Friday, June 4, 2010

Tour of California: Stage 7

Rather than walk around the Ritz-Carlton to reach the time trial course, John and I decided to walk through its lobby. A neat row of Columbia-HTC's TT bikes lined against the glass helped us make this decision.

There, sitting on the couch in full kit, was winner of this year's Ghent-Wevelgam, Bernard Eisel.
Bernard Eisel, winner of the 2010 Ghent-Wevelgem

John and I stood there, a little surprised. The lobby was full of mechanics and riders; I chatted with a young HTC mechanic from Pennsylvania who'd been with the team for about a year. After Bernard finished his interview, I asked for a photo, chatted with him a little; seems like a decent guy. There was a perfection about his appearance and manner, what we Cat 3s call "pro," but what for guys like Bernard is probably just the effect of living on the very edge of the physically possible for years on end.

This is perhaps why his body was hot. Literally. When I put my arm around him for the picture, he was exuding body heat, maybe the effect of riding six hard stage, but also probably something to do with his metabolism; cyclists, according to Allen Lim, can get rid of heat better than normal people.

John and I then wandered out among the common folk. John wanted a picture with Cancellara's yellow jersey matching bike:

The Liquigas girls tried selling me on the virtues of natural gas, but I firmly rejected their advances, and insisted on just a picture. You can see the disappointment in their faces...

A time trial allows fans to mingle with the athletes in a way you won't find in other sports. They hang out by the team buses and warm up on trainers. They talk to the crowds that gather round, especially characters like Jens.

When a fan asked Jens if he would sign a picture (of him), he said, "Of course! Pictures of me, I will always sign." He gave a quick interview in German and jumped on his trainer.

John snapped a nice close-up of young be-mulleted American, Kiel Reijnan on his trainer.

I dropped by Kelly Benefits' bus and asked what had happened to my favorite domestic pro, Neil Shirley. Several years ago Neil, a fellow Hopkins grad and rider, had quit his job at Fermi lab in Illinois uncovering the secrets of the universe to...ride for Kelly. Unfortunately, the team mechanic told me, Neil had come down with a fever and abandoned after stage 4.

We happened to walk by Jonathan Vaughters as he strutted about in sartorial splendor:

2008 TT World Champion and 2009 German TT Champ, Bert Grabsch, was warming up. He has a powerful style on the bike so different from the typical waifish pro--the kind of style that gives home to those of us over 150 pounds. The hair, though, kind of takes him down a notch in my book:

The race had started, so John and I wandered over to the start gate. There, I spied the Lone Wolf. He was every bit as strange as BSNY imagines him to be.

Meanwhile, our friends Rita and Andy were still over in the team buses, sharing some love with George Hincapie, who was every bit as nice as his reputation. In what other sport do athletes do this?

Cancellara came roaring by, although not at his usual pace:

Meanwhile, John and I were at the start gate, about four feet away from the riders as they prepped and launched. This allowed John to capture the intensity of their faces (well, the intensity of everyone but Jens, who cracked up at the announcer's remark that Jens is "the George Hincapie of Germany.")

Levi and Dave Zabriski were noticeably nervous. Zabriski, in particular, standing in his cooling vest, his eyes bizarrely twitching, his whole posture coiled with energy--the crowd, which had been loudly cheering grew strangely quiet, despite the attempts of the announcer to raise a cheer for the American champ. Here was a man with a lot on his mind, almost something sacred; to cheer for him would be like yelling "you tell 'em, Pope!" during mass at St. Peter's.

When Zabriski passed the first time, he lept out of the saddle. He seemed, to me, to be riding with the most violence, if not speed.

Alas, it was Martin and Rogers who came out ahead.

Proof that Jens is just as good natured after riding as he is before--here he is giving us a grin, and chatting with Bobby Julich and Bjarne Riis.

Afterwards we wandered with the Lone Wolf up the street a few blocks toward The Original Pantry, which was surprisingly empty; I suppose, proof that LA's downtown sucks, and that most of those watching the race had no clue that downtown offered such a decent place to eat. I had a massive plate of beef ribs. John had the pancakes.

Next up, Stage 8--four times up Bonny Doon for the riders, three times for me.
(All photos by John Nelson and Andy Nishida)

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