We met lots of cyclists who were racing in Italy the 3 weeks of the Giro. We missed some–one of my favorite riders Marcel Kittel of Etixx-Quickstep, dropped out before Tuscany. Fabian Cancellara of Trek-Segafredo dropped out after the time trial. So I was ripe to add riders to our favorites list.
It was easy to like Esteban Chaves with Orica-Greenedge. He is an energetic and charismatic young climber from Columbia. His smile is 1,000 watts and his teammates clearly like him. We met him on a rest day and he was relaxed and happy to be on the Giro. He is 29 years old but has the boyish looks and energy of a teenager. I instantly became a fan.
There did not seem to be too much team pressure on Chaves to win. Sometimes a team with a leader in the top 5 closes down and you can feel the tension of expectations. This team still felt like they were mostly having fun. This is probably an advantage on a 3-week bike race when your chances depend on surviving crashes and the daily grind until you can get to the final mountain stages when the real race begins.
In the last few days of the Giro the competition did get real. Chaves took the overall lead on stage 19. The maglia rosa (pink jersey) Steven Kruijswijk dropped in the rankings after a weird crash into a snowbank during a momentary loss of concentration.
The Sicilian Shark Vincenzo Nibali won the stage and closed the gap taking second overall. There was one more mountain stage before the final (largely ceremonial) last stage. Nibali attacked to win the 20th stage with Chaves on the podium in second.
If Orica-Greenedge was disappointed, it is difficult to tell from this loving tribute on Backstage Pass. Thanks Dan Jones for the terrific use of Steve Jobs’ speech.
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
It took a minute or two but then the App informed us: Cavendish won again. Sagan second. So worth driving down to watch in person!