Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tour of California Stage 3, Mt Diablo finish

Once again I was again able to make it to the finish-line, this time atop the legendary (in my own mind anyway) Mt. Diablo. My riding partner for the day ended up having to bail out due to family issues, so I was left to do the climb alone. was just me....and a few thousand of my closest friends who also rode bikes up the mountain.

You see, I had another plan, VERY similar to my Stage 1 plan (which was to drive to Sacramento to see the finish). This plan was to ride to the top to see the finish. There were a few road blocks to my incredibly well-thought out plan though. For one thing, by the time I got to the area, parked my rental car, unloaded my bike, pumped my tires, and donned all my gear, it was high noon. In the hottest day of the year (so far...Wednesday is supposed to be even HOTTER). All I can say is that it was plenty hot.


I'm thinking mid to high 90's from the moment I hit the road. And as the climb progresses, there are continually spots where there was zero breeze, making it feel like I might burst into flames. No clouds either, just bright sun and the few shade spots from tall trees in the right places. Thankfully with my thousands of close friends, there was always people to draft on (cuz that's what you want on a scorching day: someone in front of you blocking any breeze). Actually it was like a continually changing wave of people...some passing me and some being passed by me. There were lots of people really flying up the mountain, and then I'd just keep chunking along (in my granny) and eventually I'd see most of them stopped at one of the big tent complexes that had cropped up on the big turnouts and such. I was the tortoise to the MANY MANY hares. Except for those I passed, in which case I was the hare.
 Here's a shot of me (taken by a very nice fireman on one of the turnouts) looking up at the top. I'd guess I'm about half way at this point. Sure glad I opted for my white 'Fatty' jersey...wearing a dark one would have felt horribly hot.

 There were port-O-potties on the side of the road every so often, which is a nice touch for all the scads of people. Many rode only part way up and then quickly settled into a shady spot with chairs and whatever else that they had carried. Cars weren't allowed past the lower slopes, so it was all bikes and hikers. But some had obviously gotten there before the barricades as there were trailers and such all over the place.

One thing I learned about the Diablo climb: it starts of easy and just gets steeper and steeper as you go, the hairpin turns looking very similar to the high mountain climbs of France we see every year in July. At 2k left to climb a huge part of my plan was shattered when I found out that we mere peasants wouldn't be allowed to ride all the way, we had to check our bikes there and walk if we wanted to go higher. So I did. You see, on a stroke of pure genius, I swapped pedals and shoes before I left with my Mt I had shoes with tread and cleats that are I could actually walk in them. I would have destroyed my road cleats with 2k of pavement walking. I'd almost brought a backpack with tennis shoes or sandals, but decided against it as I didn't want to carry that on my back in what was sure to be a very hot day (good call on my part I must say!). So I parked my bike, grabbed my Garmin and my water bottle, and set out for the summit.

 This is a shot looking back at the bike check station for us peasants. The elite had a bike check station just short of the summit, I think around the 300meter point.

 Here's looking back at the 1k kite that they were in the process of inflating when I walked by.

 As I neared the summit I found out another chink in my evil plan: lowly peasants are not allowed past the finish line (or actually even about 30' or so from it on the downhill side). Man, it sucks being a peasant! You had to be a VIP to ride your bike to the top (or get a free ride in busses and such), and go past the finish, and then sit in luxury tents being schmoozed/wined and dined and such (while I sat huddled behind the barricade about 50' from the line in the blistering sun with nothing to drink for about 2 hours, trying to get in any small amount of shade I could find without losing my spot). About the last three or four hundred meters there were full barricades on one side of the road only.We were only allowed to be on the steep down of the road, leaving us about 2' of walking width (past that you fall off the mountain).  I clawed my way past all the people guarding their spots up that last few hundred meters until I got as close to the finish as I could, then sat down in the hot dirt/gravel and sipped the very last of my water. Then the long wait for the peleton began. And they were running late as it was very hot for them out on the course too.

 Here I am at my awesome spot on the finish. The distance isn't as far as it looks, maybe 50' or so. Did I mention it was HOT out?

And FINALLY the riders were nearing the finish. We had race commentary for most of the climb, and now you can see the switchback below us as the lead group fights for the win. You can barely make out the yellow jersey of Wiggens leading the group around the switchback.

 About 30 meters from the line, Rohan Dennis of Garmin Sharp being chased to the finish by a small group.

 And there you have it, Rohan Dennis from Garimin Sharp won the day, closely followed by Tiago Machado  from NetApp-Endura finishing second. 

The last 100 meters or so are QUITE steep, and pretty much all the riders were really groaning and grinding just to get over the line. During the commentary the announcer had mentioned that the leaders were climbing at around 17mph! I'd guess the average grade of the climb was around 8 to 10%. I know I was barely holding 8mph average (if even that) on my climb. AND I didn't even get to do the final 2k (and steepest part). I will surely have to come back and do the ENTIRE climb one day when it's NOT so freaking hot out. It appears to be a GREAT climb with really good road conditions. I was amazed at how fast they came up, especially considering the long stage and the heat. VERY IMPRESSIVE to say the least.

 Here's Sir Bradly Wiggens just about to finish (he almost slipped by me in all the excitement). He had a pretty good day, especially considering he was isolated on the mountain for a good while and still kept his yellow.

After the leaders had came across others were filtering up in small groups, as the peleton had been totally demolished by the heat and tempo. Here's the crowd favorite Jens nearing the top (wearing black on the left).

And there you have it...that was pretty much my excitement for the day. I had to claw my way back DOWN to the bike check station, descend to my car (with a heat/dehydration headache creeping in on me rather quickly), THEN jump in traffic and drive the 39 or so miles back to my hotel for a shower, dinner, and then a mere 2 hour snooze (which is why I'm just NOW updating the post on Wednesday morning...I just got off work an hour ago).

Today they start in Monterey, but I won't be making that one...I'll be SNOOZING. It was a rather long shift last night as I didn't get more than 5 hours total sleep yesterday. But hey...that's the price I'm willing to pay to be your roving Stage  reporter!

So that ends my Tour of California experience for this year. Sadly I will miss them as they ride almost through my back yard on Thursday, as they pass THRU Santa Maria on their way from Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara. But catching 2 finishes was pretty cool so I'm not complaining. And I didn't even have to take vacation...I just had to sacrifice sleepy-time!

And with that I sign off for the 2014 Tour of California. Have a great week watching the daily coverage (I can't see that until I get home, as it's on my DVR). 

Later gaters!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tour of California, Stage 1 Sacramento

Yes sports fans, TODAY pro cycling once again reared it's awesome head here in the land of rebels! And I was blessed to be able to BE there to witness a few brief seconds with my own eyes!

My Sunday began just 2.5 hours after yesterday ended (which was around 7am, after I  had gobbled down a quick breakfast a mere 15 minutes after getting off work at 6:30am, where-after I soundly and decisively hit the sheets for a very few winks). The alarm went off at 9:30am SHARP, and I assuredly emitted an audible groan. But I crawled out of bed pronto, because YES, TODAY is TOC day! And the opening stage at that!

I splashed water on my face, heated up the cup of joe I had liberated at breakfast, gathered my goods and jumped in the rental car, pointing it north (or east, somewhere in that general direction). You see, I had a plan. My plan was to go watch the stage. That was the entirety of my plan. I had done a tiny bit of prep-work...I had a printed copy of the days route. That was it. I had NO idea where I was going to be, or how to get there other than to go to Sacramento.

Turns out there is a LOT of traffic heading in that same direction, even on a Sunday morning. I guess the Bay area and the LA area have a lot in common: WAY too many people and not nearly enough lanes on the highways. There were some rough spots (especially going from the 880N to the actually leave freeway and go thru stoplights! I was backed up a mile or more from the exit, watching the assholes continually zoom right up to 12' from the off-ramp and blast into a tiny hole left by an inattentive driver! THAT really gets my goat...and I can assure you, NOBODY gets in front of me...they can sit out there in the lane and get rear ended as far as I'm concerned...they need to learn to wait their turn! (I should be in charge of traffic enforcement...there'd be BIG changes I can assure you!)

Anyway, a little over 2 hours later I had covered the 115 miles from San Jose to Sacramento, had driven around the Capitol area and finally found a place to park that was only about 8 or 10 blocks from the start/finish line. In all due fairness, my tomtom navigator got me there, which I lovingly call "Homer" (because I've downloaded his voice,  which I find quite humorous as Homer tells me where to go). I made a BEELINE for the start finish area as I had some very important business to attend to in Port-O-let row. After that MOST important business I wandered around the tents and team buses like I hadn't a care in the world. Many of the lady racers were lounging around as they had just finished their race (a crit of something around 8 laps of the city-circuit the pro's were going to do just 3 times).  Those ladies look QUITE FIT I can assure you. QUITE. FIT. Oh, note here: the race started at 10:40am, but I had correctly concluded that there was NO WAY I was going to see both the start AND the end, as I actually need to get a LITTLE sleep today (I work again tonight, and every night that I'm up here btw). So I opted for a nice morning nap, and hopefully 2 or so hours tonight. All part of my 'plan'.

Here's my view down 'bus row' looking back towards the State Capitol building.

After wandering around for a while (and remarkably procuring absolutly NO schwag whatsoever) I made my way across the course and found a good spot just about 50 feet or so from the finish line.

 Yours truly at the beginning and end of Stage 1

At 2pm sharp they FINALLY turned on the jumbotron so we could see what was happening out on the road. Of course there wasn't any announcement, just LOUD music for the next half hour or so. Finally the local announcers started to give us play by play details and life was good. One thing I want to point out: it was WINDY today. W.I.N.D.Y. And up here it's FLAT. That's F.L.A.T. Due East the wind was howling as I was getting broadsided by it on the drive up the 80. So I knew those poor devils were getting hammered by the crosswind at some points. They even told us there was a peleton split due to the wind, and Sagan had missed the break and had his team chasing furiously as we watched that part of the action. Finally they were into Sacramento proper, there was ONE DUDE holding out as they passed the finish and began circuit 1.

 This is that ONE DUDE.

And this was about 10 seconds behind ONE DUDE. Maybe less.

 Here is ONE DUDE yet again, still fending off the mob at the end of circuit 1!

And here is the 'mob'. Lots of green up there!

The end of circuit 2. The 'mob' is nipping at ONE DUDE's heels. ONE DUDE is whipped. One more lap to go. NOW it gets exciting!

I only managed to take ONE picture of the melee at the finish....keep in mind this is MAYBE 50' from the line. I think it's a pretty good one. And to be quite honest, I still don't know who won! The jumbotron showed it over and over as a photo finish, and the announcers were salivating and booming, and I couldn't understand a WORD over the roar of the crowd.

But it was QUITE EXCITING! And I had more business to attend to, as I had been standing for about 2 hours guarding my spot on the finishing straight, AND I had over a 2 hour drive (going home there was BOUND to be more traffic, and there was). So knowing I wouldn't get to see much of the final ceremony anyway (being one of the lowly NON VIP people, meaning I wouldn't even get a VIEW of the stage anyway) I bolted for Port-O-let row and then my car. I figured I'd look it up tonight in a quite moment (if I get any) at work.

I really like that last shot...and to be even more quite honest, I was holding my camera up over my head out in the road and pushed the button, having NO idea what I'd taken. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. Oh, and I did manage to score a "Green Machine" towel from a Canondale guy handing them out as we stood waiting for the peleton's arrival. schwag-free streak was broken. Only Mr. Green Machine didn't win, that I DO know. I believe that's him just behind Cav (or could be the other guy). Better luck next time Peter.

And there you have stage 1 recap/report. I now MUST get some sleep-time...If I can fall asleep in the next 3 minutes I'll get 2 more hours, to add to my 2.5 from this morning. Maybe I'll rethink the 'ride' thing tomorrow. Oh yeah...I must tell you, I have decided against trying to go to Folsom for the ITT tomorrow. Folsom is a half-hour past Sacramento, and it's no longer a weekend. Meaning when I'd leave Folsom I'd be in business traffic unable to use the carpool lanes. I'd guess my 2.5 hour trip (on paper) would then take me at least 3.5 to 4. That will not do. So my next report will be from Stage 3, San Jose to Mt Diablo (I am planning on riding my bike up Diablo and being there at the finish again). 

With that I will sign off until Tuesday. Good night Gracie!

Update: I peeked in today at Velo News online (Monday) to read about everything I was missing, and  saw this picture from the finish, and you can barely see ME in this shot...I've copied and pasted the pic after editing it in photoshop to show my awesome spot at the finish it is!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pro racing comes home!

Well...the Tour of California starts on SUNDAY!! I'm on travel (again) up in Sunnyvale (San Jose) and the first three stages are up north. Stage one starts in Sacramento, which is about 1.5 to 2 hours north for me, not counting any horrific traffic that I could encounter. I plan on being there, somewhere. I'm pretty excited to finally kick off cycling season in person...sure, it's been going on for a few months now, but that's a few THOUSAND miles away, and between working and riding and family time, I don't see ANY of it so it's not real. But THIS...being there to FEEL the vibe and see the racers, THAT is what racing season is all about for me!

Then on Tuesday is stage 2, which is an Individual Time Trial in Folsom, which looks to be about a half-hour on the other side of Sacramento. I plan to be there also, somewhere on the route (I know NOTHING about the route or Folsom, so much like Sacramento, I'll figure that part out when I get there.

Wednesday is a great stage with the start right here in San Jose, goes up/over Mt. Hamilton, and finishes up north atop Mt. Diablo (which I've not yet climbed). I'm thinking of riding up Mt. Diablo to be there for the finish. Of course, for all these stages I need to consider what time I can get back to my hotel to catch some sleep before heading in for my graveyard shift every night. Traffic up here is much like any big city I gridlock starts happening around 3pm and goes until after 6.

Stage 4 starts in Monterey and heads south, but being as it's a 1-way stage I doubt I'll head down there just to watch them zing by on their way to Cambria. I'll likely be out on my own bike after missing 3 days in a row for the first 3 stages.

The weather forecast is rain (at least for now) which we've had in the past. This week has been somewhat cool as compared to last week when we had the crazy wind shift and the hot air from the Mojave blasted the entire half of California with temps in the mid 90's. It's been hovering around 70 so far this week (I arrived on Monday)...which is actually pretty perfect for riding. I got out yesterday for a nice Mt bike ride on my favorite loop, and today I was took a rest day and did some general running around. Tomorrow is road ride day, and I'll head back up Skyline Rd for another favorite loop thru the redwoods.

Well, it's time I caught a few more hours of sleep....working night shift and being busy in the day means I only get a few hours of sleep in the morning, and then a few more in the evening. It's crazy but it least for the short time I'm up here (I'll be here 3 weeks this trip, leave for home the day after Memorial day).

Have a great week!


(ooh...I'd be remiss to NOT mention that the Giro starts on FRIDAY!! It's got a great field as it usually does, and starting in Belfast Ireland is a very unusual beginning).