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 town...no 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
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 seat...as 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
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
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
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
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
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!