Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tour of California 2009 - Stage 7 Santa Clarita to Pasadena

"No chalk!" shouted the Pasadena police officer as I stood on the side of the road waiting for the cyclists to come up the hill in stage 7 of the Tour of California.

After 2 years of trying, I was finally able to see the bike race and as I settled into my spot on the guardrail of a road encircling the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the cop shouted again, "No chalk"! The two young girls squatting in the middle of the road looked frightened as Pasadena's finest made it perfectly clear that this stretch of pavement wasn't going to be defaced in the way Alpe d’Huez is defaced each year in France. There will be no chalk on the roads today, except for the meager "Go" without the "O" filled in. The mood was festive even without the chalk and the open beer bottles didn't seem to bother the officer. Perhaps he's just not a cycling fan, or doesn't understand the traditions. No matter.

I started the day in Santa Clarita at the start chute of the stage and was able to get a couple of autographs, including Mark Cavendish and big Thor Hushovd and see all the pro cyclists line up for the start. Lance Armstrong was there in a very stylish yellow and black, LiveStrong cycling vest and he encouraged everyone to take a small box of yellow chalk that the Nike-clad volunteers were handing out. Perhaps the cop didn't like Lance or thought he hadn't come by his seven Tour wins honestly? Hard to know.

This was my first bike race and I was thrilled as the volume increased as the oncoming leaders came charging up the hill for their first of five laps around the Rose Bowl. The gap between the leaders and the peloton was over three minutes and when the rest of the group came up the hill, it was impressive. The group filled the road and the team cars were in hot pursuit. It was just like I'd seen on TV. Very cool.

After three laps, a small group of fans started down the hill towards the finish. I tagged along, introduced myself and was quickly adopted by my new local cycling family. Pete and his wife Lisa are members of a cycling club that rides these same roads around the Rose Bowl each week in organized group rides. We talked about cycling, running, triathlon and the perfect spot they had secured the previous day at the Solvang time trial stage. We edged our way towards the finish line, but the crowd was too thick to see, so we watched the finish on the big-screen TV. We ended up in the middle of all the pros slowly pedaling across the parking lot towards the team buses and were able to spot a number of big names as they slowly wheeled by. Very cool.

Lots of others had the same idea as we walked over to the buses to get autographs and pictures. The Astana bus was mobbed as Lance was out and signing. George Hincape popped out of the Team Columbia Highroad bus to sign everything that was handed to him for a few minutes. He was very gracious and did his best to get to everyone. He's a class act.
The bike race was a blast and I recommend everyone get out to support cycling events in the US. It's really something to see and the American teams are really strong. I'm thankful I hooked up with such nice people at the race who could show me how it's done. I look forward to my next California trip. Perhaps it will work out again to see the Tour of California...next time with more chalk.