Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tour of California Bicycle Race

Here’s a little diary about my week in the Tour of California bicycle race. It seemed like a good idea to keep a diary but once the race was underway, I had very little time to write.  Work, eat, sleep, repeat.  The only reason I made it though the week was because I was joined by two other mechanics, Jon from Detroit who had never been a race mechanic before, and Greg who may have been the most experienced mechanic at the race. Between us, we had it well covered: no experience, very little experience, and tons of experience.

From T.O.C.

The race was eight days, but for some reason it felt like a month. If any big events happened last week, I do not know of them. If you don’t want to read about the racing, enjoy the pictures and check back later.

From T.O.C.
Sunday. Day one of the Tour of California was canceled, although it was not that simple. Saturday night there was a lot of speculation about the possibility of the stage being canceled. The weather forecast was bad but pros race in the bad weather if they have to. Then again, this was very bad weather.

From T.O.C.

After a bit of delaying it was decided they would race a shortened course, just 50 miles instead of the planned 110, and the start was delayed from 10 AM to 12ish. The riders were suited up, actually on the starting line, the teams cars were lined up, the team van, RV, and feed zone vehicle had all departed. The National Anthem was played and it was announced they would start in 1 minute. About 90 seconds later, riders were seen riding the wrong way from the start line. Then we heard on the race radio that the stage had been canceled.

Oh, if only it was that easy. It was 28 degrees out, and snowing lightly. We had the two team cars, and by rearranging the equipment inside, we could make room for one additional person in each, but there were eight riders.

The start of the race had been in South Lake Tahoe, CA, and the finish on the north shore of the lake. We decided our riders would ride the east side of Lake Tahoe to what should have been the finish of the days stage and we would follow them in the team cars. The feed-zone SUV and the RV would try to catch us (they had taken the west side road) along the way to provide extra transportation in case the riders choose not to continue.

From T.O.C.
And choose not, they did. Unfortunately, about 20 minutes before the other two vehicles could catch up. What can you do? We’re here for them, only the riders can win races. As the staff members and a sponsor stood outside shivering in what had become a real blizzard, the riders waited in the team cars.

Eventually we were underway and arrived at the hotel/collection of condos. I was one of the last to arrive at the hotel and missed out on the bike washing, but it did get done. Ever wash your car with a garden hose in 28 degrees? I’m glad I missed it.

Stage 2 is supposed to go over Donner Pass, but reports today say it is snowed in. No telling what the race will be like, but I’m pretty sure they will have something, and we’re ready.
Monday, Stage 2.
The first actual day of racing, and today’s stage was shortened due to the cold temps. It was about 70 miles after the cut off what would have been a very scary decent from Donner Pass. I rode in the back of the team car, my usual spot.

It was largely an uneventful day, thankfully. One flat tire, no crashes. Our sprinter, Shawn Milne, got 10th in the group sprint. Since it was the first real day of racing, he is now 10th overall in what is arguably the 3rd largest bicycle race in the world. Tonight we washed the team cars (has to be done every night) in the rain. Made me feel like I was from Seattle….


Missed a day. Not sure why Tuesday seemed so long, but when I could I hit the rack and slept straight through the night. Today was the first big climbing of the race, and it was a tough one.

At some point during the week, we met Frantz who had given up his job on a cruise ship to ride his bicycle from Argentina to Alaska, then home to Quebec.  Our chance meeting and admiration of his trek earned him some free mechanical work on his bicycle and a campsite next to our trailer.  Best sleep he'd had in some time, he said.

From T.O.C.

Thursday-Friday-Saturday.  As the temperatures get more normal (for bike racing), the fans get less normal.

From T.O.C.
How did the days become such a blur? Where I am depends on what day it is, and that was not easy to keep track of. Frankie handled that anyway. For me it was enough to know if it was morning or evening. Morning? Load six bikes on each of the two team cars, pack the back seats with spare wheels, and off we go to the start; two team cars covered with bikes, an SUV packed with food, an RV packed with riders. Two directors, two mechanics, two people for the feed-zone, a doctor, chiropractor, the team legal counsel (he was the RV driver), and 8 racers.

From T.O.C.
Evening? Unload the cars, wash the wheels, inspect the tires, wash the bikes, do any needed maintenance, repair any crash damage, dinner, shower, sleep.

From T.O.C.

From T.O.C.


Last day of racing. Today the focus is not slacking off. No coasting to the finish for the mechanics. The race begins somewhere (I’m sure it was in California) and finishes in Thousand Oaks. Right after the start the race-radio announces “Kenda , service.” One of our riders, Luca Domiani, has a problem, signaled by raising his hand. We’re car 18 in the caravan which isn’t good. Frankie pulls to the left and floors it. The other teams heard the service call on their race radio and know to expect him to be moving forward, so they all stay to the right. Our second team car does the same move, they were car 18 in the second half of the caravan, but when we stop, they need to cover the rest of our riders for us so they were speeding to the first half of the caravan...

From T.O.C.

Luca had a flat front tire and pulled to the right as the rules require. We’re passing the caravan on the left (as the rules require) and with 17 other team cars plus marshals, press, V.I.P.s, and neutral support, all keeping to the right, and spectators lining the road, we don’t see Luca waiting on the side of road. When we get to the front of the caravan, which is the back of the field of races, called the “peleton,” Luca is no where to be seen. It occurs to us that we missed him just as race-radio tells us we may have missed him. Frankie pulled over to the right and stopped while I grab the mic for our car-to-car radio and tell our second team car to stop for him. “Huh?” they say as they drive by us.

Fortunately for Luca, there is a third option. Neutral Support will help any rider from any team and covered for us in this instance. Sorry Luca.

The rest of the race is uneventful for us. Another hard day of racing for the guys, another day in the back seat of the team car for me. At the finish, with 2 miles of racing left, the field was going 40 miles per hour on the flat course. A lot of the racers in the field will be heading across the Atlantic to race in the Tour de France. The Tour of California was their warm-up. For us, it was the biggest race of the season.
Sunday evening we skip the bike wash. Instead the trailer gets packed, goodbyes are said, and two of us hit the road. We need to be in Greenville, South Carolina, by Thursday night. Welcome to racing.

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