We left home about 11:00 for the two and a half hour drive. The drive from Huntington Beach to Big Bear is one of those drives you really look forward to, but only after you get half way there. Driving northeast through the LA basin is always a snore (the 22 to the 57 to the 10 freeways, done it zillions of times), but once you hit the foothills of the San Bernadino Mountains the drive gets quite scenic.
Ian and I last year near Crestline, one of the towns the race went through. The view is west back towards LA.
There are a couple roads up to Big Bear. My problem is that I don't go up there enough where the drive is rote. So I actually got on the wrong road - which was one of the roads that was going to be closed for the race. I had read that part of this road would close sometime after 1:00. It was 12:50. But when I got to the critical junction, things where still wide open. Well, not exactly wide open. There was a car with "Herbalife" logos covering every inch of it's body. This person must be running late getting to the finish line to set up a booth or something, I figured. So I had no idea why they insisted on driving 10 miles an hour in a 40 mile an hour zone. I was number two in line, and soon enough there where at least twenty other cars in my rearview. Herbalife passed at least 10 turn out points. I, and 20 other drivers, where annoyed. You gotta use the turn outs....
You have to love capitalism. It seemed every roadside gas station or country store was advertising parking plus a little extra real estate for your folding chairs for $10. However, these spots where empty. Everyone was finding a wide shoulder and parking there. A couple of spots looked like some pretty raging parties where going on.
We pulled into Big Bear and found parking about a kilometer from the finish. I know it was about a kilometer because we where just past the "Kendra 1K To The Finsh" arch. So Ian and I walked up to the finish from there. It was a long slow climb to the finish. What a complete bum out that the finish was on a hill - these guys have already biked up 12,000 feet. Can't they cut them a break?
During the walk, Ian was telling me how he was going to be a bike racer when he goes to college. That's his new thing - he has grand plans for life, but has decided to hold off on any execution until college. I told him I thought that was a great plan, but he'd have to bike faster than he walks. I didn't know it was possible for any one to walk as slow as he was. I asked him if he wanted a shoulder ride. He told me he was fine, he was counting pine cones.
I said earlier that Yoda came with us. Yoda is Ian's back-pack that you guessed it - looks like Yoda. I don't know about other kids, but Ian will carry anything for about 5 minutes before he passes it to me. So I had Yoda on my back. Any single guys reading this should immediately go out and buy one. It's a great conversation starter. If I was single, I would have been picking up chicks left and right.
The minute we got to the finish line, Ian told me he was starving. So the first order of business was to get lunch. But we made a quick stop at the TV monitors to see how the race was progressing. There was no way I was driving all the way up here to be in line for a $7 cheeseburger when the riders came through. But we had two hours.
Ironically, that $7 cheeseburger was good. It was great in fact. And I noticed everything around the finish area - the vendor village, the official merchandise stand, the BMX sideshow, was a hell of a lot more interesting with only about a 1/3 of the flash and hype as compared to the concourse of a typical sports arena or stadium.
After we ate, we still had some time to kill. And we had a great time doing it. Ian got a t-shirt, I got a hat, and we grabbed as many free stickers and water bottles as we could find. Soon, Yoda was bulging at the seams. And it wasn't hard to get some pretty intense gear envy going - Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, SRAM, and Felt all had booths there.
About 10 minutes from the expected time that the lead riders would come through, I got a call from a member of beginnertriathlete.com that I had shared messages and inspires with, but had never met. She was with her husband and 3 kids about 400 meters down from the finish line and invited us down. Ian and I headed off to meet them.
At the 400 meter mark, I saw a couple with 3 kids. I walked over to them and introduced myself as "Patrick from BT". They gave me a weird look (which gave me a second of pause) but then they saw the backpack. Like I said, that thing is a tremendous conversation piece and soon we where chatting. But they never introduced themselves.
A few minutes later the lead cars and motorcycles came by, someone shouted "here they come!!", and everyone craned their necks down the street to see the riders. However, I must admit the whole thing was a bit anti-climactic. The 12 or so riders in the lead pack blew by us at about 30 miles an hour. It was over in a second, and all I got was this picture:
This is the leaders pack going by about 400 meters from the finish. That's Michael Rogers of HTC Columbia in the yellow leaders jersey first. I'm pretty sure that Levi Leipheimer of Radio Shack is right behind him.
Peter Sagan of Liquigas won the stage. It was his second stage win in as many days.
The word was that the main peleton was still six minutes behind, so I figured it made sense for Ian and I to walk back towards the car and see the rest of the riders come in closer to where we parked. So I turned to the couple and said that I appreciated the phone call and that it was nice to meet them.
The guy answered with "Who are you?". I said "I'm Patrick from BT". He said "What's that?".
So we had attached ourselves to the wrong couple. Great. That's what that weird vibe was all about. I was just a random chatty guy going off about beginner-something-or-other.com with Yoda strapped to my back holding the hand of a kid who's face was smeared with the remnants of a cherry popsicle. I then noticed that the guy was wearing Sketchers shoes. Had I noticed that earlier, this could have all been avoided. Triathletes don't wear Sketchers.
Embarressed, I apologized for crashing their party and Ian and I made a quick egress towards the parking lot. We got back down to the Kendra arch just as more riders came through. Again, it was anticlimactic - fifty or so riders spinning at a leisurely pace chatting and laughing with each other. Not that I am being critical, it actually looked like a good time and they had all just ridden 135 miles after all.
Except for a little bit of traffic getting out of the lot and on to the main street, it was smooth sailing home. Ian fell asleep, and as I drove off the mountain, I was feeling pretty good. Even though the "bike race" came and went in a flash, Ian and I had a great day. Like I've said before, it's more about the journey. Finish lines come and go.
It's the first time I've ever been to an event like this. As a spectator, some sports are TV sports, and some you have to be there. I think cycling is a TV sport. I've been DVR'ing the coverage from Versus every day this week to watch in the evening. The coverage has been great and I've really enjoyed it. That said, I would suggest that the producers ask their commentator Phil Liggett (who is English) to lay off some of the American wild west metaphors next year. I believe the Gold Rush of 1849 was over by the early 1850's, and these days Big Bear is where LA spends their weekends. It's a bit like me going to London and trying to tie everything I saw back to Jack The Ripper, London Bridge, or Stonehenge.
But TV does not convey the anticipation well. And that finish area was buzzing the entire time we where there. I have a feeling pro cycling in America is going to get a bit of a boost as a result of this tour. And though I have not been to a cycling event before, I've been to and worked at plenty of big outdoor concerts. So I know what's what. And this event was run completely professionally despite massive logitsical challenges. Hats off to the producers AEG. It must have sucked for them to refund about a zillion tickets for Michael Jackson's O2 Arena concerts last year, but they have a winner here.