Monday, February 27, 2006

Tour of California

I always thought attending a big time bike race would be cool. I was wrong. It was fucking cool. I've been to lots of sporting events in my day. None were as cool as this damn race.

The day started early. I hooked up with a buddy at 8, we tossed our bikes in the back of the car, and hit up the store for a 12er of Silver Bullets (yes, we walked out of the store with two cups of coffee, a bag of ice, and a dozen beers at 8 am. Good times). We hit the base of the Balcolm Canyon climb at 8:30 or so and loaded up the backpacks with beer and water. It turns out climbing a hill that is tough with no extra weight is really tough with 15 extra pounds of liquid moving around on your back. Still, being cyclists and all, we tried to drop each other up the climb. For once, I did the dropping. woot.

The race was coming up the other side of the climb, so we didn't see the crowd until the top. At 9 am, three hours before the race was to come through, it was already crazy. Hundreds of people on the hill. Some in the chamois, some dressed like the grim reaper. We found a place about 200m from the KOM and set up shop.

We saw we had a problem right away. Where the hell were we gonna pee? The mountain was lined with people and there were no trees in sight. This briefly put off our beer drinking. However, in true Euro fashion, we soon said "Screw it. We'll find a place when we need it," and cracked open the first bullet.

The time passed quickly chatting with the other race fans, pointing and laughing at the freds, and trying to find someone with a blackberry that could get reception to give us updates on the race. First highlight of the day: The dude that was rolling up the hills with his shorts ripped to shreds and a nice patch of road rash extending from ass cheek to knee, along with matching patches on his arm and calf. Nice one, buddy.

Right around noon, the cars with lights flashing started coming up the hill. At this time, you could literally feel the energy of the crowd pick up. When we saw the first rider come around the corner at the bottom of the climb, everyone got real quiet, trying to figure out who it was. Given the light blue, we though it was a Gerolsteiner rider (it was), and therefore had to be Levi (it wasn't). As he came up the hill, the sound rose, excitement mounted, and we slowly crept toward the middle of the road.

It turned out to be Sebastian Lang coming up the hill alone. Now I've done that hill many times in my day and consider myself an above average climber, compared to the other racers here in SoCal. I've never seen someone come up that hill with that kind of speed. The crowds noise crescendoed as Lang passed by and we all looked back down the hill, straining to see the next rider.

The next rider turned out to be the peloton, which had stayed together at this point. As they rode up the climb, it started to break up a little bit, as the front of the bunch turned up the heat a bit. You could see the pain on some of the riders' faces as the rode by us. And when I say rode by us, I mean right by us. We could feel the breeze of the riders as they went by. I was surprised that someone didn't knock one of them over as they came up the hill. I was especially glad I didn't knock anyone over - I'm not a huge fan of looking like a total jackass on national TV. I do that enough in my private life. I don't need ESPN broadcasting it.

Soon thereafter, the last rider went through. As quickly as it started with Lang appearing at the base of the climb, it was over. And let me tell you - the three hours plus of waiting was worth every minute. I'll be staking out a place by a KOM for next year's tour as well. Good job Amgen and AEG on the organization of this race. Awesome.


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