Thursday, March 6, 2008

Tour of California: Stage 7

On February 24, Molly and I decided to brave the elements and go to Pasadena and watch the peloton battle the final 30 miles of the Tour of California. In truth, I decided, Molly indulged. We arrived fairly early, and for a while it looked like we might avoid rain. We checked out the booths and collected free swag. I had joked about wearing a Team Jelly Belly jersey on my next big ride, I thought it would be funny given my more than ample physique. So Molly threw down the gauntlet by buying the jersey. (Here I am in Jelly Belly gear) I'm hoping the team will adopt some sort of reverse sponsorship and will pay me not to wear it. But I digress.

We scoped out our spot about 100 meters to the finish line and guarded it for an hour as if we were waiting for the Mainstreet Electrical Parade at Disneyland. It began getting more crowded and at around 2:30pm, the announcement came over the loud "The breakaway is about two minutes away." Almost on cue, as the peloton approached the Pasadena Rose Bowl, the showers began. People flocked from all around to get their spot. Nobody cared about the rain.

The CHP drove by, then came the race judge in the yellow lead car, then the Mavic Neutral support motorcycle and then the lone cyclist. Tom Zirbel, of Bissel Pro Cycling, had gone out the front of a breakaway that had been out in front for most of the day. Zirbel had a 1 minute lead with 30 miles to go. The last 30 miles were 6 loops around the Rose Bowl and surroundings. Each lap was about 4.5 miles. A minute later the 3 remaining riders followed. A few minutes later, what remained of the 180 man peloton that had started the Tour of California came through like a locomotive. In the first lap the chase group closed the gap to about 15 seconds, but for 4 laps after that the gap remained. Each lap we questioned whether the peloton would catch the chase. And with each lap we became more and more convinced Zirbel would hold them all off. Zirbel was impressive and the speed of the peloton rain and all was a sight to see.

The CHP vehicle came around for the last time, we expected Zirbel to be in the lead. To our surprise, the chase group had caught him. George Hincapie, former lieutenant to Lance Armstrong and now captain of Team High Road, was charging hard and opened up a gap the peloton was bearing down behind. In the end, Hincapie decisively won. The veteran took them all to school. The peloton came in with Team Astana protecting yellow jersey wearer Levi Leipheimer. It was a sight to see!

We stayed for the awards ceremony, which was a lot of fun. When the winners left the podium we were standing a few feet away from the likes of 2nd overall winner David Millar and Christian Vande Velde the 3rd place overall winner. As we were leaving Levi was a couple of feet away, although surrounded by, of course, bicycle police.

Here are some pictures of that day...

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