Tour of California 2009 – Stage 6

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Solvang is a theme-park of a village. The buildings are dressed to look like those you might find in Holland. Or, more to the point, like an idea of those you might find in Holland. In fact, the general air of the place is one of fusion. The Dutch influence, including the occasional windmill, sits alongside Alpine-style architecture, all merged with Scandinavian names; there’s a Hadsten House hotel and a Svendsgaard’s Lodge. But it’s quaint and enjoyable, nevertheless. Chad washed and prepped the bikes last night in a gazebo dressed like a Dutch Boy only adds to the feeling that Solvang has welcomed us, just as it has other cyclists for years. The town has a storied history with cycling and racing and has been home to a number of winter training camps, including those of US Postal and Discovery.

As with yesterday’s stage, today’s ride starts only a few blocks away from our hotel so we meet over breakfast in one of the rider’s rooms. It’s raining hard and nobody wants to ride the Time Trial, especially knowing it’s a two-hour drive to the start of Stage 7, which we will also ride today. Two hours in the van in wet kit followed by 90 miles with big climbs.

Stage 6 is wet, hilly and green. The mood is reluctant but something more too. On a day designed to highlight and test the individual, at least as far as the Tour of California is concerned, something happens to the team, though not as a team. For a number of minor logistical reasons we set out in 2 groups and finish that way. The ride is short and quietly peaceful. We pass lettuce farms, tree farms, cattle, dog walkers, and vineyards. The middle section is hilly but there is nothing sustained. Somewhere in that brief experience, however, the team’s resolve hardens. On the other side of the ride and by the tail end of the morning, the riders look visibly refreshed, focused and strong as they eat strudel in front of a German bakery. They appear less burdened, as if they have reached a turning point. It’s as if they can now see the end – and trust that they will reach it.

The team finishes Stage 6 in the two groups in which they started and we load the van for Stage 7. Today will be a long day and on all of our minds is the issue of daylight. If we leave Santa Clarita, the start of Stage 7, on time at noon, we will have a little over five hours to ride 90 miles and climb 6,000ft before dark. We are due to meet up with Neil Browne, editor of ROAD Magazine, and Rich Bartlett, a friend of Cole’s. Both will ride with the team into Pasadena, the stage finish. On this, day six of our journey, it’s hard to say if fresh riders will act as helpful carrots or painful sticks.

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