The recently concluded 2010 edition of the Amgen Tour of California was easily the most exciting edition of the race, thanks in part to two of the hardest courses the race has ever undertaken, a field arriving with a great deal more fitness than could be expected in February and a host of real contenders who rode as if the race were the only goal of their season.
Surprisingly, I’ve heard some criticisms of the race coming from varied quarters. The criticisms are free-range: the race takes in too much of a large state; the organizers caved to team pressure and moved a stage start from an historic, crowd friendly and scenic location (Pasadena) to a wasteland (Palmdale); the time trial was made a mockery by the presence of Floyd Landis and pre-runs of the course by corporate big wigs and triathletes; the course was either too damn hard or the judges too unforgiving, which resulted in 37 riders being ruled hors delai between stages six and eight.
At least one thing is true beyond a doubt. After the DNFs and HDs, only 37 riders finished the Amgen Tour of California. I can’t recall a race that started 128 riders and finished less than a third of them. What’s unfortunate about this is how perception can be shaded as subtly as the chiaroscuro on the faces of the subjects of the Dutch masters. The difficulty of next year’s race course may turn on whether people (racers, directors, sponsors, fans) come to the conclusion that the race was harder than granite and cool, or harder than Rubik’s cube and unreasonable.
Which conclusion people draw may rest on the officials’ actions. Hors delai is a rule around which officials can exercise some discretion. Of the 80 riders that did not finish the race, 68 of them saw their race end on either stage six or stage eight. Of those, 37 didn’t finish because they were outside the time limit.
As many riders finished outside the time limit as finished the race.
While I haven’t checked just how deep prize money went, presumably money was left on the table due to the small number of finishers.
The DNFs were attributable to fatigue, crashes or other maladies, such as leg cramps, and claimed another 41 riders over the course of the race. Still, had 79 riders finished, more than six teams would have been listed in the final team GC. Only Garmin, Radio Shack, HTC-Columbia, United Healthcare, Team Type 1 and Bissell finished enough riders—three—to be counted on the teams classification.
The question for AEG is: How similar are ‘wow, really hard race’ and ‘whoa, that’s just stupid’? My guess is you can quantify the difference. I’d say it’s about 37.
By almost any standard, the Amgen Tour of California presented race fans with an extraordinary week of racing. Despite the HDs and DNFs, we saw a more competitive field with a higher overall level of fitness than in previous years.
I feel like I learned a few things about the teams present, such as: Danielson’s DNF means that once and for all, we won’t see him at the Big Show and if he’s released from Garmin, his next stop will be with some Continental team that needs a affordable former sorta star. Hesjedal’s stage win indicates the guy is getting stronger with each passing lunar cycle. Liquigas has some serious depth given that they, like Garmin, are managing to be competitive at two races at once. Team Jelly Belly is composed of cycling’s equivalent to suicide bombers. They didn’t win a single stage, but they figured in almost every significant break. They give new meaning to “die trying.” HTC-Columbia and BMC both must hope that their teams recover well after the Giro and Tour of California, otherwise they won’t have the depth necessary to support their GC men at the Tour de France. Oh, and watch out for Saxo Bank at the Tour; Andy Schleck generally looked like he was out on training rides.
I’ve seen a lot of racing over the years and I can say the final stage Amgen Tour of California was some of the most thrilling racing I’ve seen in person. While it didn’t carry the weight of a Grand Tour or Monument, it really was the next best thing. I’d hate to see it get watered down.
For those considering relocation, the bible of city comparison used to be the “Places Rated Almanac.” It compared all the major metropolitan areas of the United States according to the standard indices you’d expect.
Concerned about education? That’s here. Transportation your issue? Got that. Jobs? Covered. Weather? One place is better than all others.
So that best weather? San Diego is tops. Allegedly.
That last is just a wisecrack. Everyone knows that if you want consistently good weather, unbroken 75-degree days for as many as 40 weeks in a row, you need to move to San Diego. It’s as close to Cabo San Lucas—the Love Boat’s favorite destination—as you can get and still be stateside.
I offer this as a backdrop to the Gran Fondo Colnago. Why hold a Gran Fondo in San Diego? Well, there’s the aforementioned weather. There’s the fact that it has a neighborhood called Little Italy full of amazing restaurants and wine bars. There’s an abundance of gorgeous scenery. It’s got the odd canyon road for a killer descent. It’s also got an army of rabid cyclists with the business savvy and boosterism to promote off one of the biggest rides I have ever attended.
The rain began as I was dressing. I rolled to the start in light rain composed of occasional drops the size of grapes. Standing at the start I was amazed at how the rain became heavier and heavier with each passing minute. The announcers, one of whom was Cycle Sport contributor Bruce Hildenbrand, began making jokes about how the heavy stuff would hold off—think Bill Murray in Caddy Shack.
By the time the Ferraris—three of them—started, the serious downpour was on. Of course, no amount of rain could drown the sonorous rumbling of one of Italy’s greatest exports (one of the few to rank higher than Colnago itself). I had already made up my mind that I was going to have a good time, rain or no and when I heard the Ferraris start I was ready to ride my bike. Hard.
The opening few miles involved a steady sorting of riders, with VIPs not interested in riding hard dropping back, fit riders heading for the rear wheels of the ex-pros and the thunder of those Ferraris. The first real sort came on the bridge to Coronado. There was a big acceleration at the front and by the time I made the left turn at the bottom of the bridge, a lead group containing former Olympian Dave Letteiri, former USPro Champion Kurt Stockton, former Olympian and National Champion Mari Holden among others were pulling away from a group of 20 or so.
Around mile 30 we arrived at the day’s second sag stop and after grabbing a couple of gels I immediately hit the road only to find myself riding with the Lettieri/Holden group. My carelessness was not without consequence. Following a few short pulls from me, the dozen-strong group quickly ramped up to a pace higher than I was comfortable riding at for the next 60 miles. There was a VeloNews staffer who looked eerily like Aussie Michael Rogers—on a time trial bike no less—who would head to the front of the group seemingly immediately after his own pulls and lift the pace. While Kurt Stockton looked comfy, I needed to save a few matches for the 80-mile mark.
I sat up on a long false flat and quickly saw a rider in one of the ’08 Highroad rain jackets make the same choice. Turns out it was AEG’s Andrew Messick who I’d met only the night before. Andrew proved to be terrific company. We rode together up the six mile climb and on the descents of Hawley Springs Road and Lyons Valley Road in the hinterlands near Jamul, Messick proved himself to be a very adept descender in the rain.
The rain continued like darkness.
Messick and I traded pulls like we’d been training partners for a decade. I hadn’t had that level of comfort with a rider I’d never ridden with before since I stopped racing. But at the Olympic Training Center we parted ways; I needed calories.
An engineer for a tire company once told me that the biggest contributor to flats, the thing that predisposed a tire to a puncture more than anything else was water. As you already know, rain is a great way to get a flat, and get a flat I did.
Soon after, a group caught me and it was this quintuplet that I rolled with to the finish. Somewhere around mile 92 or 93, the rain actually stopped coming down. I didn’t really notice at first; we continued to rooster tail through standing water straight to the finish.
At one point one of the riders in our group, Allain, a Belgian hard man he flew over specifically for the event asked me if we were back in San Diego.
“I think so.” I didn’t really know. It had been five hours since I’d last seen a familiar road, which was while we were on Coronado Island. I could have been in Portland for all the familiarity I had with the neighborhood. We were entering an industrial area with numerous railroad tracks and all I could think about was watching for the turns and making it over the railroad tracks without falling.
Allain’s bike was equipped with some Schwalbe Super Moto tires that were wider than a “Biggest Loser” contestant. I eyed his bike with suspicion. Those tires were perfect for this weather. I began to wonder if he knew things I didn’t. Just how good were the weathermen in Belgium?
Rolling into the finish was surreal; riding through downtown gave nothing away and so our final left into the parking lot where the ride finished came unexpectedly. Someone yelled at one of the riders not to sprint in the finishing chute; thank heaven. It was narrow and contained a few turns. We received finisher’s medal after we crossed the line and returned the timing chips.
I’ve eaten more post-century meals than I care to remember. Most of them weren’t exactly memorable—little wonder I don’t remember most of them—even though they were all useful. This one was unusual for the quality of food. It was delicious as only Italians could produce. From pasta to polenta, salad to sausage, there was a lot of great food.
Looking back, the course had an extraordinary number of turns compared to most centuries I do. They were well-marked and the signs were easy to see well in advance. And with so many turns, there weren’t enough off-duty cops in all of San Diego County to have all the intersections controlled for us, so we needed good signage.
I know plenty of people don’t get what the big deal is about Gran Fondos. To all of them I say, do one. The mass start and self-selection into groups makes the event, well, a good deal more unified. The random start for the average century just isn’t nearly as interesting to me as the self-selection that comes when you find a group riding at exactly your pace.
While I showed up for the Gran Fondo Colnago ready to have an enjoyable ride no matter what Mother Nature served up, though I had admitted the only reason I didn’t want it to rain was to make sure I could get photos. Even with the rain, this was a high-profile event that was as well organized as any event I’ve ever entered, easily on a par with Sea Otter, but with the downtown departure and finish it made for a memorable event.