Bike Race

2009 February 16

Tour of California: Sausalito to Santa Cruz

by Tim Bowden

The riders began in Sausalito and they crossed the Golden Gate and came through the City and down the coast. They cut in and climbed up Tunitas Creek Road for the first King of the Mountain phase then came back to the coast and on down to our county, where they turned left at Bonny Doon Road for the second KOM. Both are pretty sheer climbs (Cat 5 & 4 respectively) from sea level to two thousand feet and more. Then they zoom down Empire Grade the 17 miles to Santa Cruz, nearly 116 miles from the start.

Ma and Pa and the Beans, including Just About The Best Little Guy Ever©, go to see the thrilling race.

Casey wanted to be where the climbing was, so we looked, and he determined the best spot would be up on that ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains that looms over the coast. We live on the other side of that hill, so we drove up Felton Empire to find Empire Grade was already closed by noon. No matter; we'll go back to the Valley, run up to Alba Road north of the course, ascend from there to Empire Grade, then drive as close to Pine Flats as we can then walk the rest of the way.

Alba Road. This is the four miles of most dedicated climbing in our county. It begins down in the Valley and does nothing but get higher for thousands of feet. When we were all younger, we rode bikes on this road. Once when a slide took out the lower portion, there was little traffic, so Ma and Pa and Casey and Will, ages 10-11, took bikes to play on Alba Road.

It wasn't really much play of the diddling around your driveway variety. It was some pretty serious work. Casey was complaining to his Ma, and Will also thought Ma should pay more attention to the wailing, calling Ma "Inconsiderate person with deaf ears!" It became a family legend.

We all parked as we could on the approach from up north on Empire Grade, and pretty soon we were right at the bend. There was sporadic raining, and some of it bounced. Rain ain't supposed to bounce. A shiver of sleet gathered on our umbrella, and later we saw strings of it in a gully.

We were on the south of Pine Flat, just short of the summit, and our umbrella apparently obscured the shot of, as we were told more than once, an Official Amgen Photographer. That's the sponsor of the Tour, so he got gravitas.

Actually, anybody recording a scene takes preference in the narcissist now. You can be booted off a public street at the discretion of any movie or teevee company. And now this guy wanted a clear shot of the riders, even if it meant we were rained on. Even if it meant little Peaje, held by Em, was sleeted on. The show must go on, or at least, be shown.

Casey said, how about if we lower it when the riders come? Okay, but don't forget, grudgingly replied the agent of the Official Amgen Photographer, who was probably Ansel Adams.

And then in moments as we waited, a refreshing act of street comedy broke out directly across Pine Flat from us. One gent lowering his umbrella said quite loudly, "Let's get these umbrellas out of the way of the pictures!" Pointing at us, he said, "No matter if that baby is rained on; we have to have pictures! So keep that umbrella down!" We were convulsed. It was a delightful way to point out the absurdity of an officious arty type personality on a day of freezing rain. The satirist made that motion of DeNiro in "Meet the Family," pointing two fingers alternately at his eyes and at us. I'm watching you. It was particularly appreciated because the habit is to not become involved in the slightest controversy. I wish we'd thanked this guy.

There were a lot of motorcycles come by from down below. Autos too. Something would roar up Pine Flat and we'd look at them, and then back down the road and here comes such another.

Then here the riders came. Leipheimer in the lead and Peterson right on his wheel. They came by at a tremendous pace for guys who had spent so much time climbing so high. It was over in two seconds.

Then a solo rider. Then Sasquatch.

It's true. The riders were chased by a gorilla. Then Bigfoot was grabbed by a cop and spun off the road. He had been right on a yellow line and the first team wagon had to pause for him. They weren't doing much pausing, these vehicles. Zipping by all the time we were there.

There was a chase group, then more vehicles. Then forlorn Floyd Landis, pedaling all by his lonesome, looking sad and dejected. He says he's not guilty, though.

Another chase group, this one featuring a rider leaning close to mug grotesquely for all the cameras at ringside. It's really fun to think of someone able to play with the crowd during a cold wet blustery and long hard ride.

Then the gorilla with his mask off, handcuffed behind, looking glum as Floyd, is marched along Pine Flat across from us. Sasquatch is busted. I guess the cops here don't watch European bike racing, where every few feet during mountain stages of the Tour de France a strange animal jumps into the act. One year Italy's Alessandro Petacchi during a long solo break in the Alps was upended by a chicken. And the chicken wasn't even plucked by local authorities.

(I have a camera-phone movie of this sequence of the leaders coming over the rise followed by Bigfoot, but it suffers from the same quality problems as all Sasquatch films. Casey called his Pa to say, "Your movie is on YouTube! It has already won a prize! The very worst film submission of all time!")

A great community holiday. We separated and headed off on home. We'll be back next year.