Friday, May 20, 2011

A fine place for a picnic...or a bike race

On Wednesday, as many of you know, Stage 4 of the Tour of California came through our neck of the woods, going over Mt. Hamilton from the back, down the relatively technical descent on the front, and then up Sierra Road . Unlike last year, and much to our aethetic preference for bike races that end on a hill, the San Jose stage finish this year was at the top of Sierra.

Our original plan was to climb up Sierra earlier in the day to watch the finish and enjoy the spectacular view and people-watching, but alas, we had to be able to get off the hill in time to get Nimue to her singing group's concert that night. Drat. Also, Chad was feeling a bit under the weather, and the weather itself was a bit under the weather, with residual clouds and rain from the storm earlier in the week. Double drat. As a result, we decided instead to ride up the lower slopes of Mt. Hamilton and plant ourselves in a spot with good sight lines for the descent -- right at the entrance to Joe Grant County Park, at the beginning of the last little roller before the final drop into the city.

Since it was going to be a shorter ride, and would be sort of across lunchtime, of course I had to pack a hedonistic picnic spread in my backpack :)

This turned out to be a mellow, but entertaining place to spectate and picnic. The view of Hamilton was good (when the clouds opened up), we were in a bit of sunshine (again, when the clouds cooperated), and it just happened to be right next to a very talkative course marshal whose job appeared to be to wave over all the cop cars and photo motorcycles at the front of the train who came down ahead of the riders, so they wouldn't get too far ahead.

After seeing the conditions on the road (sort of cold, even where we were), we decided we had made a good choice of location -- before the Tour came through, there were a number of other cyclists coming down from the top reporting 39 degree drizzle.

One thing I noticed last year was that you can tell when the riders are getting close by the location of the helicopters. In this year's instance, I happened to glance up the hill and thought "My, that helicopter is down low!" A second glance showed the string of riders in the big lead group. (Click on the picture to blow it up, and you'll see 'em too.)

A close look at this shot as they went by reveals Chris Horner (the one with the funny all-red shoes in the center and the eventual winner of the stage with a most excellent performance up Sierra), Levi Leipheimer bent over behind him, and Andy Schleck next to Levi.

More riders in the lead group, looking focused and intent on the ride. We think the Rabobank rider (orange and blue) in the middle is three-time world champion Oscar Freire.

After this group went by, there were several more relaxed-looking riders trailing through on their own or in pairs -- some even chatting and looking like they were enjoying the ride. These must've been the guys deliberately dropping back from the serious lead group to the bigger peloton at the back.

Eventually the main group did show up; the most amusing thing to note here was that their facial expressions really told the story of having suffered up the HC climb (hors categorie, or hill of the hardest kind) only to encounter 39 degree mist and a treacherous twisty descent down pavement that could be described as having terrain-park-like features, knowing full well that they still had a wicked-steep climb ahead of them.

Another shot of suffering, this one with current world champion Thor Hushovd in the rainbow jersey.

Eventually, the entire parade including all the team cars and support people in the back passed through and we were able to roll down the hill and rush home, just in time to shower and head off to Nimue's concert. More on that later. We did avidly watch the Versus coverage of the stage when we got home -- it was a minor bummer that they went to commercial break when the riders passed us, and when they passed our truck at the bottom of the hill, but most impressive to see Chris Horner take off and leave everyone in the dust going up the final hill!

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