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Man in the Arena

February 18, 2008

Overheard this same conversation twice today:

 

"Man, seeing the group go by is amazing. All the colors...the fluidity...they're so close and moving so fast!"

 

"Yeah. Do you know if they go by more than once?"

 

"I think they come by three or four times."

 

"Good. I was hoping I wasn't going to stand here all this time just to see them once!"

 

In both Sausalito (today's Stage 1 start) and Santa Rosa (the finish), the riders did a few circuits around a short course within the city limits. From what I've heard, the French handle the waiting with wine and cheese. The start featured a neutral start, where the riders just kind of warm up the legs and show off for the crowd:

 

 

Paolo Bettini brought up the rear, though when you're a world champ, the pack will wait (or you'll catch up...either one):

 

 

Sausalito was a beautiful little town, a mix of seaside European and New England port. It's the perfect treasure at the end of the drive up from Palo Alto, along Redwood Highway, then over the Golden Gate Bridge.  My regret at not being able to follow the riders on their course is alleviated by the thrill of finding my own way in a place I've never explored.

 

The route into Napa to Santa Rosa bared evidence of how much fun the drive would be when the vineyards were in full bloom.

 

And so it was again that the peloton put on a show for the crowd, this time proving that they could indeed reel in the breakaway of the day (Jackson Stewart of BMC). They arrived in town en masse:

 

 

 

Three laps around a circuit was exciting enough. Then George Hincapie and Tom Boonen tap wheels less than 300 meters from the finish and Hincapie goes down:

 

 

After catching his breath, he got back on his horse and finished, the crowd loving every minute of the American's resolve.

 

 

Tomorrow's forecast calls for rain, with a chance of more thrills and spills. Meanwhile, CSC is showing as early favorites. On to the capitol!

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Today's Prologue was the kind of opening event organizers dream about. The morning fog burnt off by noon, just in time for the pre-race benefit time trial. Local radio and TV personalities, amateur riders, a former mayor of Palo Alto and this guy...

 

 

...who warmed up the 2.1-mile time trial course up for the professionals to come later. Joining in on the action was 2007 Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack (wearing a not-available to the public Specialized aero helmet).

 

 

By the time the pros starting taking off, the crowd was pretty into it. Palo Alto was awash in la vita cyclisma. It seemed like every other person was riding a bike or walking around in their kits, cleats or helmet. I felt like I was in Amsterdam.

 

 

As the cycling content manager at Active, it warmed my heart to see roadies mix with mountain bikers, riding past singlespeeds and fixes. Recumbent bikes and a few hand-crank cycles could be seen. And best of all, kids seemed to be enamored with the fact that they could ride their bike in the street. The cycling love was ever present and there was nary a "They'realldoperssowhocaresthisisAmericaanywaygoplaysomefootball" sentiment about.

 

But really, the riders put on the show--both on the course and off. Fabian Cancellara's time trial blew the competition away (as Bruce predicted.), but American favorite Levi Leipheimer stayed close in the fourth spot. The talk of the starting area were the sweet Slipstream Stashes:

 

 

Though I'm not sure how aero they are,  the facial hair must have worked, since Slipstream placed four guys in the top ten. Then there was the nose plugs, a "traditional/superstition" according to Bruce Hildenbrand (I'll get his video explanation up as soon as I can).

 

 

A few more observations:

 

-Cancellara was the only rider to not sit down before the time trial. Instead, he arrived late to have his bike measured and weighed, then rode around until just before he needed to take off. He then just coasted his bike up to the gate, waited, and won the day.

 

-Mario Cipollini arrived with a camera crew, a million-dollar smile and perfect hair to a raucous welcome by the crowd. As good a greeting as any that the American riders received.

 

-Fan access was amazing. Team buses filled the streets and riders warmed up right next to the sidewalk as spectators watched in awe. More than once I saw or overheard someone ecstatic over being given a water bottle by a pro. Kind of like that Mean Joe Green commercial where he gives the kid his jersey after getting a Coke. Really cool. The riders seemed more than happy to be visible to the public.

 

Lots to look forward to in the coming days. Tomorrow it's Sausalito to Santa Rosa--Levi's current home. Should be a good reception for the defending champ.

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