My morning started off kind of cool in that I found out I was staying at the same Ramada Inn in Modesto as the Saunier Duval-Scott team. I offered to help carry one rider's bags down the stairs
he was dressed in his kit and looked a little confused as to how he would get his leather case and metallic rolling luggage down the wet concrete stepsbut he politely refused. On top of that, they were driving around in unmarked mini-vans. Wow. Here's this European Pro Tour team making its way through the budget motel circuit in California. Wonder what they thought of the continental breakfast...
For today's start in Modesto, large, bulbous clouds hovered over the sky. They seemed to loom as a warning for what lay ahead: the 4,360-foot peak of Mt. Hamilton and the category 1 climb up the Sierra Road. The clouds seemed to overemphasize how mid-size and modest Modesto felt (I couldn't resist the name game there, but it fits). Compared to the other stops in the Tour so far, it had the easiest parking and the most...curiously interested crowd. There weren't as many cyclists and most people seemed to have come out for the spectacle of the whole thing more than any interest in the actual race. It was fun to see pretty much every elementary school class in town lining the streets ringing cowbells. As a reporter for the Modesto Bee later told me, "That's because kids in Modesto grow up with cowbells!" But it was a genuine interest and enthusiasm, and it was cool to be a part of.
The morning was marked by a Slipstream rider, Tyler Farrar, in the yellow jersey. Unfortunately, he would withdraw from the stage, and thus the race, because of a stomach virus that might have affected more than one rider.
After the start, I found my way to San Jose while the riders tackled the hills. Because the roads up Mt. Hamilton were closed to everyone but locals only, I skipped it. (Also, it was 35 degrees at the top and I packed light.) However, here's a blog from another Active community user, ToshiMoshi, who made the trek.
By the time I got to the broadcast in the press room, Levi Leipheimer and Rabobank's Robert Gesink had broken away from the peloton and were tearing it up the Sierra Road. Leipheimer is the defending AToC champion and was making his first real run at the yellow jersey. The mindset of the journalists around me was that the race had now really begun.
The finish was a fast sprint into the city. I was able to finally get myself into the press area just beyond the finish line. An exciting place to be, but not the best view if your aren't wearing a special vest and behind an enormous lens.
Leipheimer seemed to concede the stage to the 21-year-old Gesink, who was the Best Young Rider at last year's Tour of California. And as well he should, Gesink did the majority of the pulling for the two breakaway riders. Said Leipheimer a little later, "He was the guy I picked to be my ally."
Here's a shot of Geslink being interviewed by our very own Bruce Hildenbrand for the AToC DVD:
He was seriously overjoyed to be the day's victor. In comparison, Leipheimer was...stoic for a guy getting smooched by the podium girls. To busy concentrating on the remainder of the Tour? The guy might be a pedaling powerhouse, but he's not exactly a smile machine.
Let's compare. Levi:
It's the same look! Blue Steel. Le Tigre. The same look! (Sorry, started quoting Zoolander there.)
Now let's see Gesink:
Yeah, he looks happy. I mean, I've studied those photos multiple times and the conclusion is that if the Rock Racing podium girls can't get Levi to smile, then...ummm...what was I talking about again?