As any bikedork knows, it is full-on professional racing season. That's right, we have been through the spring classics and are just finishing the Giro de Itallia. I have personally been getting up early… 6:30-ish and watching the euro-action "live" on the internet. While there is a broadcast of this race live daily, I like the british guys who call the race on Eurosport. Here is a link to a site that has links to a bunch of racing stuff.
Even if you do not follow pro cycling, you may have heard of the tragic death of Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt who crashed on the third stage of the Giro. I was watching that morning and it rocked me. When I left for work they had not said that he had been killed but seeing the two second shot of the medical staff attending to him, I knew it was not good. Not good at all. Sometimes it takes death to bring out the best in people. The next day the the riders did not race. They rode the day's course at a steady pace, each team taking a turn at the front, with Weylandt's Leopard Trek taking the final run. Kind of gives me chills. The rest of the 21 stage race was the Alberto Contador show and he just dominated in a way that made it an impressive demonstration of personal strength, but dull racing. I watched anyway, and enjoyed it.
Of course the europeans are not the only folks who have bike races. Last weekend saw the finish of the Amgen Tour of California. The mountainous stage 7 took place just east of Los Angeles on Mt Baldy. A few years back this race had it's final stage Redondo Beach. That was cool but at that point The race was new and did not attract the big talent that now participates. Since this shorter 8 stage race now coincides with the Giro, The big teams have to decide who races in the Giro, and who comes to Cali, maybe saving their legs for the Tour de France. Now that some of the biggest and best teams are American, (American owned and or sponsored, with riders from all over including a few Yanks) We get to see some of the best riders in the world here on our streets.
We decided to head out the San Gabriel Mountains for a day and take in this challenging mountain stage. The tour website had great info on the route, where to park, road closures, and times. After winding up and up, the spring wildflower studded mountains, we found a great spot and set up camp on the Glendora Ridge Road; a spot the race would pass twice, once on the way down and then coming up after looping through the town of Glendora. With the back of the car open and picnic and chairs ready we enjoyed the parade of non pro cyclist out enjoying the course before the race. A lot of people enjoy recreational cycling… who knew!
Cycle races and Marathons are among the few sports where spectators can watch for free and get within inches of some of the best athletes in the world. On mountain stages, when riders are going slow,some fans jog along side the riders, yelling at them creating "fan gauntlets".
At the Giro this year a lone Italian rider Stefano Garzelli threw an elbow first at a drunken shirtless guy who would not give it up and then an older guy who's moment to shine as an amateur coach needed to come to an end. Here is an athlete who has been riding for 16 days who has managed to get out ahead of everyone to take a summit of some huge italian alp type mountain and you have to be a part of it.
I had no intention of taking my shirt off and running along side these guys. On the first pass they came by so fast. We crouched on the inside of an S turn on a moderately steep section. I was holding the phone, Mimi had a cowbell loaned to us by a couple of fans down from Santa Cruz. It is unreal to feel the speed, the sound of the freewheels buzzing, see the sweat and intensity in the eyes.
An hour or so later they came by again this time laboring up hill. Not so fast, but the intensity really there. Along with a couple of cast off water bottles, I got few nice shots of some of the guys coming by.
All this racing has inspired me to push a little harder a few days a week. Not to race, just go faster, challenge myself and enjoy cycling.