Stage 7 began in Livermore, headed north out of town and quickly up and over a big climb. But the next 30-some miles were downhill or flat, leading to the next KOM on Patterson Pass. From the pass, the route descended back to Livermore, passing through the start line again before heading out of town and, eventually, climbing Mt. Diabolo (rated HC!) to the finish line.
In deciding where we wanted to watch from, we considered that:
- climbing up Diabolo with the tandem (with Nimue as stoker, anyway) was right out
- downtown Livermore would be crowded for the start
- watching from Morgan Territories (the first KOM) would require an early departure to get there in time
- Patterson Pass, the 2nd KOM, was plenty of hill for us to climb up, the timing would work out, and we could continue on to ride a nice loop after the race went by.
So that pretty well settled the plan. I unpacked and re-assembled the tandem in a park outside Livermore. It's faster and easier to take the tandem apart into its 3 main pieces, leaving the wheels in place, than it is to rig up the tandem rack on top of the truck, and heave the bike up there... And the more times I do the disassembly-reassembly dance, the faster I get. Four couplers, three cables, and it's apart (or back together).
Off we pedaled, picking up a brand-new bike path for a mile or so - it wasn't even on maps yet, we found it by accident! Then we started to climb.
We were soon passed by a string of exotic supercars zorching along. I saw Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, some things I couldn't identify, and an F-40 (real or replica? Who can say?) They too were enjoying the twisty and mostly traffic-free road.
Nimue was in a good mood, telling stories and singing and generally powering right along. The grade increases alluvially (if that's a word) and as we approached the pass it was getting quite steep - 8% for a while, then kicking up to 14ish% near the top. At my request, Nim kicked out her last reserve of turbo-boost and we left Anna in the dust as we got to the top. Of course, she was laden with all our supplies for the day, so she had quite a job getting up that hill too.
We were among the first to arrive, and most of those there already came by car. We settled in and found a good vantage point.
Before too many people were around, it was very nice and warm and quiet in the late-morning sun... one could easily find oneself dozing.
The crowds started to form, slowly but steadily. Bikes started to trickle in, as well as pedestrians who had to park down the hill and hike back up. A few fans chalked the road with favorite riders' names.
Peter Sagan (well, his head anyway) was also in the crowd. A couple kids had Sagan's head printed up on signs, and ran around like goats on coffee when the riders came along. Ted King also got his name on the road; I hope he got to see it!
Some groups of cyclists who were pre-riding the racecourse came through -- some of the riders didn't look like they would make it to Mt. Diabolo, and really suffered up the steep upper part of the climb, while others were fresh and not in any difficulty. One of the big groups (Carmichael Training) had a support van at the KOM with cold drinks and snacks. A microbrewery truck stopped briefly at the top, and we were hoping it would stick around and start handing out free beer, but it didn't.
Eventually, we spotted a few highway patrol motos making their way up the hill, eventually followed by a group of 10 riders in a breakaway. There was lots of cheering of the group as they crossed the summit looking strong; Andy Schleck was in the group, along with a couple other notable riders.
About three minutes later, the big peloton came along with 80-90 riders, followed by all the other team cars, emergency vehicles, and the ubiquitous broom wagon designating the end of the race.
The spectators packed up and left forthwith, and once most of them had cleared out we took off on our bikes to continue our loop. The initial descent quickly got the tandem up to speed, and Nimue and I left Anna in the distance as we carved down through the swooping turns into the hot valley outside Tracy. We stopped at the bottom to let Anna catch up, then started working our way through a crosswind on Midway road, towards (and under!) the 505 freeway. We then picked up Grant Line road, which turned into Altamont road and climbed along roughly parallel to the freeway but thankfully separated from its noise by some hills.
This climb, while not steep, was dead into the wind. I also discovered that Nimue had used up all her power (or her enthusiasm, anyway) on the initial big climb of the day. We crawled our way through the hills, eventually emerging on the other side and coming back into Livermore.
A fine time was had by all -- but I do admit to wishing, while battling the headwinds, that we were riding this: