Thursday, May 19th, 2011 at 4:52 pm in Bicycling.
It pays to go for a bike ride sometimes if you want to see the fastest bike racers in the world in action. I did that Wednesday to get a glimpse of the pro racers riding on a rural road as they they traveled from Livermore to San Jose in the Amgen Tour of California. I parked my car in southern Livermore miles from the course, unloaded my bike from the car rack, and pedaled for miles past homes in vineyards toward Mines Road, a narrow two-lane road on the race course.
Other cyclists had the same idea. We pedaled on a wide bicycle lane between the road and the vineyards. At one road junction lined with spectators, cars were turned back by race monitors, but bicyclists were allowed to continue.
I followed the bike traffic on Mines Road, past green pasture land, a few ranch houses and fields with goats. A California Highway Patrol with flashing lights car drove up, cautioning riders to prepare to move to the side of the road because the racers would be coming.
I pulled over, joining a rancher who had driven to the end of her driveway to watch the spectacle and ring her cow bells, a traditional encouragement for bike racers.
“These are real cow bells,” she said proudly.
It seemed like dozens of race event cars and CHP cars rode by as the race spectators patiently waited by the side of the road. Then even more cars came. It rained lightly. We could see a television helicopter flying overhead to film the race.
“Where are they?” someone asked.
At last. A breakaway of 10 racers appeared from around a curve. They whizzed by in a few seconds and disappeared on the 82-mile-long course.
A minute or two later, the main group - known as the peloton - appeared with riders tightly bunched together. I knew the pack had several famous racers whom I had seen on television during Tour de France broadcasts. But the group whizzed by so fast that I couldn’t recognize anyone. They were traveling near 30 mph.
Ready. Set. Gone.
Then came the follow cars. It seemed there were more cars than racers. Cars carrying bikes. Cars carrying race officials. Cars cutting in and out. Some cars rode three by three across the two-lane road, forcing spectators to jump back from the road.
Finally, we saw a car decorated with two brooms, signifying that the appearance of the sweeper car and the end of the parade. It was over.
I rode farther up Mines Road a few miles as many riders rode back in the opposite direction after leaving their race-watching positions in the hills.
I came across a gathering of race fans in cars parked in a field.
One woman in a car looked up at me and smiled as if to emphasize that the racers were long gone on their course to Mount Hamilton and then San Jose.
“You’re too slow,” she said.
Yes. But I got a close up view of the racers – even if just for a few seconds. What football fan has stood 15 feet from Joe Montana when he threw a touchdown pass, or sat the same distance from Willie Mays when he smacked a home run.
And I got a good workout from the ride. Next time maybe I’ll bring cow bells if I can just figure out where to stash them while riding.