The first major cycling event of the 2009 season wrapped up last week. Everyone’s cycling heart on Valentine’s Day was in Sacramento where the Amgen Tour of California started with a fast and flat 2.4-mile prologue. Top athletes took part in an individual race against the clock. Starting at 1:30 pm they stormed out of the starting gate at one-minute intervals and raced around some of Sacramento’s historic landmarks.
The entire route took approximately five minutes to complete. There were some big names that specialized in this discipline and it was a real treat to see who had the engine to wear the yellow jersey after day one. This course suited a power rider but with so many top pros it was anyone’s guess who’d take it.
Driving up Highway 80 toward Sacramento the dark storm clouds said rain and wind which played havoc with today’s race. As we pulled into Sacramento it was clear that the crowds had already been there for hours. Parking was tight but several blocks away we found a spot and walked toward the roar of the crowds.
30 minutes prior to the first rider rolling out of the start house the crowds were already three deep against the railing. Young and old had come to Sacramento to watch the prologue.
As we walked toward the ear splitting cowbells and cheers it was clear that the crowd was ready to get wild. Trying to find a spot to view the event I walked toward the team buses. A who’s who was pedaling away on the stationary trainers, getting a good sweat going before entering the start house and getting the count down to begin their furious race against the clock.
Peering down the street I saw and heard huge crowds gathering around a blue and yellow super bus. Yes, it was the Astana bus and these rabid fans were 6 deep fighting for a glimpse of Mr. Lance Armstrong. Whether or not he was even out of the plush traveling bus it mattered not to these fans just being in the presence of the bus seemed to be satisfying enough.
It had only been about an hour and the heavy rain gear that I had been sweating in made fighting through the crowds that much worse. I sat on the grass and took off the rubber suit, stuffed it in my bag and continued on like a kid in a candy store.
Passing the new the team OUCH, I saw Floyd Landis, head down, massive head phones on in a trance like state, visualizing his turn at the short, fast course. People have begun to gather but not even the shouting, waving and flashes of the cameras took him out of his zone. He was a man on a mission. After major hip surgery and a two-year ban, he has something to prove to himself and everyone lining the streets, watching it on TV and following it on the web.
I departed the OUCH bus and started up conversations with some of the fans in between the cyclist flying by us. People had come from all over the country to witness Lance’s return as well as all the other top pros. People who had never seen a bike race are experiencing the power and excitement for the first time and loving it. A women that I spoke with who had never seen a bike race commented that she never knew how exciting it could be and would be following the rest of the tour on TV. Kids waved the yellow LIVESTONG signs, adults held up signs for their favorite riders and the girls swooned over Fabian Cancelara and other ‘cute Euro boys’.
Walking along the inside of the barriers a privilege afforded to those with the media/press/staff badges. I secured a spot along one of the turns where I can visualize the power and speed and hopefully squeeze off a few frames of good photos.
While waiting for the next rider, crouched against the orange metal barriers with six rows of spectators behind me I finally had my mind cleared of all the financial woes, bad news and realized that the Tour of California had arrived and I was there. Over the next week I’d be fully engulfed with bike racing, traveling, and seeing old friends that I hadn’t seen since the last event.
Sitting down I felt a calm come over me, a smile broke upon my face, and a rush of excitement coursed through my body. I am part of the crowd now and not just an outsider but here to do a job and take part in one of world’s the greatest sports.
Young and old, spectator and staff we all yell and scream, root and take in every minute of it. As the last rider ripped past us, I packed up my gear and walked back to my car. The massive crowds mill about, chalk words on the street fade but the energy is still in the air. Tomorrow is another stage and the traveling circus heads to the next city.