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.

Stage 11: The Sun Shines

IMG_1914We set out for the “Arrive” in Oyonnax at 8:15 a.m. after a quick VIP Spectator Team photo. We said so long to the couple of dozen Thomson Tour cyclists who were heading out for a full day of climbing. God bless them.

It took several hours to drive to the plastic and comb capitol of France. Oyonnax is not picturesque. It looks like the kind of planned, sterile manufacturing towns that sprang up in the 1960s and 70s.  We had a good lunch and then focused on le Tour. We walked to the VIP area near the finish line.  Gone are the clouds, rain and cool temperatures of the first 10 stages. Today felt like I was home in Davis, California: hot, very hot. 

IMG_1947 IMG_1948Our zany tour guide Jacinta arranged for a “behind the scenes” tour with Valentina. She allowed us to walk out and take photos on the finish line.  We bumped into Greg LeMond and James from Minneapolis had a good conversation with him. She also made sure we got photos from the official VIP photographer and champagne in the viewing area.

IMG_1970 IMG_1979One of my goals was to find out more about the sponsor liaisons or podium girls.  Today was a relatively quiet finish (far fewer spectators) so access to the sponsor liaisons was relatively easy.  One of the PMU green jersey sponsor liaisons, Lisa, spoke English and answered my questions. I asked if it is competitive to become a liaison. She said no, she just applied and had an interview. Later on the bus Kris and Tony joked that they will apply and I added, you also need to be devastatingly beautiful. Tony and Kris laughed and admitted that this took them out of the competition.  (Then there is the gender difference.) Did I mention that they are all very tall?

 Lisa’s colleague is a model but she is not. She started with the Tour when it came to France. She only represents PMU and the green jersey. There are other PMU liaisons because in the 7 stages in France she has only cheek-kissed Peter Sagan twice.  (Sagan has held the green jersey since England.)  Two of her other colleagues presented the jersey today and rocked the Star Trek inspired dresses.  My favorite costumes are definitely the King of the Mountain sponsor Carrefour (French grocery stores)—those infamous red polka dots.

IMG_2016 IMG_2018I always wondered how the podium girls worked. Was it like the Pasadena Rose Parade court?  Or were they local girls?  In George Hincapie’s new book, The Loyal Lieuntenant, he describes meeting his wife on the podium. He felt an electric shock when she kissed his cheek and pursued her in spite of the sponsor’s frowning on relationships between liaisons and riders. She described her experience in his book: “I had done the Tour (and Paris-Nice too) in 2002, and the custom was you got on year as a sponsor liaison and then moved on. (The casting process was quite intense, starting with over eighty girls who were eventually whittled down to only four.) But two weeks before the 2003 Tour, the head of Credit Lyonnais called and said that a couple of the main sponsors had asked if I could come back and take part in another year. It was just fate that I was on that stage…”

IMG_1977 IMG_2060I also enjoyed watching the press zone after the race. They created a kind of cattle chute for the riders to walk through and pause for interviews and photos before heading into the trailer studio for video interviews. No chance for getting signatures.

The inspirational story of the day was Andrew Talansky of Miami, Florida. He deserves a dedicated post. 

Tour de France Contenders

Jens Voigt (photo: Trek)
Jens Voigt (photo: Trek)

As the Grand Depart draws closer (Saturday July 5) and my own departure is next Tuesday (July 1). While most people are caught up in FIFA World Cup drama, I have been reading memoirs by George Hincapie and Mark Cavendish, histories of Tour de France, and predictions of this year’s race.

Bicycling Magazine recently tweeted their 10 contenders to watch, including:

1 Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank)

2. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida)

3. Chris Froome (Team Sky) Defending Champion

4. Michal Kwiatkpwski (Omega Pharma Quick Step)

5. Bauke Mollena (Belkin)

6. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

7. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)

8. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharpe) USA

9. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Beisal)

10. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) USA

Velo News has a more complicated rating system in their Tour de France 2014 Official Guide. To summarize:

PTS           RIDER (TEAM)

39/40         Chris Froome (Team Sky)

38/40        Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank)

37/40        Vincenzo Nibali

33/40        Tejay van Garderen (BMC)

33/40        Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

32/40        Bauke Mollema (Belkin)

31/40       Jurgen Van der Broeck (Lotto-Belisol)

31/40       Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp)

Reading through the route highlights, there are unique challenges to almost every one of the 21 stages. Yorkshire is hilly though the finish at Harrogate will give Mark Cavendish an opportunity to win Stage 1 and the yellow jersey in his home country. Stage 3 will be an exciting finish in London. Stage 5 has cobbles. There are two uphill finishes, and 2 Alpine mountaintop finishes. This is a tour for climbers and only one time trial. I feel bad that Movistar sent Nairo Quintana to Giro D’Italia instead of giving him a chance to move up the podium from second to first. Other fans are disappointed that Froome was chosen over Bradley Wiggins on Team Sky.

This week the Trek Racing Team announced their team for the 2014 Tour de France. It includes my favorite rider Jens Voigt starting his 17th tour (tying George Hincapie’s record). I hope I get to meet him and the other team members (Fabian Cancellara!) in Yorkshire.