When you love cycling and a tour
When you love cycling and a tour comes to your hometown, it's a given that
you're going to go and watch the stage. But when the tour actually comes
right into your backyard, so to speak, it's impossible to not let your son skip
school and meet up with family on the KOM of the last climb. I travel the
San Marcos Pass over three hundred days a year and stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of
California was coming right up that same route before it descended to the ocean
front of Santa Barbara.
A quick trip down Highway 101 after the start in San Luis Obispo became a
game of "beat the road closures," as the California Highway Patrol were taking
extra precautions and closing the roads early. But I waved my press pass and had
my resident's drivers license in hand just in case I got some flack. No
flack, and I was heading for the top.
The San Marcos Pass is a winding pass that goes by Lake Cachuma straight into
Santa Barbara. The views over your shoulder as you ascend the grade are simply stunning. It's a view I see everyday, but as I drove to the
top, I kept wondering what the cyclists would think of it. Most of the
time they claim they don't view much besides the wheel in front of them, but I was still in my car and I was trying
hard to view it all with fresh eyes.
There were hundreds of people that rode their bikes to the top
of the climb. It isn't often that the pass is closed to through traffic,
so cyclists were taking advantage of a rare opportunity to do the climb.
Sometimes in winter we have big storms and rock slides occur and the road washes
away....oh, wait, it is winter. I almost forgot: it's February.
Who could tell?
There were bikes galore with only the most fit cyclists being able to make
all the way to the top. I presume the lower slopes were filled with riders that
didn't have the inclination or the stamina to make it to the KOM at 2155 feet
above sea level (and you do start at sea level in Santa Barbara).
My friend Kathy rode her bike all the way up. She was so
happy to meet us on the top and share the fun of a stage race KOM. We
laughed about forgetting to bring some chalk so we could draw on the
road. But my ever-clever husband came up with some pieces of sandstone
that worked just fine for street painting, so Kathy got busy and wrote the name
of one of our favorite cyclists right across the street. Sure enough, a
little while later Jens came across his name in one of the leading groups.
We're sure he had nothing better to do than read it.
Some cyclists worked so hard they had to plant themselves dead
center in the middle of San Marcos Pass to eat a little lunch and enjoy the
view. My many years of commuting have never afforded me that exact view on
the pass. If they had forgotten their sandwiches, they could have had free
pancakes at the Protech skin care booth, or chowed on some Clif Bars that were
being passed out to the crowd. Other freebies were shirts from Clif, hats
from Toyota-United Pro and cowbells from Protech and Amgen.
Waiting for a race can take a few hours since you have to go
before the road closes. Finding things to pass the time and entertain
oneself is somewhat of a challenge but always fun. I like to people-watch,
so seeing the gal dressed up like a friendly devil was entertaining, as
was the ever-present Specialized Angel. The angel was everywhere all week
at the race, and liked to blow kisses to the riders from the top of the climb.
My friend Tim had ridden his bike up to the top and was rewarded with meeting
the angel. And it was a little ironic that this same Tim was an original
designer for the Stump Jumper built by Specialized.
It gets close to race time when you see the helicopters in the
sky. A little buzz starts filtering through the crowd that the riders are
coming and people move closer to the middle of the road.
Police and race cars come by next, moving the crowds to the
sides, but as soon as they pass the people move back in. Everyone wants to
be close to the riders and everyone wants a good view. As the riders
appear the crowds part and everyone rings their cowbells. It's loud and
rowdy and everyone is having a good time...including this little guy who
decided that if he let out a good howl he could contribute to the fun.
The riders go by in groups, and sometimes with a little difficulty we recognize
who the rider is and scream out his name. They are working so hard by now,
but a nice long downhill is soon to be their reward as they crest the hill and
disappear from our sight as they speed for the finish line in Santa Barbara.
It was a good day of cycling and we're all happy we made our way to the King of
the Mountain on San Marcos Pass. Family, friends and cycling are high
on my list of the best things in life.