Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tour of California: Stage 6

Someday, you may get an offer to stay with a friend of a friend's parents, to ride and watch three days of a great stage race in a beautiful area of the world, and to eat amazing food and to talk about nothing but cycling, all under the perfectly planned coordination of an engineer and a project manager.

I advise you to take that offer.

On Thursday, John and I flew into LAX, picked up a van, stopped by Burger King, and headed out to the Nishida's (the host family). The temperature was cooler in LA than in DC and nothing but blue skies.

I was anxious about my new Giant TCR Advanced, which I'd never ridden. I'd picked up the bike on Tuesday, but had had to study all night for my oral exams on Wednesday (I passed). I'd simply packed the bike and hoped The Bike Rack had done their thing. The next morning we were tackling the San Bernadino Mountains, so it was kind of important.

At 6:30am, we packed all four bikes in the rental, and drove an hour or so to our base camp for the day at Silverwood Lake.

From the lake, we could see the mountains that we would be climbing. They were not small. They were not Old Angler's, Brickyard, or even Sugarloaf. Our man Andy was cool, as always.

Jeff grew a little bit worried, especially when he noticed (and closely inspected) someone's lost lunch.

Nonetheless we unpacked the bikes and prepared to tackle the mountains. This was why we had come, why John had lost 30 pounds. This was my graduation present (to myself).

It helped knowing that we'd only be climbing several thousand feet--a fraction of the 12,000 feet the pros would be tackling. The stage had been called the biggest stage in American stage racing history, and taking a look at the profile, it was clear why: almost 140 miles and two mountain ranges. It wasn't Zoncolan, but it was about as imposing as California can muster.

It was a cool morning, just right for arm warmers. We had driven the climb to get a feel for it; it was short (at just under 2 miles) but steep (at around 15%). Quite a few cyclists were out, some having ridden all the way from the start at Palmdale (starting at 5 in the morning).

The bike felt wonderful, the handling and stiffness entirely different from my previous bike. And it didn't creak on every pedal stroke. I didn't worry about small cracks in the frame leading to a carbon fiber explosion, either.

I could especially feel the stiffness on the climb: "Whoa! Where is that little give I've become accustomed to?"

Jeff, Andy and John stopped at the KOM point and turned around. I took the little descent and kept going on my own--I wanted to ride my new bike. People were already gathered in the little town of Crestline where the sprint line was (at the top of a substantial climb). I then began the climb on the appropriately named "Rim of the World Highway."

I don't know if I've ever encountered as beautiful a view, certainly not on a bike. The climb itself was gradual. I sat in my 27 and spun and tried not to let the incredibly view distract me, since there was a several hundred foot dropoff to my right. Eventually, I entered the clouds and suddenly became very cold--so cold I had to turn around. In any case, I was out of time--I had to make sure to be back to our little climb to watch the pros suffer, and I wanted to stop for coffee.

I made it back by noon, with plent of time to eat two of my banana / peanut butter / Nutella tacos. We cheered on the many amateurs who rode by, dentists huffing on custom frames or bearded mountain men on single speed mountain bikes wearing beaverskin caps and flannel.

Around 1:45 we learned that a breakaway of six, including George Hincapie, approached. We'd chosen an especially steep part of the climb, figuring that if a break was going to launch, or a big name fall off the back, it might happen there.

A helicopter showed up, and sure enough, around the corner the six in the break came, looking smooth and relaxed. It wasn't their speed that astonished me; it was simply their fluidity. Smoothly turning over the gears at about 85-90 on an 18% grade.

Following the leaders was a small group, including Cancellara, who had likely done a share of work to get two Saxo men, Sorenson and Andy Schleck, in the break.

Five minutes later came the leaders: Zabriski, Rogers, Leipheimer and eventual stage winner, Peter Sagan. On the front--all day on the front, as I later noted when watching a recording of the stage--was Tony Martin, who'd win Stage 7's time trial.

About 45 minutes bewteen the break and the caboose. In the end, Cav wouldn't make it. Twelve had abandoned before the stage; by stage 7 the race was down to a little over half of its original size.

On the way home we stopped for some 4pm In 'n Out burgers, then went out for some ridiculously good sushi and Sapporo (somehow inspiring the chef to turn the channel to his favorite sport: pro wrestling).

Up next, the time trial in downtown L.A.

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