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Vaughn's Excellent Adventure: San Francisco Grand Prix
By Vaughn Trevi
Date: 9/19/2002
Vaughn's Excellent Adventure: San Francisco Grand Prix

A weekend in San Francisco...

The first event of the weekend was an sneak peak at the competition for the SFGP. The San Raphael Classic a 90 minute crit over tight half mile tree lined streets of the Marin County need to add to Jaime and Locutus's great report. I did expect that the teams would take it easy the day before the Grueler on the Bay. But Stephanie, the 7Up soigneur, told me that with $20,000 in prize money the ladies and mens pros would never let the pressure off. The mens race was marked by relentless attempts to create a gap but all were brought back to set up a group sprint.

Gord Fraser once again flew out of the peloton led by teammate Henk Vogels. Vogels blocked Carney in the process allowing Fraser to nip Prime Alliance super sprinter Jonas Carney and Alex Candelario, his lead out man, at the line. Nice to see Milk Ras winner, Navigator's Ciaran Powers, at the finish in fourth just off the podium. A premonition of the next day's race showed Kevin Monahan, USPro Crit Champ (7UP-Nutra Fig) fifth, and Charles Dionne (7Up Nutra fig ) seventh. Siro Camponogara (Navigators) was 6th, Damon Kluck (Saturn) 8th, Matt Dubberley (Sierra Nevada) 9th and Jesse Lawler (Choco Andean) filled out the top ten.

Now unless I lost count, that means our Canadian Cipo, Gordon Fraser, has 17 victories this season! A welcome result as his team searches for a new sponsor for the coming season. This may have been an omen for what we might later look back and call "The Weekend Canadian Cyclists Ruled."

That evening the Daily Peloton staff were invited to a private showing of the new film by Scott Coady, "The Tour Baby," a behind the scenes look at the Tour de France which proved to be entertaining and funny. As Frankie Andreu said,  it captures the ambience of following the tour. Scott has a goal to raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation by selling the video. Look for more on Scott and the movie at TheTourBaby.

Saturday morning comes and it is off to the races through the morning fog and chill - for a minute I ask myself have I been beamed to Belgium as I see the riders in leg and arm warmers. San Francisco possesses the most European ambience of any city in the USA, and it has become ever more so European as I watch the Saeco Team warming up in their bright red kits.

A moment later the Aqua e Sapone Zebratto take the start line, and the Postal Blue mixed in with the yellow of Saturn, Blue and white of Prime Alliance, Silver and Green of 7up, Grey and blue of the Shroeder Iron, Orange of Ofoto Lombardi ...and the other muti colored jerseys of Mercury, Jelly Belly, Sierra Nevada, Navigators, Choco Andean, Nippon Hodo, Power Bar/ Corona, the US National and the local boys from Webcor/Alto Velo, and the one bright hot pink Telekom Jersey of Kevin Livingston.

One hundred eighty riders, some of the best riders in the world, come to take the measure of themselves against each other and a brutal 109 mile circuit. It may be commonplace to see this in Europe but for an American who has from his youth read magazines and watched videos the sight is a dream come true; for a moment it is like I have made it to France or Belgium for the start of a European Classic.

Mixed in with Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Eki, Landis, Wegman, Giunti, Scarponi, Simeoni, Cunego are our boys of the USPro Circuit:  Pate, Lieswyn, Horner, Lechuga, Frazer, Wherry, Monahan, Friel, Klasna, Vogels, Jansen, Sorensen  - American legends, some riders from other countries racing in the USA pro circuit. Too many names to mention, all real class riders, some I've seen race in local races, Sea Otter, Tour of Gila...some I know, have interviewed or talked to, I hope they have a day blessed with "good legs" and can meet the challenge. I've seen the course and I know it will demand every bit of determination and form they have to ride and finish this race and do well. I admire them like gladiators about to enter the ring.

I work my digital camera to catch a shot of Danny Pate framed by the white and black Zebratto uniforms. George Hincapie rides up and joins the Postal team, a roar goes up from the crowd for George and then another deafening cheer -  Lance is riding to the start line.

The National Anthem is sung, the start gun explodes the riders mount and the San Francisco crowd yells in unison.... it is ground zero for a 9.2 scale fan quake as the peloton leaves. The San Francisco Grand Prix has brought European Classic racing to the USA.

The team cars launch themselves to follow their riders and I remember I have been offered a ride in the Prime Alliance Car by team owner Tom Irvine. As Manny would say, "it took me about .ooooo1 seconds" to say yes to the invite. Prime Alliance DS, Roy Knickman, calls Kirk Willet on the cell to pick me up on the next lap. I get a ride on the third or fourth Lap, transfer to the car is quick, one rider out, I leap into the passenger we drive off, the acceleration throws me into the seat. Kirk smiles and I reach for the seat belt and strap myself in as we slide through the first turn and enter the course.

A break is off the front including Alex Candelario and Russell Stevenson, Doug Ziewacz. Willet is driving like a Grand Prix driver in a Ferrari through the course, juggling the wheel, a walkie talkie and a cell phone, calling out splits on the break and orders to the riders of Prime Alliance. In the background the race radio chatters; a car is blocking the course. In the cross chatter of one of the radios I hear "gruppo compatto" from one of the Italian teams with instructions to their riders. The break is away without organized resistance from the peloton. The roar of the fans on the side of road occasionally obscures my ability to hear what Kirk is saying to the riders on the radio.

Kirk gets a request for a Coke from Danny Pate, who with Horner is shadowing Lance and Hincapie. The request is forwarded to the feed zone, confirmed, and Danny is told who will have the drink for him...all of this done without missing a heartbeat as we tear along the asphalt.

As the car screams through the early corners - Broadway, North Point,  Laguna, over the rollers and flats as we lead up to the feed zone, I notice a rider remounting and chasing up the hill. It is Henk Vogels of Saturn, his first of two flats for the day. Kirk continues to call out splits to the riders, driving like a man possessed. I am wondering how he can do it and still maintain control of the car.

I look up and a gray mass looms above past the feed zone.. it looks like we will run head first into a skyscraper, but it is the Fillmore street hill climb. It looks flat in perspective but I notice it is one of those typical San Francisco hills where the sidewalks are stairs and the houses look like they grow out of the pavement. A reputed 18%, it looks worse - they must be mistaken! The Hill is lined ten deep with fans screaming and waving, cheering on the riders and the team cars. We pass Carney who has driven the pace at the front for the first few laps, and is now losing time on the hills having used himself up.

I attempt to photograph the fans, the hill, the peloton on the hill...later I check the photos, I have photographed the ground, the sky, the blur of the faces of cheering fans. We crest Fillmore, fly down the stair-stepped hill to a flat section where the team car in front of us bottoms out, sending up a shower of sparks...Kirk laughs, "Haha, rental!" I am reminded of the movie Bullitt; it feels like I am flying through San Francisco with Steve McQueen at the wheel. A few riders who lost time on the Fillmore are chasing furiously down the hills and through the turns trying to make up time and regain the stretched peloton.

Down Polk, a hard right on Bay Street. Fans line the route, two more slight right turns and I swear Willet has executed a perfect four wheel drift through the corner. I ask what kind of car is this...Kirk says, "A Subaru." Damn! Good driving, Kirk.

All the while, Kirk is calmly working radios and cell phones, coaching the team and crew. Like a Field Marshal in the heat of battle he is cool as a cucumber, calling the splits, talking to his riders and crew, engaged in the strategy. I look up; the dreaded Taylor street climb looms ahead. Sorry, it looks worse than the Fillmore - this is the hill the riders do ten times, five on the long course, five on the short.

The color of the jerseys of the peloton shimmers in the San Francisco haze; the fog is breaking up and the weather is changing to sunny warm. The blue sky is opening above, easy to see as we enter the hill - I am pinned to the seat by a combination of acceleration and the angle of ascent.

In a short time we have negotiated the climb, the hill is lined with fans ten deep, the top of the hill is a gallery 30 deep of fans rising above the turn onto Columbus Street. A hard right and we are descending to the flat circuit that approaches the start area on the Embarcadero. In a flat minute Kirk asks if I liked it. I reply yes and say I would be happy to ride another lap. Shortly word comes I will be switched out...the Prime Alliance car screeches to a stop, I'm out and another person is in the car in a flash. Kirk and the Subaru burn rubber, and are gone into the distance.

Tom Irvine asks me if I enjoyed the ride - I can only say, "Forget rollercoasters!" I thank Tom Irvine, Kirk Willet and Roy Knickman for the ride of a lifetime.

In a few laps George Hincapie escapes the peloton on Taylor, 30 miles from the finish, a gallant effort. Some speculate George is attempting to spread the field thin for Lance and Ekimov...but the fact is, George lays to rest any last doubters on his climbing ability; he thrills the crowds with his valiant attack, running out of gas on the last lap. For his efforts, Mr. Hincapie wins the Mountain Trophy for the race.

The last lap attacks are relentless on the leg-draining Fillmore and Taylor street hills. Lance attempts to drop the competition to the finish - not so easy. It will be a sprint, no one can escape. Me, I'm surprised any of the riders have made it this far.

I hear the announcer call out the leaders' names: Armstrong, Vogels, Ekimov, Dionne, Giunti, Leaper...the announcer call Vogels as the strong sprinter. I think to myself, "Hey! That's Charles Dionne of 7Up known for a killer sprint..."I'm thinking,"I wish Chuck Coyle were here with me, I just know this is it...7Up/Nutrafig, often ignored, will score." I am trying to focus the camera, past the other photographers leaning out over the barriers to catch the sprint, and I am thinking to myself,  "God, I hope Scott Schaffrick [the Daily Peloton photographer] gets this..."

I see a flash of green through the lens as I click the shutter and know Dionne has done it! The crowd erupts in cheers; I hear the Dionne called as the winner. What a day!

A great performance by Charles Dionne and the 7Up Nutrafig team. A huge win for a team that is always there in the final selection and has proved its status as major contenders whether a road race, criterium or an American Classic like today.

Some incredible performances by riders worthy of note: Henk Vogels, who chased back on after two flats and was able to rejoin the lead group and land on the podium at second. Tough guy, Henk. Nice to see the Aqua Sapone jersey with Massimo Giunti on the podium. George Hincapie, man, what a thrill, George, a great attack!

I found it an interesting podiums with two Canadian winners riding on American teams, Charles Dionne and Gord Frazer to be the two top winners of the weekend...Oh Canada eh! Congrats to our northern neighbors!

Some thoughts in closing: I think that the enormous success of this event and others in the USPro Circuit by Threshold Sports demonstrates that the USA is ready for more world class events - perhaps a stage race which will bring more European teams to the States.

I, like most fans, was happy to see Lance Armstrong and the Postal team racing in the USA instead of on TV where we usually see you guys.  I hope the cheers let you and the boys know how much. Kevin Livingston...hey, I hope we see you riding a bit next year in the States, good to see you here too!

I have to say the USPro teams and riders like Dionne, Vogels, Horner, Jansen, Petersen, Johnson, Lieswyn, Fraser, Pate, Leaper, have demonstrated well that American pros are every bit a match for a world class field. This is one weekend you don't want to miss next year, so mark your calendars now!

Thanks for reading!

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