Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tour of California - Stage 7

I have been an avid cycling fan for about two years now and I decided it was time to attend my first professional stage race. Luckily, the wonderful people of AEG moved the Tour of California to May and drew an absolutely stunning line up of riders. So I packed my bags and headed off to LA to catch the finals two stages.

The first stage I attended was Stage 7, the individual time trial in LA. I arrived early and had no idea what to expect. I took a quick browse through the "Lifestyle Festival" (read: free stuff) but quickly realized that this was the seventh day in a row that these people had set up their tent, and as I was there an hour and a half before it opened, their grumpiness was understandable. I walked down to the finish line expecting a big crowd of people camping out for the prime spot. I instead found some disappointing news. Unless you were "VIP", you weren't getting any closer than 100m to the finish line. This was made more annoying by the fact that there was a bend in the course just after 50m to go. So I would not be watching the end live.

I grabbed a quick breakfast burrito and some coffee and went back to exploring. I met an awesome dude at the Felt (makers of Garmin-Transitions bikes) tent and chatted for a while about the brand new TT bikes the argyle boys would be riding in the afternoon. I found out he was a former team mechanic and heard some interesting stories about David Millar's finicky bike needs and Tyler Farrar's R-rated rants. He pointed me to the team buses and I headed over to see if I could meet any riders.

After finding the team buses, I learned that time trial days are the worst days to meet riders. Most of the riders I encountered were noticeably nervous and focused on their time trial. I did have the pleasure of chatting with Mike "Meatball" Friedman (Jelly-Belly) a former Garmin rider and Chicagoland native. He had been DQ'ed for drafting a team car the day before, so he had a lot of time to talk. I also had the chance to chat with Steven Cozza (Garmin-Transitions) and his parents. It was fascinating to hear Meatball and Steve chat about "the olden days." I realized that it wasn't that long ago that these guys were working their way up through the amateur ranks that I have recently become familiar with. After an awkward failed attempt to meet Ryder Hesjedal (one of my absolute favorite riders) and Jonathan Vaughters (team director) I decided to go find a spot to watch the time trial.

I ended up finding a prime spot about 150m from the finish line. The problem was, the course was two laps and there was no way to find out riders times. So I was basically watching guys fly by with no idea whether they were finishing or taking another lap; no idea if they were doing well or not; and in many cases I couldn't even tell who the rider was unless it was a national champion (or Fabian Cancellara). I snapped some pictures at a couple of places around the course but got bored of following the race by checking my iPhone, or following just as I would were I at home.

I headed back to the team buses to see if I could see any of the big guns warming up. This was pretty much as unsuccessful as the first attempt to see riders (to give some perspective, Mick Rogers was warming up IN the team bus to avoid people!). I found that the start line was the best place to watch because there was an announcer who kept us up on how people were riding and giving final and intermediate splits.

After all the riders had taken off, I went back up to the finish (or near the finish) and watched Rogers, DZ and Levi finish on the Versus broadcast being shown on a jumbotron on the outside of the ESPNZone. I definitely enjoyed the day but it was a first lesson in the difficulty involved in watching a bike race.

All of my photos and 1 video from Stage 7.

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