SANTA ROSA - SACRAMENTO: Today I skipped the start in Santa Rosa. Rain and another neutral start couldn't outweigh the draw of getting up the first climb of the day, the category 2 Trinity Grande. Several times I heard it described as "gnarly."
Getting lost left me driving country roads through Sonoma County. Not a bad place for a wrong turn. Finally reaching Trinity Road, I found fans already camped out along the ascent, while others riding their bikes up (I was pretty jealous. I think if I had my bike with me, I'd probably not do another update or blog; I'd be too busy riding the race euphoria off). These two were pretty proficient in marking encouragement to the riders (mostly Steven Cozza):
And just to be clear, they wanted me to mention that it's chalk. It'll wash off in the rain. Luckily for the riders and fans, it was merely foggy near the summit.
The grade is pretty steep, but the constant switchbacks mean the riders can't just get into a rhythm, they need to keep their heads up and watch where they're going. BMC rider Scott Nydam was first up, holding a lead of a few minutes after only 16.6 miles of the stage.
When the peloton came, it was like a wave of workhorses. The hills were alive with cowbells.
I then hopped in the Chevy Cobalt and followed the course down the other side of the climb. Whoa. Getting up was only half the battle. The descent had some hairpin turns that had to make more than a few guys a little nervous. It was like Flava Flav sang in "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man": "You jumped out of the jelly into a jam." (The jelly being your legs at the top, the jam being your brakes.)
I wound my way over to the highway and bounced over to Davis, where I was able to catch the race along flatter terrain. Once again, Nydam was in the lead. This time with 11 minute on the peloton! The eventual Most Aggressive Rider of the stage has to have some internal fortitude to do nearly a century alone in occasion rain.
Lucky for the peloton, they have a flat ride into Sacramento:
In the capitol, it was another three quick laps around the city center. By this time, Nydam had been caught and the stage was up for grabs.
I was stationed about 200 meters from the finish, and on the final break a High Road rider (who I'd learn later was Gerald Ciolek) broke out in a dead sprint. He had about a 10 meter lead and I saw him look back a couple times.
"He's the one," I thought. But apparently he didn't have it in the end because Tom Boonen powered through to take the stage. There's a great video of it on the official AToC site.
Whew! What a day. And I only walked up the climb. Now I'm in Modesto. Tomorrow's stage runs from here to San Jose and includes the climb up Mt. Hamilton--the highest peak in AToC history (okay, it's only been three years, but that's how they bill it...).