It’s 5 am and the alarm startles me out of bed. The cold, damp, room in which I had been sleeping, rings with the sound of heavy rain against the windows and roof. Rising out of my warm bed, I glance out the window only to confirm what I had heard and felt. It is pouring, and after checking with the TV weather, I discover that it is expected to rain most of the day. In fact, the rest of the week is going to be a wet, soggy, cold mess for everyone. It’s not just a little rain but rather weather that interrupts regularly scheduled broadcasting with a severe weather warning for the local area. Yet prior to traveling to Santa Rosa for the Women’s Criterium and the finish of Stage 1 of the Tour of California, I have a prior obligation to photograph the San Francisco Chinese New Year 5k and 10k runs.
The repetitive rap – rap – rap - rap of the windshield wipers on full blast limits visibility as I cross the Bay Bridge into San Francisco to meet up with my photo team. It’s been awhile since I have worked in such demanding conditions but I have brought all my raingear and bags to, hopefully, keep my gear and myself somewhat dry and functioning for what may be a long day and even longer week.
Since this story is about the cycling I won’t spend too much time with a running race but suffice to say that by the end, I am completely soaked, it is only 9:00 am, and I won’t be in to Santa Rosa until 11:30. After the last of the rain soaked runners cross the finish line it is my turn to “run” to my car and get moving to my next event, the Women’s Crit and the Amgen Tour of California.
Leaving the City I meet up with a cycling fan friend who will make the trip up to Santa Rosa with me. Driving up 101 in the pounding rain we talk cycling, racing, life, and what we hope to see and experience once we dock in Santa Rosa.
The day’s stage follows a new route from Davis to Santa Rosa with plenty of what should have been scenic climbs and spectacular views. But with the chill, the rain, and the wind, coupled with a total distance of 107 miles, the field of riders will have to brave the elements, as will all of the spectators.
It has been some time since I’ve been able to follow road cycling. In fact, it has been some time since I have even been on my bike. Daily life such as it is, with work and family, has taken up most of my free time and biking has taken a back seat.
But perhaps that is an over simplification of the matter, a cop out. The fact is, that I have not been motivated or willing to make the time to partake in my passion, one that has filled so many of my years with joy. Meeting friends in the early morning, rolling through some of the most beautiful roads, talking life, laughing, and working hard while on the bike have all been a big piece of my life, one that I have been missing.
Every time it’s laundry day and I enter the garage, I see my stable of bikes hanging on hooks hung with the clothes that shouldn’t be put in the dryer. I say to myself, I need to dust them off, fill up the tires and get out and ride. Eventually, when I do get out, I can’t believe that I have waited so long and that I need to do this more often. Alas, the bikes still serve as expensive clothes hangers for my clothes and I am, but a spectator still...
Prior to the arrival of the stage race into Santa Rosa, there is a professional women’s criterium. Some of the fastest and strongest women have assembled to race through the downtown streets. As they call up some of the country’s best for the start, a steady cold rain continues to fall. To say that the conditions are miserable is quite an understatement but one that does not deter the lines of fans that have braved the elements to see some of the world’s best racing action.
Fighting through the umbrellas I manage to capture a few of the top pros on the starting line ready to do their thing. I leave the start line, my socks heavy with rain, to find a good vantage point from which I can watch and photograph.
After an hour of racing it would prove to be Swedish sprinter Emilla Fahin (Columbia-Highroad) who emerged victorious from the rain. An impressive race that was certainly the high point of the day. Being that I am now thoroughly soaked and cold, and since this was the declared high point, I am ready to head back to the Bay Area and call it a day.
Due to the weather no helicopters had taken flight and there was only limited racing coverage so no one really knew where the stage was or how it was unfolding. Since I’d had enough of the elements and been in the rain since the crack of dawn, it was all proving to be too much as I headed back to the car. Sitting there with Blackberry in hand I was able to follow the race via live webcast. I realized that the field was still two climbs away and that it could be several hours before they arrived in Santa Rosa.
“Let’s go!” I said to my friend and he understandably reminded me that this was his only chance to see Lance and the rest of the top pros and that he would leave, if I really wanted to, which really translated into, “I don’t want to go and stop your sniveling.”
We tried to figure out if it was possible to drive out and catch the peloton on their way in. All the while, as we refreshed our phones, I saw hoards of people through fogged windows as they walked past the car toward the course.
“What the hell, lets go I shouted!” and we dragged our rain soaked bodies back to the big dance. By the time we arrived back on the course, many more fans had reappeared to continuously line the course in a sea of colorful slickers, and once I heard the cowbells I caught my second wind for more racing.
Time must have past quickly since now the lead vehicles were making already their way through the downtown circuit. This meant that the race was, but minutes away. Through a steady driving rain the first few break away riders passed which sent the crowd into a delirium.
Following shortly, the main field charged trying to catch the lone riders prior to the finish line. But, that was not to be, the pack would not catch them and the breakaway would succeed with Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) taking the victory.
As we milled through the team buses trying to catch a glimpse of the soggy and tired racers we both agreed that we were glad that we had toughed it out and stayed.
On the long ride home we talked about life, and the race, as we planned to do some riding ourselves in the ensuing days. The next few days of being consumed with covering bicycle racing had stirred up my passion to ride again and refocused my energies on more positive things, trying not to be bogged down and beaten over the head by the daily doom and gloom on the news these days.
Damn! I love bike racing!