Monday, February 23, 2009

AToC Stage 7 - Through Rose Bowl Colored Glasses

Understanding that the Rose Bowl has played host to events such as the Super Bowl and World Cup, I really didn't think that it would be too crazy at the finish of Stage 7. Needless to say, I was wrong. It wasn't just a little crazy, it was completely Gary Busey-level insane.

In a scene that could be described as somewhat "Lollapalooza-esque" the final five circuits around the Rose Bowl in Pasadena provided a wonderful spectrum of demographic representation not usually seen at bicycle races in North America. The cultural melting pot that is LA was certainly on display and EVERYONE was psyched to be there, even though a number of the spectators didn't really seem to realize that it was a bike race and not a football game.

For those who are familiar with bike racing in the US, it is generally acknowledged that while the sport is comprised of "mostly" open-minded and accepting individuals, it is sadly deficient in terms of socio-economic and cultural diversity. There are certainly many unique examples around the country but for the most part, bike racing has not exactly transcended the boundaries of white-collar spectatorship and participation in the States. Hopefully events like the Amgen Tour of California will help make the sport more representative of our population as a whole.

As for the race itself, the final circuits provided an opportunity to see just how much time a team like Astana can take back on a breakaway over the last 30k. The day-long break, which contained names like Hincapie, Vande Velde, Baldwin, Roulston, Weening and Schleck was likely more concerned with the stage win than gaining time but still, they weren't exactly lolly-gagging. Frank Schleck put in a pretty good solo dig but it ended up being a group of three that got away at the very end with Nocentini barely edging Roulston and a fading Weening. Meanwhile, the Astana crew pulled back about five minutes and kept LL comfortably in the lead.

Although it didn't get much attention, the effort of Horner in particular was impressive as he was suffering from road rash and a nasty bang to the knee but still rotated with Chechu and the rest at 30+ for the final circuits. Similarly, it was inspiring to watch how hard Tom Zirbel, Svein Tuft and Trent Lowe were working behind the field after having crashed earlier in the stage. The three riders throttled themselves through ripped lycra and blood with no hope of catching back on, exemplifying the toughness and stubborness of elite bike racers. I just hope they could hear the crowd support as they finished, since that was likely the only bright spot to their day.

I also hope that the examples of personal character, fortitude and effort on display were appreciated by all the fans in Pasadena. The metaphor of life that is bike racing has the power to transcend most social and cultural barriers and perhaps...the world is a better place due to the sport. Or perhaps I am viewing the world through Rose Bowl colored glasses.

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