Tour of California Part II - The Race

Stage 6

For our first day, we caught stage 6; the mountain stage of the 8-day race, which combined a bunch of big climbs with the culminating climb up to Big Bear Lake for the finish. After our adventure in simply getting there, we met up with Tim & Kirsty (and their dog, Tana) at the highest point of the race, Dawson's Saddle, at 7900 feet. Luckily they had lots of food with them as we didn't stop for any supplies for the day, so they fed us and we caught up on some visiting while waiting for the peloton. Next to us on the road was a rowdy group of super-fans, some sporting nothing but speedos or lifting their kilts as people would go by. There were lots of cyclists riding the climb; Kirsty rode it earlier that day and took the honour of being first girl to the top. The atmosphere was like a carnival, and we had a total blast hanging out in the sun.

Our spot for the day, looking down on the course.
Yes, there's snow in southern CA at 8000 feet!

We were there for maybe an hour when the caravan went by, announcing a lead group of 5 with the peloton chasing. The speedo guys were warmed up and ready, and as the lead group went by we all went crazy. Jason disappeared and came back a few minutes later, turns out he got swept up in the excitement and became a "runner", running along next to the riders for quite a ways. He did it every time a group went by.

Lead group - including Andy Schleck! - going by.

Jason (in green) running with the racers (thanks Tim for the pic).

The race went by pretty quickly in hindsight, and then we were all packing up and heading down the mountain. We said goodbye to Tim & Kirsty as they headed back home to Encinitas, and we headed to the town of Westlake Village, which was where the race would finish in two more days, and be our home base for the next three nights.

Our rowdy super-fan neighbours on the course.

Stage 7

The next day was a time trial through downtown LA. It started and finished at LA Live, home of the Staples Center, and it was pretty cool wandering around such hallowed ground. Twenty-five years ago I was a big Lakers fan, and even though I don't watch basketball much anymore, I still have a spot in my heart for the LA team and they remind me of my high school years.

The setting for the TT was a bit strange. One end was LA Live, some high-end restaurants that are popular with celebs, and the massive convention center. The other end was bleak streets and burned-out buildings. Quite the juxtaposition. We wandered around for a while during the earlier riders, checked out the start ramp, finish, and expo, and then staked out a good spot for when the big guns were coming through. The course had people over it's whole length, which must be a nice touch for the racers.

One thing the event didn't really have was many food vendors, and while there were a lot of restaurants, we just wanted to grab a sandwich or something and eat on the street as the race went by. We wandered around for about a half hour, and finally found a Subway. Problem was, they had run out of bread! They must not have anticipated the crowds that day, and it didn't go over well with the guy in line in front of us. When he found out he wasn't going to get his footlong, he demanded to speak to the manager. Seriously. Did he think there was a secret bread stash in the back or something, perhaps for their elite customers? There was some confusion as the manager wasn't there, he was kicking up a big fuss, and the poor employees behind the counter had no idea what to do with this guy. He decided his next move would be to alert the police of what was obviously a heinous crime, no bread at Subway. Wow. You read about people that stupid, and believe me, I have met some dimwits in my time, but come on dude. Buy some chips and be on your way.

Back on the street, it was time for the leaders and we had a great spot. Being sent out two minutes apart on a two-loop course, there was always someone going by and someone to holler encouragement for. It was hard to believe how fast they flew by. But soon our day was done, and back to our hotel to relax.

Levi Leipheimer on the TT course.

Race leader Michael Rogers tearing it up.

Stage 8

Our day started with an early-morning run and then brunch at Duke's on the beach in Malibu. The race was doing a 3-lap circuit through the Santa Monica mountains, through Westlake Village around over Mulholland Drive. There was one climb for the day, and that's where we stationed ourselves for the first lap. Once again spectators were out in force, and it was a party on the streets. Mark Cavendish and another team-mate who had dropped out of the race were out for a ride, and they got as many cheers as when the peloton went by. After the first lap, we ran a couple kilometers back to our car, and headed back to Westlake Village. We caught the second lap going through there, then positioned ourselves right at the finish line with a wicked view.

HTC-Columbia gorilla.

Cav and team-mate out for a Sunday ride.

Peloton with Ryder at the front.

The atmosphere was electric at the finish (yes, I know it's a cliche but it's oh so true!), and everyone followed along on the big screen as the racers were completing their last lap. There was a lead group, a chase group with the leaders, and then the peloton. Super exciting as we watched Ryder Hesjedal (a local Victoria boy who's made the big leagues, big time) bridge up to the lead group with only a couple km's to go. The crowd was cheering for George Hincapie, but Jason screamed our heads off for Ryder as they raced down the finish chute, and sure enough, Ryder took the stage! It was so awesome to see that, and see how much he's improved. He's at the top now and it will be great to see what he does over the next couple of years. Then the race leaders, then the peloton, then a few stragglers one by one.

Finish line.

We had such a fun time, and I can't believe how quickly the three days went by. Each stage was so different from each other and so fun, we definitely made the right choice in coming down to LA for the weekend. I can't wait for next year and hopefully it will fall on another holiday weekend for us!

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