Yes, I’m a newbie. Apologies in advance for the length. I had this sitting around, so I thought…what the heck? Why not join the blogosphere?
OK, since I’m a film buff accustomed to writing scripts for my video reviews, I’ll start with a quick imdb.com-style listing of the ‘cast of characters’ that took this 6-day journey together. First, there’s me: Andy. As I mentioned, I’m the guy you see in the videos on http://www.competitivecyclist.com, and on our YouTube channel. Hey there. Howyadoin?
Next, we have my lovely wife, Sarah, who after 6 rainy days of race watching and road-tripping with four bike shop dudes has decided that she’s gotta have a road bike. As the ladies from her favorite show would say: WHOOO HOOO!
Next we have Steve “Seve” Bobush (“Seve” played a LOT of golf in college). He’s a BMC Product Manager, and our intrepid host/driver/tour guide. We were attending the race as guests of BMC and Assos, and they couldn’t have sent a better ambassador for their brands. From the opening Prologue in Sacramento, all the way to stage 3 in San Jose, Seve always managed to keep us moving in the right direction. And, since he’d been there before he knew where all the great restaurants were hiding along the way.
We were also graced by the company of my friend Jeremy Dunn, the writer / photog /editor of Embrocation Cycling Journal and blog, and a member of the Rapha Continental team. He had just finished riding the ToC route with 7 other hammerheads from the Continental team (they rode 700 miles in 6 days, and averaged about 17mph) and, he did it on a steel Sachs road bike. Geez. Those guys DEFINE the word epic, for sure. He’s also a hard core foodie, a film buff (neither of us can bear the wait for Watchmen), and loves greasing up his legs with the latest liniments from back home. Oh, and he’s not afraid to poke a little fun at the almighty LA, as you can tell.
And, finally, the most colorful character of all: Jon Heder Napolean Dynamite Rock Lobster Brock Webster from Orange Peel bikes in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. As you can see from the photo, Brock LOVES his BMC bikes. Fo’ real.
All kidding aside, Brock’s a devoted family man and an astute business owner who’s been around the sport for years. He’s also an all-around nice guy with a spare bedroom and a fleet of BMC demo bikes in one of the most beautiful places on earth. In addition to his sweet maneuvers on the dance floor, he rode with the likes of Sir Lance and Brooklyn George at the Olympic Training Center back in the day, and literally grew up on the track in T-Town with Marty Nothstein.
Now, a lot of guys will tell you “I raced with Lance when he was a junior in Texas”, or “Yeah, I remember when Bobby J and me lapped the field in our local crit…” But Brock is for real. How do I know? Well – his dad still owns a Dodge van with a stain from Big Marty’s chainring on one of the back seats. When Marty won the gold in Sydney, Brock’s dad called Marty to say how proud he was that the stain was from Marty’s bike…and, that it was still there all these years later.
Brock’s also well versed in one of the oldest-school wet weather riding remedies ever invented. The torrential rain in California had us all talking about our own methods for staying dry on the wet days (mine? Stay inside!), and we talked about rubber gloves and duct tape literally two days before we saw TJ on the line in San Jose with his very own Livestrong tribute.
So, now that you have a picture of the cast – let’s talk setting. Sunny California, right? WRONG. Wet, cold California. Not what we were expecting, to say the least. We arrived in cloudy San Francisco around 2 on Friday the 13th, and Seve picked us up in the 15-passenger rent-a-van for the trek south to Palo Alto (we had to dump two of the van’s seats at a local shop to make room for 4 bikes, gear, and luggage).
As a side note, if you’re traveling via air with your bike, you absolutely MUST own a Tri All 3 Sports Velo Safe Pro-Series Custom Road Bicycle Case. It’s got four wheels and stays upright when you’re pulling it from car to ticket counter to x-ray station to oversize baggage drop off. And, if the gorillas working in baggage handling at your local airport throw it on the baggage claim carousel (like the goombahs at the Little Rock Airport did), rest assured that your bike will still be in one pristine and unharmed piece inside. I nearly sh*t a brick when I saw the case tumble onto the carousel in Little Rock after we got home, but when I opened the case to survey the damage my beautiful R3 and 404’s were completely unscathed.
Okay, flash back to California. Palo Alto, to be exact. And…ACTION!
The second we stepped out of the van, it started raining. It feels like it didn’t stop for days (because it didn’t). We did manage to catch a lucky break at the prologue in Sacramento – it was chilly and cloudy, but dry enough for tons of fans to come out and watch the riders fly around the California State Capitol at full speed. If you look closely at this picture you can actually see The Governator bench-pressing the Team Ouch bus.
Since BMC was hosting us on this little excursion, our man Seve managed to get me and Jeremy a seat in the BMC team’s follow car. If I’m honest, I was giddy. On the list of top 3 highlights of the trip, this was #2 . I tried to play it cool when I sat down in the car, but I’m sure they knew I was literally exploding with glee on the inside. Nobody wants to be ‘that guy’; you know – the typical fanboy, but – come on – for a bike geek like me, it was a like being in the huddle with Ben Roethlisberger at the Superbowl. For posterity’s sake I took a shoddy video with my digital camera, but it does the ride NO justice. The rider we followed, Ian McKissick, was dropping us in the corners, and the fans were lined up 3 deep around the entire circuit screaming their heads off. As we flew around the course, I thought to myself that clanging cowbell + the Doppler Effect is perhaps one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard. That, and the squealing tires of our Volvo wagon trying to keep up with Ian as he sliced through the corners at speed.
After the joyride, I was one of a hundred or so eyewitnesses to yet another Kodak Moment by our favorite team. Yes, this is my Garmin story. Check out this pic. First, the *ahem* “gentleman” driving the Garmin car got 2 riders ahead in the line up for the prologue follow. THEN, when he was trying to get out of the way, he backed into that pretty burgundy BMW motorcycle (just behind him on the passenger side), and knocked it to the ground with the rider on board. The motorcycle rider was fine – it merely tumped over his bike – but to make matters worse the Garmin guy hauled ass like it never happened once his rider flew by. We collectively decided we’d say Vaughters was driving, even though he wasn’t.
Oh, Garmin. How do we love thee…let me count the ways…
Speaking of love/hate: I’m not sure if you knew this, but Lance Armstrong has returned to bike racing. Yes, It’s true and yes, I’m being a little trite…HOWEVER – I AM glad to see him back – he’s energized our industry, and done wonders for the fight against cancer through the Livestrong foundation (my own sister’s a survivor).
I’m admittedly a long time fan of the guy, but I’m not as rabid as some. Why do I mention this? Because I’ve never seen such a response to a cyclist, ever. Here’s what I mean:
I’ve got a good buddy that’s in the music business, and he took me to the Grammys in 2004. We were on row 8 right next to Sarah McLachlan and right behind Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. On the way in, because my friend’s band was nominated for 5 awards, we actually walked the famed Red Carpet. Dave Matthews was in front of us, and Sting and Trudy walked in behind us. The crowd was going ballistic (for them, not so much for us…we looked like a couple of out-of-place lawyers). The paps were running after Dave and Sting like crazed lunatics. It was all quite surreal…
…and, that’s EXACTLY what we saw at the Prologue when Lance came out of the Astana trailer…
The team buses were lined up around a city block in downtown Sacramento, and we were cruising the streets like innocent tourists, checking out gear and gawking at pros. As we rounded the last corner of the block on our way to the start, we passed the BMC boys and several other teams cooling down on their trainers. (how cool is that Swiss Champ Racemaster, by the way?)
At this point, there were no crowds, there was no fanfare – you could literally walk right up and chat with the guys while they were spinning. Naturally, the Astana bus was the last in line and thus closest to the starting line – about a half block away from it, in fact. Quite by chance, we walked by that bus at the exact second Lance hit the street.
At that moment…it was sheer pandemonium!
There were about 200 people surrounding the bus, and ALL of them ran, yes RAN, en masse, alongside Lance as he pedaled to the start house. In that moment, I must admit that I was quite proud to be a cyclist, and happy to see that we finally got our very own rock star.
Speaking of Rock stars, let’s talk about the finish of stage 1, my #1 highlight from the trip.
It was raining like hell in Santa Rosa. We all got up for breakfast, and managed to sneak in a quick rain-soaked ride through a beautiful mid-century neighborhood in the hills before heading downtown for the finish. Sarah and I found a creperie about a block from the action; Seve, Brock, and Jeremy soldiered on and found a pub a few blocks away. I dashed out to the finish line to check the jumbotron every 20 minutes or so, and once the breakaway had Santa Rosa in sight, I picked a spot with a perfect view of both the finish and the big ass TV so I could follow the action once the boys hit the circuit for the final 3 laps.
Once I settled into my prime viewing spot, there he was. Jose Mancebo. All alone and completely drenched at the end of a 40 mile solo breakaway. He managed to hold off the chase group before he got to downtown, and when he crossed the line the first time, the soaked-to-the-bone diehard fans (including myself) went crazy. I could swear he looked at the crowd and flashed a big smile when he crossed the line – maybe he was just grimacing and looking over his shoulder to try to gauge his lead – maybe not. Either way, you could cut the tension with a knife as we all watched the clock and waited for the chase group to come through.
And come through they did. Fortunately, for little Jose, the gap was huge. Three minutes. Then, with 1 lap to go Mancebo flew by us again. Only, this time two riders: Van De Walle from Quick Step and Nibali from Liquigas crossed the line right on his heels, and chasing like mad. The pack came through about a minute later. We (me and the other hard core fans) were all silent. A corner or two later the three leaders were all together with over a minute on the field. We watched as first Nibali attacked, and then Van De Walle. Mancebo, miraculously, managed to hang on.
About 350 meters from the finish, there’s an underpass – much like the one on the final stage of Le Tour. The road dips, you lose visibility of the riders for a second, and then they pop out the other side of the ‘tunnel’ in living color. On the last lap in Santa Rosa, the 3 leaders were together on one side of the tunnel, but on the other Mancebo broke out of the darkness all alone and stomping the pedals like a man possessed! It was truly and EPIC moment in an EPIC stage. The Italian and Belgian had been dropped, punished by Mancebo for attempting to ruin his day. When he crossed the line for the win, my newfound friends and I all went wild, and so did he.
On the way to our next stop, we had a quick dinner at the team hotel (not *with* the teams, but in the restaurant next door). We had a primo view of the main hallway, and it was interesting to see the Quick Step boys (Boonen included) and several other teams breeze through the lobby in their team kits (jackets, tights, etc.) several hours after the race. Our guess was that perhaps they’ve discovered the value that compression fabrics play in recovery, as they were all pretty much styled out in team warm-ups for dinner a little later.
Well, that’s everybody but our man Dave Z. He was wearing a sweatshirt, team ball cap, and…yes, this is the truth…a white hotel towel and nothing else around his waist. As my dad says: If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’. I guess he was airing out his junk, ‘cos he sure as heck wasn’t protecting it. All kidding aside, we’re sorry to hear of your loss, Dave. Losing such valuable keepsakes has got to be hard. My house was burglarized back in 2002, and I still catch myself being a little extra vigilant (and slightly paranoid) from time to time. If they catch the scumbags, I say we call some hard pipe-hittin’ dudes to go to work on them with a pair of needle nose pliers and a ball peen hammer.
OK, back to Cali. Since Jeremy’s hard-wired into the Rapha Scene, the GM for Rapha North America invited us to sneak into their Redwoods Ride on Monday. I really wanted to be there, especially since my training partner from back home had made the long trip from Little Rock to take part in this ride. But, we got to Santa Cruz (Aptos, actually) way too late to get up and be in Palo Alto for the 8am start. Bummer. However, while we were strolling the grounds of the hotel after breakfast, I noticed a museum across the street. I looked at Brock and said – “Dude, what’s so historic about Aptos?” He shrugged, I shrugged, and we hopped in the van and headed for Santa Cruz. We later discovered that Aptos was the EPICENTER of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. We slept there. Scary, but cool. More scary than cool, actually. Apparently the whole town was leveled. Flattened. There was nothing left.
While we were enjoying the best coffee of the trip at Peet’s, we also learned that same is true of downtown Santa Cruz, where we hung out to await the finish of the stage that started by crossing the Golden Gate bridge earlier in the day. Speaking of the Golden Gate Bridge, rumor has it that Astana shelled out BIG BUCKS to close the road so the race could cross the bay via the GGB…and that LA may have chipped in as well. Why? I heard it was a pure photo op for Lance (I think this was BEFORE he ran over his photographer’s motorcycle). I also heard something about a $500 invite-only “cyclotouriste” style ride that followed the racers over the old Iron Horse.
We didn’t make that cut, unfortunately, but we did spend the afternoon with the Rapha crew at a nice little wine bar in Santa Cruz called Vino Cruz. If you’re ever in town, stop by. The food was sublime, the selection of wines excellent, and the hospitality was top-notch.
Now, for some reason, after a gut-stuffing late lunch we all agreed that it would be a good idea to take the scenic route of highway 9 ‘over the mountain’ to San Jose. Rather than elaborate on the drive, I’ll share what I posted on twitter when we hit the much welcomed flat and straight I-17:
Bear creek road. Felton, California. Google it. Drive it. Puke.
I didn’t toss my cookies, but I was sure happy to see the hotel in San Jose. I’ll let you, the reader, hit Google Maps and check out this curvy noodle of a road. We took 9 to Bear Creek Road to 17. Just thinking about it makes me woozy.
The next morning, we met up with a few gals from the BMC-sponsored ProMan Women’s Cycling team (yeah, I know…Pro MAN? I don’t get it either). We had a quick bite at the hotel and decided that since it was STILL raining we’d just hang out and drink coffee for a few minutes before the start. The palmares of the ProMan team is pretty damned impressive – they win a lot of races, and even got a rider on the podium at the Women’s crit in Santa Rosa.
The ladies in the picture are Nicola (the Team Director) and Bettina. You want to know the coolest thing about hanging out with them? When we got to the start, they were as geeked-out as we were to see the big dogs take to the road. I was thinking that a seasoned veteran like Nicola would have played it cool (like yours truly in the team car), but no – she was in full fan-girl mode, and as a result, we all were too. I was snapping pictures like I’d just been hired by TMZ, and when Chris Horner rode by, I actually screamed “DOUBLE DOUBLE!” after reading a Twitter post by LA a few days earlier:
Getting massage and Horner comes in. He’s just back from the race. Johan and I were like, “where have u been?”. His reply “I was at In and Out Burger”. What?? He ordered a double-double (xtra onions), fries, coke, and a strawberry shake. Wow
If you’ve never been to In-n-Out Burger, find one next time you’re in Cali. It’s a California institution, and the true natives, like Horner, swear by it. The locals will usually order off the “not so secret menu” to prove they’re not tourists like us. Oh, and to circle back to an earlier story – after the 2004 Grammys, we ran into Stephen Tyler at the In-n-Out in west Hollywood. Apparently, it’s a post-Grammy tradition for him, because my buddy bumped into him again at the same In-n-Out after the 2005 show!
Our rain soaked fan fest at the start of stage in San Jose was pretty much the end of the trip. Because it was pouring rain for yet another day, we eschewed the day’s ride and spent the afternoon at the hotel in Millbrae watching Thor demolish the field on www.amgentourofcalifornia.com via their awesome ‘Tour Tracker’.
Have you seen this thing? It’s amazing. Real time text updates, picture-in-picture streaming video that’s compressed enough to keep your bandwidth from choking, and amateurish but tolerable commentary from Frankie Andreu with the occasional ‘drop in’ from a DS or a rider that’s abandoned the race. Have the geniuses at Vs. or cycling.tv seen this little gem? Wait, that’s a silly question – of course they haven’t. What was I thinking?
If they had seen it, then they’d definitely step up their methods of providing premium race coverage. Because, seriously – Lance is back and let’s face it: your viewership and web traffic is about to skyrocket. In case you didn’t know, most your audience are the early-adopter-types that prefer to sneak in a live video stream at work instead of commercially-interrupted coverage of less than half the race that’s delayed by several hours. We’re a real-time generation that demands real time coverage of our bike racing, and…arrrgghhh! Grrrrr!
…you get the point.
Anyway, that night we circled back to Palo Alto to pick up the van seats and ship our bikes back home, visited a few local shops, and then had a nice dinner at a Thai restaurant in beautiful Palo Alto. We said our fond goodbyes after dinner, and admitted to each other that in spite of the rain and all the driving we were all glad BMC brought us together. Naturally, the next morning the sun came out and the temperature climbed into the 60’s. I think next year, I’ll try to get invited to attend the SECOND half of the race.
We had a blast, and we’ll share a bond for many years to come. Thanks Sarah, Seve, Brock, and Jeremy for making this a trip to remember.
The rest of the pics can be found here: