A Taste of California
Get there if you can!
The first time we visited the Tour of California was in 2009. With a slew of trips to see the Tour de France behind us, expectations for this American upstart were muted. Our first contact with the 2009 ToCal was high up in the mountains behind Pasadena. Parked at a key KOM point we were astounded at the feel and atmosphere as ever increasing crowds made their way to see the race. This could have been the Pyrenees or French Alps on Tour day. TV helicopters hovering overhead, team vehicles bearing the logos of many of Europe’s famous teams, crazy fans, mobile marshals and police motorbikes, this was a fantastic carnival atmosphere. It was all there. People catching the race on their mobile devices kept the crowds up to date and when the race appeared further down the mountain on a hair pin bend about three miles away, the atmosphere turned electric.
This is the fantastic carnival atmosphere for every stage [ Photo ©: Graham Jones, CyclingRevealed ]
As the race wove in and out of sight its actual position could be marked by the TV helicopter. Suddenly the lead motor bike was in front of us and right behind them the contorted faces of some of the world’s top pros. Jens Voigt, with his mouth open gasping in air, had race leader Levi Leipheimer concentrating very hard behind him. Clustered around them were many of the names we normally only see gracing the great races of Europe, Frank Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali, Michael Rogers, José Luis Rubiera, Renaldo Nocentini, Thor Hushovd, Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, Lance Armstrong, Carlos Sastre. It was clear from their facial expressions that this race (and this climb) was no easy vacation in the “New World”!
Mark Cavendish (in the Green Points Jersey) is not enjoying the Pasadena finishing circuits [ Photo ©: Graham Jones, CyclingRevealed ]
As soon as the race convoy had passed we headed straight down the mountain to try and catch the finish in Pasadena. If the experience up in the mountains was astonishing, then the sight awaiting us on the finishing circuit was unbelievable. The finishing circuits around the famous Rose Bowl stadium complex were lined with thousands upon thousands of spectators. Never on US soil had we ever seen so many people come out to watch a bike race. The ToCal PR machine had done a fantastic job and it was helped by the fact that so many people wanted to catch a sight of Lance Armstrong racing before he finally retired. Renaldo Nocentini claimed the stage victory in Pasadena from a small break. A few months later he went on to wear the Yellow Jersey at Le Tour for eight days! Next day the final stage took the race over the much anticipated Mt. Palomar (about 5,500ft) climb on its way to the finish in Escondido. The length and difficulty of this climb was again worthy of a Tour de France stage. The crowds here were even bigger than up in the mountains behind Pasadena. At the end of the day Frank Schleck rode away from Vincenzo Nibali (both Grand Tour super stars). Levi Leipheimer took a very worthy overall GC crown. The ToCal was elevated to the highest UCI race rating in just its second year. Even for hardened Tour watchers like ourselves, this race certainly deserves its place on the world pro calendar. Get there if you can!
The crazies were out in full force. Some of these characters have been seen at some of Europe’s biggest races [ Photo ©: Graham Jones, CyclingRevealed ]
Antler Man [ Photo ©: Graham Jones, CyclingRevealed ]
Big Hair Man [ Photo ©: Graham Jones, CyclingRevealed ]
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