Monday, May 23, 2011

Tour Of California - The Report

Ian just before the start
For those of you who caught my post from Friday, you know that Ian and I where going to do a "guys weekend" around stage 8 of the Amgen Tour of California.  Save for the pool at the hotel being closed, pretty much everything went according to plan.

We pulled up to the hotel in Santa Clarita at 6:00 PM as predicted.  However, one of the first things I noticed when we were walking through parking lot was the yellow "Caution - Do Not Cross" tape wrapped around the pool gate.  Further inspection revealed the pool to be completely empty of water.  Suffice to say, things were not looking good for a swim.  Fortunately, Ian's deductive powers are not yet quite as honed as mine, and all he said was "Cool, there's the pool..." as we walked by.  At least I could pick the time and place to break the bad news, or so I thought.

We checked in and went to the room.  But the second the bag hit the floor Ian was in it looking for his bathing suit and squirt gun.  So it turned out that time was not on my side and I now had to break the news about the pool.  His reaction?  Slight disappointment bordering on indifference.  It turns out that he was more interested in playing with the squirt gun.  To him, going to the pool was more a matter of convenience than anything else.  He asked if he could take a bath and play in there instead.  The problem was solved.  He even made a half-hearted attempt to use the soap at one point.

For the rest of the evening we got some dinner, watched some TV and played a few games.  Ian fell asleep and I wasn't too far behind him.

This morning, we got up and had breakfast.  Ian was very impressed by the self service waffle maker, but not the actual waffles.  Around 10:00 AM we headed across town to the race start where we met up with Craig, who had just driven up from Huntington Beach.  With a noon start, it was still pretty quiet so we spent a good hour walking around the team stage area ogling over all the team bikes: 

BMC Pro Team/BMC

Ben King's Trek (Radio Shack)
Team Sky/Pinarello.  Note the Rabobank foam finger.
 By 11:30 most of the riders had come out of their buses.  We saw Peter Sagan from Liquigas, Andy Schleck from Leopard Trek, Levi Leipheimer from Team Radioshack and Johan Van Summeren from Garmin Cervelo.  You might be reading this thinking that I'm coming across a bit star struck.  If so, you'd be right.  Though I can't say I've been a cycling fan for too long, I've gotten really into it.  And there's something to be said about finding a thrill like this again - it's been years since it happened last, and I forgot how awesome it can be.  Ian was having a great time too.  He had managed to get his hands on a pair of thunder-sticks, was using them as dual sabres in a fight against imaginary pirates and had just caught the attention of an Italian TV crew about the time I was trying to get a picture of Andy Schleck.

The race went off right on time.  A cycling race is quite a large production.  First there are the lead cars.  Then at least 20 motorcycles carrying the TV crew and photographers roll by.  The riders are next, and then the race officials, the team cars, the medical staff & ambulances and the neutral service vehicles.  Finally there is the "broom wagon", which is a van that drives behind the race to pick up any riders who abandon.  I happened to walk by the broom wagon while it was being loaded up with cookies and sodas.  Let's just say I'm seriously surprised that more riders don't drop out.

Once the race pulled out, it was time to jump back in the car and head to Thousand Oaks.  Even with a lunch stop, it was a quick drive.  But once we got to Thousand Oaks the road closings kicked in and things got super confusing fast.  I found a parking space that I thought was pretty close to the finish line and we started walking.  But then I was surprised to hear the helicopter.  This meant that the race was close.  And even though the last 25 miles of the race consisted of 5 laps around Thousand Oaks, I was shocked that the peleton was already in town.

Last lap, 3 km to go...
We were maybe a half mile from the finish line when the first riders came through.  It was a 4 man break away that had about a two and a half minute gap on the main field.  We stopped walking to watch for the rest of the peleton.  As the passed it made complete sense why they had gotten into town so quickly - they were stretched out single file and flying.  There was no way that the break was staying out much longer.

By the time everyone came around for the second lap, we had found a nice spot to watch near the finish line.  Sure enough, the gap between the break had lost some time and the peleton was still moving fast.

This is where we stayed for the rest of the race.  A couple of riders managed to bridge over to the break during the 3rd lap, but within the last 3 miles or so of the race, the field came together.  Matt Goss from HTC Highroad won the stage in a field sprint.

Craig had driven over from Santa Clarita too but we didn't hook up with him again until after the race was over.  When we did, we walked around the expo together for a few minutes before Ian and I left Craig as he was digging through stacks of "five-pairs-for-twenty-dollars" socks to go look at the event merchandise.  The selction was pretty much picked through by this point, but I found a half decent t-shirt and Ian decided he wanted another foam finger "because it was yellow".  Since one of the shop workers was ringing the crap out of a cowbell shouting that everything was 40% off, I figured another foam finger was fine.

But because of the guy ringing the crap out of a cowbell and shouting, I failed to hear the cashier in the line I got into say that his was a cash only line.  When I got to the front of the line I had a problem - no cash.  So I could either give up and ditch my stuff, go to the end of the correct line or try a Hail Mary pass.  I went for the Hail Mary pass, which was to argue that the "douchebag with the bell" had made it impossible to hear that this was a cash only line.  But as the "douche" in "douchebag" escaped my lips, I immediately feared that I was making a huge tactical error.  Irate customers making personal attacks against shop employees this late into the event would no doubt be treated with little empathy.  But miraculously, the cashier started laughing.  And as if on cue, the woman behind me chimed in to say that she didn't have any cash either, nor was she aware that this was a cash only line.  Magically, the line started taking credit cards.  A win for the little people.

With the United Healthcare team
So we paid for our stuff, walked back to the car and started to drive home.  Ian was asleep by the time we hit the freeway and we were home 90 minutes later.  It was a really nice trip for the both of us, and cool (as usual) to hang out with Craig.  It was also great to see such a big turn out.  And it wasn't just cyclists - there were all sorts of people there.  I heard tons of animated chatter like "look how fast the guy in the orange shirt is going" or "all that guy has to do is pedal faster and he's got it!" - In other words, genuine excitement by people that are perhaps new to the sport.

All in all, I think that AEG (who owns the tour) is doing a pretty good job of turning the Tour Of California into a highlight of the international cycling schedule.  That said, I'm not sure the expected the crowds they got and as such the fan experience infrastructure seemed a little stretched (toilets, foot traffic flow, food & beverage).  Hopefully, they noticed that too and will sort it out for next year.


The Green Girl said...

I'm glad a crisis was averted when the pool was closed.

Sounds like Ian had a pretty good time - I'm glad since it sounds like you had an awesome time.

Nice shot of you guys with the United Healthcare team!

KovasP said...

Love that Ian still carries teddy bear around and really impressed that he didn't have a meltdown when no pool was available! Even if he never gets into cycling, you're exposing him to some great things.

Jennifer said...

Has the kid asked for a bike yet?

Lucas R. Tucker said...

sounds like an epic, fun weekend. Sounds like Ian was goign to make his own fun regardless.

Tri4Success said...

Needing another foam finger because it's yellow? Definitely something my youngest would do. That's how I ended up putting nice locking grips on a 16" bike ..... because they were yellow. Sounds like a great weekend. I would've loved to have been there or at Ironman Texas. Alas, I was at neither.

Anonymous said...

So, if I start the Tour and drop out on Day 1, can I ride in the Broom Wagon the rest of the time?

TRI714 said...

Good times for sure.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great time Patrick - young Ian is going to grow up and one day thanks his old man for introducing him to a pretty cool lifestyle!

XLMIC said...

So getting him TWO foam fingers definitely redeemed you for the "no Hohos" policy. You should definitely shoot some video at the next would be really awesome to see those guys pedaling so fast and whizzing by and hear all the screaming!

While I like the pictures of the lined-up bikes, Ian with the first foam finger and teddy bear is my favorite... I agree with Kovas :)


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