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 de France Finale in Paris

It was a very emotional day: the final stage of the Tour de France. After 21 stages in 23 days I can hardly believe it is actually over. It was also an exhausting and hot day. It took some staying and recovering to appreciate that I was actually on the Champs Elysees watching the last eight laps of the 2014 Tour de France.

IMG_3206My favorite moments were actually trying to snap a picture of the lantern rouge, the only Chinese rider Jl Cheng of Giant Shimano.  At the start of the day he was almost 6 hours behind Vincenzo Nibali. Today he was lapped by the main peloton. Ouch.

We were about 150 feet from the finish line, but it was on the other side of the road so it was only on a distant large screen television that I could see Marcel Kittel just barely beat Andre Greipel. 

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The end of the race was a nice surprise. Much of the crowd stayed and cheered for the riders as they made their way to the team buses. Some even high-fived us as we reached over the barrier. The winner of Stage 19 stopped to speak to his friend. Families helped to celebrate the end. 

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Thomson Bike Tours went on a river cruise. I chose to walk slowly back and see the team buses and savor the last moments of this magnificent event. The Vittel water sponsors were peeling off the logo from the vehicle and I got a section of it. Sounds strange I know, but it looks really cool.

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I paused to see Jens Voigt, Frank Schleck and others at the Trek Racing Team bus. Then I spied Gabe, my Trek Travel guide. It was great to give him a big hug and bring my experience full circle. 

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Now I cannot wait to get the DVD from NBC Sports so I can hear about this year’s tour in English!

Amazing Start at Le Tour Stage 2

Life is great. Such a fabulous day. I have been WhatsApp’ing my friend Ray and I realize that I want to bring you all over with me so we can have even more fun. Sorry this blog is a poor substitute. Today I enjoyed the full benefits of Trek Travel access.  We got the yellow wrist band that gave us access everywhere at the start including the VIP staging area and around the team buses. 

We got there before 8 a.m. because they were going to close roads soon afterward so we had a few minutes waiting for things to get rolling. I saw “the Badger” Bernard Hinault, five time winner of le Tour, walking towards me. I whipped out my flag and pen and boldly asked him to sign. He was very gracious. Score!

The VIP area is interesting. They give away some free stuff and there are opportunities to take goofy fun photos. Some of the team members come in to their sponsors area after signing in and most go back to the buses. 

The buses are where the action is and I was able to see Fabian Cancellara work with his mechanic on his bike. Then Jens came out in the polka-dot jersey for King of the Mountain and he was mobbed by fans and reporters. He handled it all with aplomb signing his autograph and posing in many photos. He made sure to stop and pose for pictures with Tanya (President of Trek Travel) and JB (President of Trek).  

We began walking back to the beautiful horse racetrack where the start was staged in York. There was the injured Mark Cavendish rolling out of the parking lot with his wife driving the Mercedes SUV. He rolled down the window to greet someone and everyone began shouting encouragement and you could see he was feeling very emotional about leaving the tour. 

We all met back at our bus and rode a short distance to the Cedar Court Hotel for another gourmet three course meal. I just had a starter. What I really wanted was a cheese toastie and cup of tomato soup. Then we walked a short distance to the train station and caught the express train to London. 

We are staying at the Athenaeum Hotel in Mayfair. This is the biggest hotel room I have ever had in London. Tempting to just stay in but a caesar salad sounded good. This was our one night when dinner was on our own. I went in search of Chop’d for salad and it was closed. On my way back to get room service I bumped into Jim from the team and we agreed to relive our college days and go to the Hard Rock Cafe.

An hour later Jim, Steve and I were standing in line with all the 20 year olds to put our name in for a table. Two and a half hour wait so we went to the bar where we had a lot of fun remembering our favorite songs from the 70s, 80s and present day (yes I skipped the 90s on purpose). Steve’s mom was a big band singer so he had met a lot of famous musicians. We stayed out late for a night before our last ride. Totally worth it.

Tomorrow we are back on our bikes. I am excited. We get to ride the last part of the course and have VIP access again. 

 

Brilliant Day in Yorkshire

On the eve of the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, Trek Travel gave me a taste of the wicked hills of Yorkshire. 

 

We met below the Timble Inn (excellent ***** accommodation) and got fitted on our bikes. Love the all carbon bike with the new shifting system. Sorry I do not know all the names of the bike model and gear–I am saving that brain space for remembering the names of my fellow riders!

Off we went with our trusty directions and 2 guides, Sam and Gabe.  Ilona was driving the van and she kept reminding us the van was our friend. How true! First she gave me a lift through A59 so I did not have to cope with the traffic whilst going uphill. Then she helped me get the last 3 miles to Grassington so I could eat lunch before 2:30.  It was a long day of hilly climbing. The amazing Yorkshire countryside made the suffering joyful.

Even though there were snacks and drinks galore, I could barely take on water from the heartburn. My fellow rider Laurie thinks it from all the time over our handlebars. We stopped at Boulton Abbey along the way and I met a group of riders near the restrooms who are from all over North America and New Zealand, met on a ride in India, and reunited to ride in Yorkshire and watch the Tour.

We enjoyed Grassington and had a lovely sandwich in a pub next to a table with 2 giant yellow labs and a Schnauzer. The atmosphere was fun from all the cyclists who have come into the County to see the Tour de France. 

We got a lift in the van to the Timble Inn and had time to shower and rest. Then met for our coach to the Trek Racing Team’s hotel in Skipton. Gabe downplayed what we might see since on the eve of the Tour the team had a lot on their minds. We met the team liaison Nathlie and she gave us an opportunity to see the Trek Racing Team vehicles including bike mechanic/kitchen van and the team bus. The German members of the team were watching the Germany-France World Cup game on the big screen at the front of the bus. Thankfully Germany won and there was much cheering. 

The bus is fascinating–a motorhome like interior with every inch cleverly providing some function. Not a lot of comfort though when you think about 12 people are in it when they are on the go.

Then Nathlie arranged a meet and greet for us. WE GOT TO MEET THE ENTIRE TEAM. It was awesome. The staff came too. Afterward the people who spoke with the chef shared that the racers have a calorie count on their computer and it is his job to replace those calories everyday. Sourcing wholesome nutritious food is easy now that he has done it a few times.

We then went to dinner and enjoyed traditional Yorkshire pudding with beef and gravy. Yum. This is not what the team ate. They had quinoa and salmon with lots of vegetables. Jens Voigt was telling us that he will start the race at 4.5 body fat and drop to 3.9 by the end! 

It made us feel better when we heard the racers say Yorkshire is hilly! Even to them.

Then it was off to the the Timble Inn for a much better night’s sleep than I have had since I left the States. Good thing because we have another challenging day of riding ahead to get to our viewing Pub on the course. Cheers!

Meeting Amazing People at Le Tour

I am so weary from riding in the Yorkshire Dales today. Do not underestimate the difficulty of Stage 1 and 2 in the 2014 Tour De France. I rode until my legs went from screaming at me to just laughing, as in “you’ve got to be kidding”.  The hills are steep (some 18% grades today!) and come super fast after a descent, so the winner tomorrow will be really good at shifting gears.

 I brought a California state flag and a sharpie to ask cyclists to sign. I had a short list in my head of who I really want to sign the flag. The top three were Greg Lemond, Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellera. Leaving the Leeds Arena I saw Greg Lemond astride his bike outside! My Trek Travel teammate Sandy and I asked for autographs and and her husband Brian snapped photos. The first US Tour champion, and three time winner was super gracious. It was a thrill to share with him that he is the reason I am a cycling fan.

Last night Bob Roll signed my flag (that is Sandy and Brian posing for a photo with him). Then today I met the entire Trek Racing Team. They signed including Jens and Fabian. My top 3 and the Tour has not yet started! Plus Sandy spotted Alberto Contador in the hotel and he signed. I am elated. Thanks Trek Travel.  Now I am expanding my list: Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Andrew Talansky.

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.