California Dispatch

Notes from the AMGEN Tour of California

A good gauge of a stage race’s difficulty are the faces of its journalists and support staff. If you come across a reporter or marshal who is deranged from tiredness and lengthy transfers, sun-blushed to the point of peeling, and clearly questioning their career path, then you know that the parcours is probably a cracker.

Sure, the riders have it tough, but following a difficult stage race is in itself a feat of endurance. If you need any supporting evidence, head to team parking six days into a race and ask the mechanics what day of the week it is. This was pretty much the state of affairs with the Rapha crew at the Tour of California, too, as we manned Tillie, the Mobile Cycle Club, and followed the fortunes of the three Rapha-clad teams in the peloton.

Seeing as it will be a long time before any of us has the wherewithal to turn the past week into a coherent narrative, we’ve opted to show you some of the best images from Andy Bokanev, Rapha’s roving photographer, along with a couple of short notes that should be thoroughly proof-read before making it on to this blog.

Tyre Squeal

The volume and pitch of a team car’s tyre squeal is a directur sportif’s unofficial measure of how hard the riders are going on a descent. If the pace is high enough for the tyres to start wailing a tune, then it’s likely that the riders are pushing it. A fine example of this is the violin-like tone that came from the car while following Barbara Guarischi on Stage 3 of the women’s race.

Barbara is a sprinter and tailed off the back of the peloton on the first of the day’s climbs. She looked relaxed, trading turns with a handful of other riders who had backed off before the climb’s crest. But then, in the time it takes to say, “I can’t find my copy of the race bible, and I know it was just in my hand,” Barbara had put 20 bike lengths between herself and the next rider on the descent. In a matter of seconds she was almost out of sight, brushing past cars in the caravan with the air of someone trying to catch a lift before the doors closed.

Gibraltar Road

Gibraltar [which featured on Stage 3 of the men’s race] is a real climb, and you should ride it. In fact, ride it twice, at least. Ride it slowly, taking pictures and admiring the view above the cloud line, then ride it quickly, picking the straightest line though its pitched corners. It’s the sort of climb that makes most people resort to out-of-the-saddle grinding (in a good way) but quickly rewards the effort with stunning views of the ocean and mountains. Bring suncream, trust us.

The wisdom of photographers

As it often does, the conversation between a couple of race photographers turned to the best technique for washing laundry in a hotel sink. One photographer, who will remain nameless, offered this gem of advice: “Every pair of underpants gets three wears: right way, inside out, and not at all.” What’s worse is that all other participants in the conversation acted as if this advice were canon.

Matching tracksuits and portion sizes

At races like the Tour of California, almost all the riders share a breakfast and dinner buffet laid on by the race organizer. The buffets are served by the hotel’s regular staff, some of whom have come to associate May with skinny bike racers asking for abnormally large portions of rice and pasta. A server at the South Lake Tahoe Resort, which hosted the women’s teams for a couple of nights, asked what sport these improbably hungry guests engaged in. When told about the wonders of road racing, he interrupted to ask, “why would anyone ever do that to themselves?”

The WIGGINS RV

Team WIGGINS, like many of the teams from abroad, were lent an RV to serve as a team bus. This being the land of the ‘road trip’, the RVs were fairly well appointed, including an expanding hatch that doubled the vehicle’s living space. That is, apart from the RV proffered to Team WIGGINS – the expanding hatch broke on first use, leaving the team with a cozily-spaced set of tables and chairs in their ‘living room’. No bother, the team managed to find the perfect system for organizing their limbs that used every available inch of space. From the right angle, it looked like Team WIGGINS had a very sedate game of Twister before sign-on at every stage.

Odds and Ends

  • The reactions of locals ranged from total adoration to complete indifference, a reminder of cycling’s dual status in the USA.
  • The building and dismantling of start and finish villages is worth watching, at least once. It’s a ballet of logistics and manpower that looks like it might fall apart at any moment.
  • The transfers in this year’s Tour of California were really, really long.
  • For all the debate about team radios, it should be remembered that most of the time a team’s radio feed is of such bad quality that it sounds as if someone is shouting ‘eggs and hash’ at the top of their lungs from the window of a flying helicopter. Its tactical use is, most of the time, negligible.