Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tour of California, Stage 3

I don't really follow bicycle racing, but I could not pass up the chance to watch an elite race in person. A couple co-workers and I decided to watch one stage of the Tour of California (ToC). The ToC is a seven stage race, with the third stage finishing in downtown San Jose.

For anyone reading this who is not familiar with bicycle racing, a stage race takes place over several days. Each day constitutes a "stage". Each stage is usually around 100 miles. The course is usually designed so that each stage is a different profile — some are mostly flat, some are hilly, etc. Usually the stage routes are modified slightly each year for variety and to involve more cities.

This year, the stage 3 would be going over Mt Hamilton, which I have ridden. The south side (from San Jose) is the side most people ride, and is moderately steep. The north side is steeper, and that was the direction the race would be coming. I rode that side a few months ago with my co-worker Michael. We decided to return there to watch the race. We expected fewer people there than at Sierra Road, which is the next climb after Mt. Hamilton and is much closer to downtown and easier to access.

Michael managed to get a press pass via his brother at the Toronto Sun, so he was going to drive there. The road would be closed to cars, so the press pass would give him access. Since he could drive, our other co-worker Jim decided to join him. They would be going there early to set up at a good location to take pictures, since they are both avid photographers.

My plan was to drive to the county park that is halfway to the summit, then leave the car there and bicycle to the summit and down the other side to where Michael and Jim were. I needed to reach the final location before the road was closed to traffic, so I arrived at the park at 8:00am. The distance to the summit from there is about 10 miles.

Because I wanted to pack extra clothing and food for the 3 hour wait,
I packed all my gear in my commute bike. The weather on the south
side of Mt. Hamilton was nice and clear.
(Click on the picture to see the full album.)

As I pedaled up the hill, I did not encounter any other cyclists, and few cars. If more people were coming to watch the race, none of there wanted to come as early as me. When I reached the observatory at the summit, there was a policeman preventing cars from continuing to the other side. The few people who drove parked their cars at the summit and walked down the road. He let me through since I was on a bicycle.

About one mile down the road from the summit, I saw Michael and Jim (plus Michael's friend Brendan, in whose truck they drove). They had found a place where the road curved into the hillside giving them a long view of the road ahead. There was a wide spot to park so they were there with another vehicle, which belonged to Versus (the cable channel that covers bicycle racing). This location was at 4100 feet elevation, which was only 100 feet below the summit. It was on one of the steep sections of the road, so the riders would not be going by too quickly, and they would have more time to take pictures.

Now we just had to wait. I arrived at the spot around 10:00am, and riders were expected to arrive at this location around 12:45pm. Riding up the hill, I was not wearing a jacket but still was hot. Standing around here, we all were cold. The temperature was in the upper 30's. I had brought extra layers since I knew I would need them.

As time went on, more and more people arrived on the road. Since our location by the side of the road was fairly big, quite a few joined us there. Some came the same way as I did, but others parked on the other side and bicycled from there. We all killed time by chit-chatting. People walked up and down the road to try to warm up.

As it got closer to the expected arrival time, we saw race officials drive by in greater frequency. Then some more police cars came by. Then another race official came by with loudspeakers, telling us the riders are only 5 minutes away. Then more police cars and motorcycles passed.

Finally the riders appeared around the corner. There was a lead pack of about 10 riders. There were some team cars (which carry spare parts, food, coaches, mechanics, etc.) behind them, plus some more riders. After the lead pack passed us, the main pack arrived. It looked like there were about 40 riders in this pack. After them came a large pack of team cars.

As the riders went by all the spectators were yelling encouragement to them. Most of them followed the sport enough to recognize the individual riders, but I did not really know them. We were all just by the side of the road, so they passed within arm's length of us. The official cars and motorcycles were interspersed with the cyclists.

After the main pack passed, several other straggling individual riders and small packs came through. At the tail end, there were several official cars, and the final police car labeled "End of Convoy". And that was it. People started leaving almost immediately. The road was now open (although everyone was required to remain behind the convoy).

I packed up my things and said goodbye to everyone. Michael, Jim, and Brendan needed to still pack up all their gear. There were quite a few cyclists still leaving at the same time as me. It was cold, but I made it back up, and then down to the car without trouble. By the time I got back home, it was after 2:00pm. It took most of the day just to see the cyclists for 5 minutes. But it was a new, fun adventure.

Monday, February 18, 2008

They Hiked, I Biked

We had another weekend of clear weather, so I wanted to maximize my cycling opportunities. I can tell that my conditioning level has dropped off over the winter. I need to get back to a schedule of long rides on the weekends plus intermediate rides mid-week.

This weekend gave me a chance to get some serious riding done. On Saturday, I did my standard short/two hill/20 mile ride. We had plans for the evening, so I needed to keep it relatively short. I planned to do the longer ride on Sunday.

Since the weather was nice, Vaishali and Rom wanted to do a hike on Sunday. They ended up choosing to go to El Corte de Madera, in the hills just off Skyline Blvd. Since many of my usual rides go up to Skyline, I thought I would try to meet them. Of course, actually being there at the same time as them would be difficult, because they would be at the parking area only a the start and at the end of their hike. And I could not estimate what time I would reach there with any precision.

I rode this route clockwise. Point C is home and point B is where Vaishali and Rom parked. Click for the interactive map.

The route I took to get up to Skyline Blvd was Old La Honda Road. I did the climb in 30 minutes, which was not that much slower than my usual time. My conditioning had not regressed as much as I thought.

The 6 miles on Skyline to get to where they parked ended up being more difficult than I expected. Parts of it were uphill, but not really that steep. I had used up most of my energy on Old La Honda, so I was struggling more than I normally would.

I reached the parking area and saw that both of their cars were there. I paused there for a few minutes and wondered how long I would have to wait until they returned. Knowing they were think of a two hour hike, I did not see the point of spending too much time there. I found a pine tree branch on the ground and placed it on Vaishali's windshield. I knew she would know that I had come by and placed it there.

The rest of my route home was either downhill or flat, so I had no problem with it. Next on my agenda — watching the Tour of California.