Friday, March 2, 2007

Tour of California - Biker Hall Pass Part 1

The folks at were kind enough to put my name on a list which afforded me a little extra access at the recent Tour of California this past week. When I went to the Press Room in Solvang Friday morning, the lady who gave me my pass had jammed the "official" label maker so she just scrawled my name and the site right on the pass with a ball-point pen and handed it back to me. Solid. All the best journalists have hand-written credentials. Keeping it real. The Press Room was pretty funny though because it looked like a good portion of the journalists had not seen a bike in quite awhile. I think there were a number of local and semi-local newspaper writers who were just covering the race as a novelty. If you ever happen to catch small-town newpaper coverage of bike racing, it is often pretty evident that they are not experts. But there was plenty of coffee, some nice Danish pastries and I even got a cool goodie bag with a local Pinot and some other trinkets. Nice.

Anyway, no one gave me a hard time about the ghetto press pass and it still got me inside the fences. My camera was low on batteries the whole time but I think I managed to portion out some interesting shots. Forgive me for the somewhat random order of the photos...this isn't a chronological account.

The crowd was thick during the awards presentation so I was happy to not have to fight for space. The whole ceremony was pretty long and included Danish dancers, lots of political sponsor-ish things and even a shout out from the Firestone guy. Not the kid that was on the Bachelor, but his Father. After a challenging race and a ceremony that lasted almost as long as their time on the course, these three guys really deserved the podium that day. Tough course and super-windy at about 29mph. Not bad.

Here's a shot of the crowd at the finish for the presentation. It was like this around the whole area but the road was still fenced off except this portion shown above. I like the kids and the cop in particular. After the presentation, Jens Voigt got his bike and just walked right into the crowd toward the Finish. Just took right off, parting people like it was nothing. I think it kind of stunned everyone and they didn't really have time to react. More on Jens later.

The course started with a slight descent into a high-speed left hand turn. The road rose up a bit after the corner, straight into a brutal headwind, so the faster guys were really nailing it through the turn and staying in the aero bars at 30+mph. Fabian Cancellara had an early start time and was visibly faster than anyone prior. He shot up the hill, into the headwind at a good 25mph and never even budged from the position above. Once again...the guy is a tank.

This is Tom Danielson in the same corner as Cancellara and being much more conservative at this point. My favorite part of this picture is the guy in the yellow shirt, giving Tommy D the full "Rock On" fist pump. Such a great reaction. There was a marshall at the corner with a start list who was calling out the names of the riders as they came down. She had a lot of information and really helped the spectators. They cheered for everyone though. It was interesting to note who stayed in the aero position and who went to the handlebars. Tommy D chose the latter. They hit the headwind about halfway through the turn and I think it sketched a lot of the guys out.

This is a magnified picture I took of Levi coming down the final stretch. Voigt was the first to break 30 minutes with a 29:58 and Leipheimer is at 29:37 here as you can see on the clock. Amazingly, he came through at 29:40, only 3 seconds after I took this shot, which I managed to get by doing the old "reach out and hit the button" technique. It looks like I'm just standing in the middle of the road but I'm not quite that silly. There were photographers sprawled out all over the place and I was nervous that Levi was going to tag one of them as he came through, so I just stood on the side, reached out and got lucky enough to center this photo. The atmosphere was pretty amazing at the finish as the crowd cheered and watched the clock. Dave Towle had them all up to speed on the race situation so it was pretty tense. You can see all the people along the fences lining the road, going crazy.

Need I say anything more about this photo? The weapon of the one and only Jens Voigt presented by Chuck Norris. The big German rolled up to the awards stage and left his bike with one of the marshalls standing next to me so I couldn't help the close up photo of the name on the top tube. Pro Tour bikes are pretty cool but this particular P3 has the misfortune of being regularly thrashed upon by one of the hammering-est guys out there. I almost felt sorry it due to the beatings it must take.

I couldn't tell who these people were rooting for but if you look carefully, you can see that the lady in the black shirt is actually holding a little dog. You may also notice that the store in the background has more than just olives. During the awards presentation it was interesting to note how rarely American racers get to experience something like this on home soil. Fittingly, Levi had a pretty big group of family, friends and animals there at the finish and everyone was super excited. So big and excited in fact, that apparently there were shirts made up for the occasion. The dogs were dressed more formally.

And speaking of dogs...this is a surprising photo of Paolo Bettini stealing a small child's stuffed animal. You can see how he is taunting the young boy as a crowd of people rush over to help. It seems those World Championship stripes have kind of gone to the Cricket's head. Shortly after this photo was taken, Bettini jumped behind the wheel of the bus and proceeded to back over three bicycles before pulling away and throwing the stuffed animal out the window.

* More Photos to come - Stay Tuned

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