road and in the VIP tents, but it was still possible to find a place to watch the finish at about 3:15 p.m.

20170514_152209World Champion Peter Sagan moved to the tail end of the Quick Step lead out train for Marcel Kittel. Then it looked like he might get boxed in. Across the line it was Marcel Kittel first, Peter Sagan second. Thrilling!

20170514_152831Afterward I hung out to watch the jersey presentations and delighted to talk to the first female commissaire that I’ve ever seen at the international level. I asked her how she earned her spot. She said she paid her dues refereeing local races. Normally she rides along in an automobile. Today was one of the few times she was on a motorbike. I asked if she had to prove her ability as a motorcycle driver. The UCI provides a driver and she rides along. I asked how many women there are at this international level–not many. This race has three!  Could this be my third career? haha.

Enjoying le Tour de France as Spectator

I have stood along the side of the racecourse on many a stage of the Tour de France. I followed the 2014 from Stage 1 to 21. I have been a spectator at the Tour of California, the Tour Down Under and the Giro d’Italia. Watching a professional bike race in person is a thrilling experience. Whether you are traveling across the globe or stepping out your front door, there are certain dos and don’ts to being a good spectator.

I have a new appreciation this year watching religiously on my NBC Sports Gold app. I set my alarm every day at 6:00 a.m. to watch the day’s Tour de France stage. This year I have spent as much time yelling at spectators to behave as I have at the cyclists to race to the finish.

barrier down
A spectator accidentally deflated the 1 K marker; photo telegraph.co.uk

The spectators need to exercise self control. Here are some suggestions. First and foremost, pay attention to your surroundings at all times. After the caravan of sponsors go by you have about an hour before the first cyclists will pass. If you pay attention and stay sober enough you will hear the helicopters, notice an increase of motorcycle police and official race cars. This will get more and more intense and then you will see either the breakaway group of 2-20 (on average riders) or the whole frickin’ peleton of 180+ riders. Then there are always a few stragglers fighting to get back with the group. Notice how fast they are going compared to you on foot? This is why it is foolhardy to try to interact with them. Besides it is not about you.

  1. Never touch a cyclist or his/her bike. You think you are helping but you are actually more likely to throw them off balance or off their cadence. (Yes, there are more and more women’s cycling competitions. Same rules apply.)
  2. Never throw anything at a cyclist: water, pee, chalk, smoke, fireworks. This is rude and dangerous. On RAGBRAI when amateurs are cycling across Iowa, spectators sometimes turn on their hose and offer to spray cyclists, but it is entirely voluntary, they never cover the entire road. Same with high fives, etc. And it is non-competitive. In a race the cyclists are going full gas throwing something at those speeds can hurt!
  3. Stay off the racecourse. This means that you can not extend your arms out over the barrier to take a selfie, or lean into the road with your mongo camera lens to take a photo. It also applies to your children (don’t hold them over the barrier so they can see), and your dogs (always on a leash please!).

The race organization ASO also has much egg on its face for a series of logistical catastrophes. On Stage 7, the inflatable red 1 kilometer marker collapsed and caused an accident. When the race entered the Pyrenees it was clear that the ASO was not investing enough in safety as many spectators interfered in the race. Then on Mt. Ventoux, the ASO moved the race short of the mountaintop because of severe winds but didn’t move the fan barriers. At 1 kilometer to the new finish the crowd closed in resulting in an accident, a broken bike and Chris Froome, the race leader (yellow jersey) did a 100 yard dash up the road.

Could this have been avoided? Absolutely. The ASO decided to move the finish line the day before, so they had time to move the barriers. The ASO excuses just grated on everyone’s nerves. It might have caused more angst, but the tragedy in Nice shifted the focus.

George Bennett’s run in with a spectator was impressive on Stage 9. For some crazy reason a spectator decided to cross the road as the cyclists came roaring around the corner. Bennett put out his arm and she fell backward out of the road. Asked about it later and the New Zealander said he “Sonny Billed” her. (Sonny Bill is a fantastic rugby player for the All Blacks.) Cyclists should not need rugby experience to compete at top levels.

daily mail Sonny Bill
Sonny Bill Williams of the All Blacks; Irish Times

One of the marvelous things about cycling is how accessible it is to fans. Sure you can pay for VIP access, but most fans enjoy it either on television or from the racecourse for free.

Remember after 21 days of racing the top 3 finishers are often separated by only seconds. So if you think waving a flag in front of their bike and screaming in someone’s face can’t make a difference, look at how close the finish can be:

Irish times photo finish
On Stage 4 Marcel Kittel edged out Bryan Coquard by mere millimeters.; Daily Mail

You can still dress up like a devil, or bring your inflatable kangaroo. You can hang your team or country flags. You can play music or sing and dance. You can experience your heart leaping into your throat as the peleton takes a corner and goes by so fast your eyes water. And you can go home satisfied that the race was decided by hard work, talent, grit and luck.

Let’s be careful out there.

 

3 Reasons to Love Bicycling in California

1. Oh my gosh! If you did not see the finish to the Tour of California then you need to get on YouTube and watch some video. All 8 stages excited, but the last couple of days amazed. Stage 6, the time trial, had to moved because of snow in May. This is just plain weird, especially for Southern California. At the end of the time trial Peter Sagan had the overall (general classification) leader’s jersey. After 5 years winning the green points jersey for sprinting, Peter has found another gear and he is winning sprints on the hard days and, thanks to time bonuses for the top finishers, leading the race.

I believe he loves California. When I was following the Tour de France I staked out his team bus one morning when I had a VIP pass. I waited patiently as all the other team members collected their bikes and rode off to the start. Finally, Peter Sagan emerged from the team bus. The crowd pushed forward. I stood my ground with my California flag and sharpie (and a friendly smile). He fine tuned his bike with the mechanic for about 10 minutes and then turned to leave. I was the only person he stopped to give a signature and I believe it was the California flag!

Now he has even more reason to love California. While he lost the leader’s jersey by just a few seconds to Etixx-Quickstep’s Alaphilippe. However Sagan turned himself inside out to finish so close to Alaphilippe on Mt Baldy on Stage 7.  This performance shows how Peter Sagan is really in a league of his own by finishing so strong.

I remember when Tour de France had time bonuses for the top 3 finishers of stages in addition to the intermediate sprints. Now they just give points toward the green jersey. The Amgen Tour of California does give these time bonuses and this makes it possible for Peter Sagan to be in contention for the GC. Mark Cavendish and the Etixx-Quickstep team did everything they can on Stage 8 to thwart Sagan and keep Alaphilippe in the leader’s jersey. Cav did win the intermediate sprint at 40k from the finish–but Sagan got second. And Alaphilippe got third! (Thanks to teammate Mark Renshaw.) Now only a second separated them so if Sagan got a time bonus for one of the top three at the finish then he would win the entire race.

Watch the finish! And remember to never give up.

2.  California is usually in the top ten lists for bicycle friendly states, but often edged out by Washington or Oregon. But seriously, there are so many fantastic places to ride. I have been reading Ann Marie Brown’s book Northern California Biking with more than 160 suggested rides. I am using to identify rides as I train for RAGBRAI. I need to be riding 20, 30, and up to 60 miles in a day. And I need to ride 4 days in a row, so my go-to ride is on the American River Parkway. It is 1.8 miles from my doorstep and I can ride 60 miles if I ride to Folsom Lake and back. It is wonderfully entertaining–I see deer, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, snakes, turtles, and more. Yesterday I also saw women plowing with draft horses on an urban farm in Rancho Cordova.

The paved bike path hugs the American River. Many river rafters pull their boats out at Ancil Hoffman park.
The paved bike path hugs the American River. Many river rafters pull their boats out at Ancil Hoffman park.

3.  Putting aside a freak snow storm in Big Bear, California aside, the weather is fantastic for cycling. One of the benefits of drought is perpetual sunshine.

As I get ready for RAGBRAI, I am also working on my friendly factor. People in Iowa are much friendlier than people in California. So I am developing the habit of saying “good morning” to cyclists and joggers I pass before noon, and “G’day” to those I pass in the afternoon. By projecting friendly energy I have had many great interactions and conversations with people–including Jens Voigt!

Tour of California, Stage 3

Stage 3 of the Tour of California started and finished in San Jose. It was a day of climbing and descending over Mt. Hamilton. I checked in via the app and saw there were several breakaway attempts and finally one stuck. It was a larger group of around 7 and then one by one they fell back and were reabsorbed into the peleton. One rider, Toms Skujins with Hincapie Racing Team went off the front and established over a minute lead. The rest of the break then becomes the chasers.

After 2:00 p.m. I switched to video and began watching on my iPad while I worked on my computer. Pretty soon I found myself holding my breathe as Toms increased his lead over the chasers and the peleton. He took risks downhill and almost went off the road at least twice. Gradually Paul, Phil, Christian and Jensie (the announcers) began estimating whether or not Toms would stay away and win the stage.

I learned that Toms was from Latvia and had been racing a long time (he is 23) but without the elusive pro contract. The Hincapie Racing Team was formed to develop young riders and give them opportunities to compete with the pros. The team has been aggressive in all three stages. They look lean and mean in their black cycling kits. Today George Hincapie must have been doing somersaults and back flips.

Cyclists jump into the breakaway because even if they are not successful at staying away they get a lot of attention for their sponsors (obviously even more when the race is televised). And as Jens Voigt has pointed out, while you may only have a 1 in 10 chance of being successful in a breakaway, if you do not try you will not have any chance.

When the lightning strikes, and the 1 out of 10 tries succeeds, it is thrilling. As a fan you want them to succeed. While Toms continued to pour every ounce of his energy on the road, the peleton got their act together and began to seriously chase. They gobbled up the remaining two chasers and narrowed the time gap. The announcers were trying to do the math about distance and time and finally determined Toms still had a chance but they were not sure if he would gain enough time on Peter Sagan to win the leader’s yellow jersey.

Meanwhile, after a day of mechanical difficulties and other challenges Peter Sagan and his teammates began to attack the last hill into the finish. (What sadistic person designs an uphill finish?) I really admire Sagan. He is such a great rider and he’s won lots of green jerseys as a sprinter. He is a consistent rider and is so talented at 25 that I wonder what kind of rider he will develop into… maybe a more playful version of the Badger. Who to cheer for today??

I began cheering for Toms so loudly that Lulu came into the room and started barking and jumping around. The gap continued to close but Toms was getting closer and closer to the finish. At last he crossed the finish line and he won the stage. Then the clock started ticking to see if he would wear the yellow jersey.

Now I could cheer for Peter Sagan. He turned himself inside out to win the sprint for second and retained his second place overall in the race. Toms managed to win the overall lead.

Enjoying the perks of victory with a huge smile and a wink!
Enjoying the perks of victory with a huge smile and a wink!

Imagine in one day changing your fortunes. Skujins has the attention of pro cycling managers now. He will probably have a contract for next year by mid-summer. He clearly was enjoying the thrill of victory and trembling from exhaustion and excitement. It was wonderful to witness.

Tour of California, Stage 2

I had so much fun watching the Amgen Tour of California I decided to drive to Lodi to watch the finish of Stage 2. Lodi is about 50 minutes south on Highway 99 from downtown Sacramento. The race started in Nevada City in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The route was almost entirely downhill to the farm town of Lodi.

Welcome to Lodi!
Welcome to Lodi!

Lodi is known for zinfandel wine grapes. They have a Zinfest wine festival every April. It is a charming smaller Central Valley town. It was interesting to see the range of support. One cranky business owner put up a sign complaining about the road closures. This was made up by lots of entrepreneurs with food trucks and selling water and cherries. Fans lined the road and were in a festive mood. I watched some guys on tricked out bikes ride by advertising Bikes and Bites. (I checked it out on the way home but it was closed to enjoy the race.)

The finish line for Amgen Stage Two in Lodi.
The finish line for Amgen Stage Two in Lodi.

It is fun when the people around you follow cycling. I enjoyed chatting with Jill from Folsom. Like me she saw the race earlier and got caught up in the excitement and drove to Lodi to watch the finish. We were positioned about 200 meters from the finish so the racers were going to pass us three times.

Cheerful young woman selling water and cherries.
Cheerful young woman selling water and cherries.

The three breakaway riders were still away when they passed us the first time. The second time around the sprinters did not appear to be very organized. Lead out trains were not obvious but they had managed to catch the breakaway. Etixx Quickstep had done all the work to close the gap and it may have burned out the lead out riders. The final time around we could see Cavendish and Sagan in the front but it looked like everyone was scrambling.

PeletonIt took a minute or two but then the App informed us: Cavendish won again. Sagan second. So worth driving down to watch in person!

Tour of California Bike Race, Stage 1

18th and L in Midtown SacramentoThe 10th annual Amgen Tour of California bike race started on Sunday, May 10 in Sacramento. I have moved to midtown Sacramento so I was thrilled when I looked up the Stage 1 route and learned that the final circuit around Capitol Park would turn left at my building. Turns always mean a bit more drama.

The best part of the being the host city for Stage 1 is the teams arrive a few days before the start and you see them training on the American River Parkway. Sacramento has a well paved, wonderful 30 mile+ bike trail stretching from Old Sacramento to Folsom Lake. Apparently some of the riders got a little careless and especially the great bike handler Peter Sagan bumped into some cyclists on the trail. The speed limit is 15 miles per hour but the flat wide trail with great pavement is too great a temptation.

The men’s race started on L Street at the North entrance of the Capitol. They cycled out of town on their way to Rio Vista. Shortly afterward the women’s Stage 3 circuit race began. We watched them go round and checked out the festival. I bought some Nuun. Stopped at the Trek Factory Racing booth to take a picture of the bike that Jens Voigt’s used to break the 1 hour record. I also asked about using slightly wider tires on my Trek road bike to gain a little speed in the hopes this will save me a little time in the saddle on RAGBRAI.

We all relaxed and napped while the riders were out on the road--even Dozer.
We all relaxed and napped while the riders were out on the road–even Dozer.

There were a lot of fans out on a Sunday and Mother’s Day. We bumped into a few family friends. We returned to my apartment home and watched the women from my balcony. I need to learn more about women’s cycling. I have been watching the men’s racing for years so I know the players and teams. I am going to invest some attention to learn more about the top women racers. Leah Kirchmann (CAN) won the Stage 3 circuit race and Trixi Worrack (GER) hung on to the yellow jersey to win the overall Women’s Race.

We downloaded the excellent Amgen Tour of California Live App on the iPad and phones. You can watch the video from 2:00 p.m. to the finish plus other features.

I dozed while I listened/watched the video. I sat up when one of the Jelly Belly riders went off the levee on the road winding along the Sacramento River on the return from Woodland. Lucky for him he let go of the bike and landed just before the riprap rocks. (He finished last; but he finished.)

This close!When the 3 breakaway riders crossed the Tower Bridge I ran downstairs with my camera to get a first hand look. The turn itself was 3 fans deep so I moved down L Street a little towards the Lutheran Church. I did not think about the physics, but it was perfect as the riders had to move to our side of the street on the curve. The first time around I was surprised by the wind/blow back and thrilled by the speed. The first two of four circuits Sagan’s Tinkoff Saxo team lead out train was in front. The last two times the front lead out train was Cavendish’s Etixx Quickstep (my favorite team).

Mark Cavendish's lead out train in front.
Mark Cavendish’s lead out train in front.

The last time round the church bells were pealing and the fans yelling and the cowbells clanging. We turned to the App to find out who won and there was a bit of a delay… Cavendish first, Sagan second.

AMGEN Tour of California, Midtown Fashion Show and More

I had such an exciting morning. It is a great way to warm up to a busy and fun Mother’s Day weekend.

The entrance to the bike trail is just behind Blue Diamond Almond factory on C Street.
The entrance to the bike trail is just behind Blue Diamond Almond factory on C Street.

I am getting ready for RAGBRAI (7 day bike ride across Iowa in July). After 7 days off my bike because of travel to Southern Utah, I was trying to find the motivation to begin training. The good news is there is a cool training plan by David Ertl on the RAGBRAI blog. I am getting a late start, so I set out to ride for 2 solid hours and see how many miles I cover. As a bonus I thought I might see some professional bike teams working out before the AMGEN Tour of California.

I was about 4 miles down the trail when I saw a lone rider in a Trek team kit. It was one of my all time favorite riders: Jens Voigt! I said something like, “Are you Jens Voigt?” He said yes and he needed directions to his Sacramento hotel. I gushed about being a fan and was so excited that I left out an important left hand turn in my directions. I continued riding and felt an adrenaline rush. It was as exciting as the time I saw All Blacks Captain Richie McCaw at breakfast in Chicago. Only this time I was not so gobstopped and I was able to say something to him. Maybe it helped that I met Jens before in Yorkshire.

Riders from the Trek Factory Racing team were among the very first people to sign my California state flag.
Riders from the Trek Factory Racing team were among the very first people to sign my California state flag.

Afterward several more teams passed me from behind. You can hear them coming from a distance–they sound like a light rail train. It is not a question of being “dropped” since I could not keep up with them for any pedal strokes. It is great for inspiration. Team Giant-Alpecin, Team LottoNL-Jumbo, Cannondale-Garmin, and Hincapie Racing, Optum Pro Cycling, Drapac Professional Cycling teams whizzed past me. The much larger Tinkoff-Saxo team has a different standard for passing space (barely any)!

I turned around after 70 minutes and one the way home I saw Jens Voigt returning with the Trek team. He recognized me and gave me a big “hey” wave. It made my day. It also reminded me of my wonderful Tour de France experience with Trek Travel in Yorkshire when I collected the signatures of the entire Trek Factory Racing team on my California state flag. It is framed and hanging above my couch. You can experience your own one-on-one moment with Jens Voigt. The Tour de California is selling tickets to three meet and greets with Jens with the first one for Stage One in Sacramento on May 10 (tickets only available for Stages Four and Six). You can download the map for Stage One and watch the race near the Capitol or along the Delta route.

The Tour of California is going to go down 18th Street and turn onto L in the closing circuits of Stage One on Sunday. But first on Saturday I am throwing a little supper party before the fashion show on Capitol Avenue and 19th Avenue at 6:30 p.m. to benefit WEAVE (Women Escaping a Violent Environment).

Then on Sunday after the kids and I go to church it will be the Amgen Tour until mid-day. I am really looking forward to it.

One Really Good Reason to Visit California in May

Visit California May 10-17, 2015 to be precise.  The AMGEN Tour of California will be hosting men’s and women’s bike racing throughout California. The route was announced yesterday and there are some exciting new changes. I plan to watch Stage One where the cyclists will ride along the Sacramento River, through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, with a dramatic finish in front of the State Capitol.  I will also check out the Stage Two finish in Lodi for the first time. They are also expanding the racing opportunities for women.

Amgen Tour of California inspired sugar cookie from Karen's Bakery
Amgen Tour of California inspired sugar cookie from Karen’s Bakery

They are staking themselves as “America’s greatest race.” It certainly showcases the beauty of the majestic state of California.

Watch this video to see all the reasons you will want to make California a destination in May.

Tour of California Time Trial in Folsom

20140512_132348

I pedaled my Brompton across town and then jumped onto the train from Davis at 9:24 a.m.  I asked the Amtrak conductor for a free transfer onto Light Rail once in Sacramento. Then I rode those rails to the end of the line in Folsom. All in pursuit of a day being a bike racing fan at the Amgen Tour of California. Today’s stage was the 12.5 mile time trial with a start and finish in old town Folsom. I arrived at 11:00 a.m. and spent time in the fan zone checking out the booths and picking up free samples of Jelly Bellys, and an Amgen TOC lanyard. I also bought a “Adios Jens” t-shirt at the Trek Racing Team booth. I also wandered around to get an idea of my viewing options.

At about 95 degrees, not a great day to be the California Bear mascot!
At about 95 degrees, not a great day to be the California Bear mascot!
Amgen Tour of California inspired sugar cookie from Karen's Bakery
Amgen Tour of California inspired sugar cookie from Karen’s Bakery

The start ramp was on Sutter Street right in the heart of old town Folsom. The finish had a challenging 90 degree turn onto Leidesdorff Street 150 meters from the finish. I decided I would stake out a spot along the barrier after I grabbed lunch at Karen’s Bakery. The Bakery is a popular spot for cyclists and the finish was right in front of the outdoor dining space. Karen rented sold out the space at $200 a seat, all you can eat.  That is a good deal, however, I prefer being right on the rails.

I used my REI portable chair and enjoyed almost an hour of time knitting before the race began. The couple next to me went to the race in Sacramento on Sunday. It was fun learning more of the details about that stage. A large television screen across the road began broadcasting the race at 2:00 p.m. The first rider left the gate at 1:05 and it took over 26 minutes to finish. Thus began the ritual of cheering 128 riders approximately every minute or so.

The last time I watched an Amgen TOC time trial was in Sacramento. I was able to download the order of riders and take a printed copy so I could track our progress. I went to the Amgen welcome center and got a program. They said the order of riders is on the “Tour Tracker” application. I had downloaded the app the day before, so I found the list, only it did not include the rider’s numbers and when they left the gate the disappeared from the list, so it wasn’t helpful for knowing when your favorite riders would be riding to the finish. Nonetheless, our fan group at about 125 meters enjoyed ourselves. We especially enjoyed competing to see who could catch the riders with our cameras.

Sir Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky
Sir Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky

As the afternoon wore on the riders finished in faster and faster times. 24:02 was the time to beat until Bradley Wiggins started his time trial. This is only the second stage and the first stage ended in a bunch sprint, so Mark Cavendish was wearing the yellow jersey and was last to ride. Of the general classification riders, the favorites are Bradley Wiggins and Taylor Phinney. The winner of the Olympic Gold Medal and the Tour de France 2012 decides to make a statement and he blistered the course. I am surprised I caught him on film. He finished in 23:18. Taylor Phinney rode well and placed third in the time trial but is now chasing Wiggins by 52 seconds.Mark Cavendish

The final rider is one of my favorites: Mark Cavendish, aka the Manx Missile. I only caught the beginning of his bike, though in this shot you can see the television screen and the barriers more clearly. No one expected Cavendish to stay in the yellow jersey but there is something about being the leader and as often happens he rode the best time trial of his career.

At this point I had to decide whether to stay and watch the awards or head to the Bike Valet and pick up my Brompton and catch the Light Rail back to the Sacramento Valley Train Station. After all of the sun, I was ready to head home. Great day and a great reminder of why I love watching cycling live.