Tour of California Part II - The Race

Stage 6

For our first day, we caught stage 6; the mountain stage of the 8-day race, which combined a bunch of big climbs with the culminating climb up to Big Bear Lake for the finish. After our adventure in simply getting there, we met up with Tim & Kirsty (and their dog, Tana) at the highest point of the race, Dawson's Saddle, at 7900 feet. Luckily they had lots of food with them as we didn't stop for any supplies for the day, so they fed us and we caught up on some visiting while waiting for the peloton. Next to us on the road was a rowdy group of super-fans, some sporting nothing but speedos or lifting their kilts as people would go by. There were lots of cyclists riding the climb; Kirsty rode it earlier that day and took the honour of being first girl to the top. The atmosphere was like a carnival, and we had a total blast hanging out in the sun.

Our spot for the day, looking down on the course.
Yes, there's snow in southern CA at 8000 feet!

We were there for maybe an hour when the caravan went by, announcing a lead group of 5 with the peloton chasing. The speedo guys were warmed up and ready, and as the lead group went by we all went crazy. Jason disappeared and came back a few minutes later, turns out he got swept up in the excitement and became a "runner", running along next to the riders for quite a ways. He did it every time a group went by.

Lead group - including Andy Schleck! - going by.

Jason (in green) running with the racers (thanks Tim for the pic).

The race went by pretty quickly in hindsight, and then we were all packing up and heading down the mountain. We said goodbye to Tim & Kirsty as they headed back home to Encinitas, and we headed to the town of Westlake Village, which was where the race would finish in two more days, and be our home base for the next three nights.

Our rowdy super-fan neighbours on the course.

Stage 7

The next day was a time trial through downtown LA. It started and finished at LA Live, home of the Staples Center, and it was pretty cool wandering around such hallowed ground. Twenty-five years ago I was a big Lakers fan, and even though I don't watch basketball much anymore, I still have a spot in my heart for the LA team and they remind me of my high school years.

The setting for the TT was a bit strange. One end was LA Live, some high-end restaurants that are popular with celebs, and the massive convention center. The other end was bleak streets and burned-out buildings. Quite the juxtaposition. We wandered around for a while during the earlier riders, checked out the start ramp, finish, and expo, and then staked out a good spot for when the big guns were coming through. The course had people over it's whole length, which must be a nice touch for the racers.

One thing the event didn't really have was many food vendors, and while there were a lot of restaurants, we just wanted to grab a sandwich or something and eat on the street as the race went by. We wandered around for about a half hour, and finally found a Subway. Problem was, they had run out of bread! They must not have anticipated the crowds that day, and it didn't go over well with the guy in line in front of us. When he found out he wasn't going to get his footlong, he demanded to speak to the manager. Seriously. Did he think there was a secret bread stash in the back or something, perhaps for their elite customers? There was some confusion as the manager wasn't there, he was kicking up a big fuss, and the poor employees behind the counter had no idea what to do with this guy. He decided his next move would be to alert the police of what was obviously a heinous crime, no bread at Subway. Wow. You read about people that stupid, and believe me, I have met some dimwits in my time, but come on dude. Buy some chips and be on your way.

Back on the street, it was time for the leaders and we had a great spot. Being sent out two minutes apart on a two-loop course, there was always someone going by and someone to holler encouragement for. It was hard to believe how fast they flew by. But soon our day was done, and back to our hotel to relax.

Levi Leipheimer on the TT course.

Race leader Michael Rogers tearing it up.

Stage 8

Our day started with an early-morning run and then brunch at Duke's on the beach in Malibu. The race was doing a 3-lap circuit through the Santa Monica mountains, through Westlake Village around over Mulholland Drive. There was one climb for the day, and that's where we stationed ourselves for the first lap. Once again spectators were out in force, and it was a party on the streets. Mark Cavendish and another team-mate who had dropped out of the race were out for a ride, and they got as many cheers as when the peloton went by. After the first lap, we ran a couple kilometers back to our car, and headed back to Westlake Village. We caught the second lap going through there, then positioned ourselves right at the finish line with a wicked view.

HTC-Columbia gorilla.

Cav and team-mate out for a Sunday ride.

Peloton with Ryder at the front.

The atmosphere was electric at the finish (yes, I know it's a cliche but it's oh so true!), and everyone followed along on the big screen as the racers were completing their last lap. There was a lead group, a chase group with the leaders, and then the peloton. Super exciting as we watched Ryder Hesjedal (a local Victoria boy who's made the big leagues, big time) bridge up to the lead group with only a couple km's to go. The crowd was cheering for George Hincapie, but Jason screamed our heads off for Ryder as they raced down the finish chute, and sure enough, Ryder took the stage! It was so awesome to see that, and see how much he's improved. He's at the top now and it will be great to see what he does over the next couple of years. Then the race leaders, then the peloton, then a few stragglers one by one.

Finish line.

We had such a fun time, and I can't believe how quickly the three days went by. Each stage was so different from each other and so fun, we definitely made the right choice in coming down to LA for the weekend. I can't wait for next year and hopefully it will fall on another holiday weekend for us!

A Birthday Wish

While I need to continue the Tour of California story, I'm digressing onto what's on my mind today. I turn 40 in a few days, and am having a party on the weekend. Actually, it's more of an extravaganza, but that's neither here nor there in this post. When I reflect on the past four decades that have been my life, I must say that I have had an awesome time. I think I've been more fortunate than many, have worked hard for what I have, and I would generally have to say my life is pretty awesome. While pretty much most of my close friends are coming to the party, there are some glaring absences in the guest list, due mainly to distance I suppose.

I have a couple of close friends from the 1980's who are still very important people to me. They're not coming to the party as one now lives in Australia (although she'll be in Nova Scotia this weekend, "so close but oh so far" as she put it), and another now lives in Toronto. I have shared laughter, tears, and everything in between with these two fabulous girls (technically they would be women now, but we're still all 17 in my head). I don't see either of them often, but when I do, the conversation picks up as if there aren't years and thousands of kilometers between us. If only I had an extra plane ticket lying around from Toronto to Victoria, I know who I'd send it to!

My 20's were a crazy, fun time. I had this friend (OK, we're still friends, but he's all but disappeared it seems and contact is sporadic...) who was always game for anything, always had good tunes going, and a wicked sense of humour. He's now a helicopter pilot in some small town, somewhere in Alberta (I think, I'm never really sure where he is). I've laughed so hard with him that I'm surprised I haven't needed surgery to fix some internal damage that's caused. We speak far too infrequently these days, and I really miss him.

Representing the more recent years, is a friend who lives in southern California. I actually see her fairly often, and we email each other a lot. We're united in a desire to suffer while running, biking, and swimming, and bonded over 10 years when we were hopelessly unprepared for that suffering. She really should be here for some of the events planned for my birthday extravaganza.

Therefore I am missing some important representatives from the last 30 years of my life. I'm excited that many of my close friends will be there, but these four will be missed. Many memories from the past include them, and I'll be raising a glass with friends in mind on Saturday night. OK, probably more than one glass... cheers and here's to another 40 years!

Tour of California Part I - No Big Deal

Getting There

This year, the Tour of California moved to May, which presented Jason and I with an opportunity to go as the last three stages just happened to fall on a 4-day weekend. Sweet! So as soon as the dates were firm, we booked a ticket, hotels, car rental... everything we needed to follow the race for the weekend and have an awesome time. And that we did. But of course, things never go 100% according to plan, and the getting there part of the weekend became complicated.

We headed for the airport, it was a nice sunny day, no fog or anything else that can cause havoc on those little planes getting off the island. There were some familiar faces at the airport, and lots of people heading to Vegas to party away their long weekend. This is our version of Vegas - a pro bike race! I'd rather be at that event any day. When our plane to Seattle arrived, it turned out it was broken. Yep, broken. But no big deal, they were sending another one for us, only it meant we'd miss our connection. No big deal, they would rebook us on another.

Lucky for us there are about eight hundred airports in the greater LA area (oh, the hyperbole...), so it was no trouble to rebook onto a later flight Thursday evening from Seattle, it just meant going into a different airport. No big deal, I whipped out my iPhone and changed our car rental from the OC airport to the Ontario one.

Back at the gate, waiting for our plane, waiting... where was our replacement plane? It was taking forever to get here, and suddenly our new connection wasn't looking good. When the little puddle-jumper finally arrived, it was pretty clear that we weren't getting to Seattle on time for the flight to Ontario, but Jason and I were willing to sprint through the airport to give it a try. Too bad we still had to clear customs, and that part wasn't exactly quick, so we didn't make it.

No big deal, they booked us on the first flight out in the morning. They were nice and gave us our pick of airports, and we picked Ontario since it was closest to the San Bernardino mountains where we were going to see Stage 6. Of course we were stuck in Seattle for the night, but no big deal as Alaska Airlines paid for our hotel, and again I changed our car rental and cancelled the hotel in San Bernardino we were supposed to be in for the night.

Finally at the hotel and checked in, we were hungry and tired. No big deal, there was a Denny's a few blocks away. Mmm, Denny's. They do make a mean grilled cheese sandwich, so we walked over (it was a little farther than we remembered, but no big deal), ordered some food, and luckily got Kirsty on the phone to tell her and Tim that plans had changed a bit and we'd see them a bit later in the morning than we expected. We ate, stepped outside into the rain, but no big deal as we ran back to the hotel.

I set my alarm clock for 4:45 am (that early-morning flight...), but was awake about a half hour before my alarm, so we got an earlier shuttle back to the airport and had lots of time for Jason's favourite breakfast burrito from Qdoba in the terminal. Our plane was pretty much on time getting in to Ontario, but we were hours behind our original plan. No big deal, I went to get our suitcase and Jason went to get the rental car. We headed up towards Dawson Saddle, the highest point of the whole race, where we were meeting Tim and Kirsty. We weren't sure if we'd make it there before the road was closed for the peloton coming through, but we'd leave it all on the road trying.

Jason zoomed through interstate traffic, and we found the turn-off. There were tonnes of cyclists riding out to the race, and tonnes of fans all along the route. We were going as fast as we could, knowing the road would soon be closed. Up one pass, down, up another... then no more cell phone service so the GPS on my iPhone became useless. I knew we were getting close to the summit, and we were crossing our fingers we'd get there on time. We made it to the top of Dawson Saddle, over the King of the Mountains line, and saw Tim & Kirsty waving at us. We pulled into the spot they had saved for us, and we were there! Next step some food, then waiting for the peloton to arrive. No big deal.

Getting Stronger

This training stuff is working, I am getting stronger. It's sooooo easy to lose fitness, and soooo hard to gain it. You have to work your ass off (literally). It's a very cool feeling to get stronger and feel your fitness, strength, and ability increasing.

I've done some big workouts the past couple of days. A long run on Friday, and then a long ride Saturday. I happened to chose a tough route for the ride, with lots of hills and one big climb. I thought I was climbing pretty well when a big group from Pro City Cycle in Victoria blew past me. A couple of them were friends I hadn't seen in a really long time (Mike, a super-fly former pro-mtn biker, and Jen, a pro triathlete). We chatted briefly then it seemed like only a couple turns of the cranks and they were way up the road. Given their pro histories I would expect no less, but it was a good shot in the arm to work even harder.

I cracked in the last 30 minutes of my ride, and wasn't sure I was going to make it home. I wasn't bonking, but my quads were super sore from everything I'd thrown at them this past week. But pushing through is what makes you stronger, so I kept going, even though I was cursing each hill as it stood between me and the house. Why did we buy a home at the top of a hill? Great, it will never flood...

Today I'm feeling sluggish (I woke up to a cold a couple of days ago), and am lounging around. I have another couple of hours on the bike to do today, but with the daylight now I can get that in anytime. It's a nice feeling not to have to rush out the door. Then an easy week coming up - how I love those!

I am running better, I am riding harder, I can do more push-ups in 30 seconds, so I am getting there. My swim is another story... it's so hard to know I used to be a good swimmer, and am now flailing in mediocrity. That 40X100 on 2 minutes Tim has planned for my birthday is going to hurt. Seemed like such a good idea when he first suggested it, and now it's just two weeks away. How did that happen?

Thursday we're off to LA for the Tour of California. Jason and I are super-excited, lots of the big guns are racing and it will be a blast to see the show. As much as Humu likes the southern California lifestyle, she's staying here this time with a housesitter. We'll take some pictures for her.

Bye Bye Van...

We sold our "vacation home". Didn't know we had one? Well, that's because it's not really a home. Not REALLY. We had a VW Eurovan Winnebago, which is like a super-deluxe Westfalia. I loved that van, it was like a cute cozy turtle as everything you needed to live was inside.

So why did we sell it? Hmm. Well, as with every major decision it was multi-factorial, with no one overwhelming reason. Probably the biggest thing was I drove it every day, as a car, and while it works for that, it's pretty big and long and not that great on gas. It's like driving a full-size truck around all the time, and didn't totally jive with how I feel on leaving as small a carbon footprint as you reasonably can. Another reason was it was 10 years old, and while it only had 100,000 miles on it, it can't be expected to live forever, so I knew we'd be selling it at some point in the next few years. We had a couple of major repairs over the last year, but it was actually running almost mint. I figured that meant it wasn't a bad idea to sell it; as if I'd just paid a big repair bill I'd want to keep it to get my money's worth.

Jason and I decided to put an ad in Craig's List, just to see what interest there was. We didn't need to sell it, so if we didn't get a good price, we weren't going to let it go. It's kind of nice to be in that proverbial driver's seat (yes, pun intended) when selling a vehicle. After several inquiries that I wasn't interested in pursuing, along came a nice family from Vernon who offered what we wanted, but more importantly were excited about the van and would give it a good home. I transferred it over to them this past weekend, and it was bittersweet.

It was the perfect vehicle for us, for about 5% of the time. The other 95%... well, it was just a big vehicle to drive around. I'll always have a special place in my heart for that van, and I know they'll be times when both Jason and I say "oh, if we only still had the van...". Such is life.