Amgen Tour of California 2011

Words: Jeremy Dunn | Photography: Dan Sharp | Date:

Cyclists have a tendency to fall into a routine pattern. It is not a crazy proposition for the seasoned rider to think that he has developed a ride routine that delivers optimal performance, or maximum enjoyment, or both. For myself and a few others known as the Rapha Continental, that have been traveling together over the past few years, the routine goes something like this: awaken, make coffee, fill water bottles, slip into silky riding clothes, look over route, eat, oil chain, pump air into tires, ratchet down space age shoes, swing leg over bike, click in and roll out.

Each cyclist has their own routine that leads them out the door and that continues on the road. The thing is, once you have your routine down, there is little variance in events. The only discrepancies may be your riding partners, the scenery, and how they both unfurl over the front of your bars. Or so we thought.

With each season of riding as the Rapha Continental, we have continually learned from the people we have met. Whether it be appreciating the art of taxidermy on the backroads of West Virginia and Tennessee, discovering nicknames for tourists in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or getting lost in our own backyards in California, there is always something new to learn about riding with your friends in new areas. But at some point you start to think, with all this collective knowledge built up and all these experiences passed along, that when it comes to the bike, these guys have it pretty much dialled.

We consider ourselves to be gloriously average cyclists. We appreciate the hard rides and the easy ones. Sometimes, we stop for coffee or beer and most of those times we linger a bit longer than you might expect. That is not to say that we do not relish the hard efforts that come with being a cyclist. The long pulls into a headwind or the climbs that dangle in front of you for what seem to be days. We have even found, a few of us, that we enjoy a trip or two over the pavé, or that we feel at home with gravel bouncing off our shins and shoes. Sometimes this makes us a little heady and we get caught up in the beauty and suffering of riding our bicycles, so we tend to think of ourselves as good riders. But that does not mean that for a minute, or second, do any of us think we can hold a candle to the professional peloton, to what it takes to be a professional cyclist.

At the same time this does not mean that we cannot “dream in technicolor” – a patron of a bike shop once told me, stood astride a celeste colored Bianchi. So, with that in mind we decided to ride four stages of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California. We had done our own version of this race a few years ago and the time seemed right to try it again. With the growing popularity of the ToC, as it is affectionately called, we thought we would again explore the highways and byways California has to offer the racing cyclist. We settled on a four-stage version of the eight-stage race. Our thinking was to cover the longest, hardest stages. Namely, the ones that had the most climbing in them. Not because we are all grimpeurs per se, but we figured this way we could see the vastly different topographical offerings that the State of California has.

This time around the idea was to shrink the link between the average cyclist and the professional, not only by riding the exact same routes, but by riding it with one of them. So, we extended our invitation to include someone from their fold.

So our guest rider for this trip is, a one Mr. Tim Johnson. You may have seen him grace these pages before, as he shows up sometimes during the cyclocross season to eat all our donuts and ride bikes with us through our local ‘Cross playground of Forest Park. If you live elsewhere in the country you may have seen him race the USGP series or possibly win a National Championship. When we heard that he had a gap in his summer racing schedule (dont say that he retired he doesnt like that) we asked Tim if he would join us to ride a few stages of the 2011 version of the Amgen Tour of California. We knew he had done this race before – as a professional – he had ridden in the midst of the best pro peloton this country has seen, on some of these exact roads (he might not remember them all, but that is not the point). The point is that there is a difference between your everyday cyclists (which we certainly are) and someone who has made it their job to be a professional cyclist.

Little did we know both our learning processes were about to start all over.

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