Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Race Is On

Good fun in Long Beach today. Here are the leaders of the peleton whipping along at 30 m.p.h. or whatever they were doing, with Levi Leipheimer clearly visible in the gold jersey behind his Discovery domestiques in blue-black jerseys at the very front. Note the Tour of California banner flying overhead. (For those keeping score, this was taken from the Golden Shores overpass.)

Leipheimer did win in the end. Would have been a more exciting tour if the gold jersey had changed hands a few times, but I'm not at all disappointed to see him ride home in gold. Seems like an all-around good guy. Also a wicked hot rider, who trains on hills and roads I love too, up near Tom Waits' house in Petaluma.

From over by the Long Beach Pike outdoor mall, a shot of the day's attackers ahead of the peloton. I had no contact with race radio or any other minute-by-minute updates from the course, so I really had no idea who was attacking or what the day's strategies were. These guys stayed a few minutes ahead of the peloton at all spots where I was watching. (Can't even swear to you it was the same crew in the attack group each time. Didn't bring a scorecard to check their jersey numbers.)

Speaking of Levi Leipheimer, here's a picture of the King of California riding right by MrJumbo himself. I'm the one in the stained beige baseball cap; he's the one in the gold jersey. Levi and I are like that.

This is just to emphasize that the baseball cap is really stained, and that Levi and I are really tight. Look at the expression on his face—how exciting it must have been for him to ride by me!

Lead group charging by again, this time on the bluffs overlooking the Port of Long Beach. Having these boys riding through my own town was exciting for me because I know the roads well and didn't have to go far to see them. But for anyone following cycling, from anywhere, having a stage in Long Beach meant great backdrops for the excitement—in this case, the Queen Mary right over their shoulders.

Just Cause

No special occasion for these two shots--just that today was the day I happened to take them.
Above are some flowers growing from bulbs my sister gave me many years ago. I like a gift that keeps giving annually, especially one that reminds you of the kindness of family.

Roosters crow at dawn. This guy's body clock is still on East Coast time. I hear him get going around 3:30 or 4 most mornings.

His name is "Breakfast." I have a barbecue grill on my balcony.

The Reincarnation of Paul Revere's Horse

You'd think it would be pretty dull around here until the race begins at 1 p.m.

But no, they won't let me ride the empty course, because there are not one but two semi-pro races out there using it right now!

Fortunately, this gives me great fodder to use to experiment with camera angles and make sure I've got my settings right.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Excitement Builds . . .

. . . and the inconvenience.

Long Beach has sponsored a public art project focused on the Tour of California. The project's name is "Spin." Here's another expression of the inconvenience of having an international bike race come to your town for its finishing laps.

The sacrificial flame is lit, waiting for the first contestant to be caught with controlled substances in his urine specimen.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Leipheimer Saves Lead by a Thread

Again, I'm not having the time every day to watch these stages unfold and hang on the edge of my seat as these guys ride up the edges of mountains. But it's exciting still to get an e-mail once a day with a capsule review of the latest stage. Local boy Levi Leipheimer is still leading the Tour of California as the race leaves the San Francisco Bay Area and heads south down the coast.

I don't get too excited about watching or tracking most so-called spectator sports--I'd rather be out on the field playing than sitting in the stands watching.

But I do get a vicarious thrill from watching these guys tackle roads I'd love to ride, and it does inspire me to cycle better.

Yesterday these guys rode nearly 100 miles in slightly over half the time it would take me. Well, that's how long it would take me on flat roads, subtracting for breaks--about 7 hours. They finished, with no breaks, in 3.75 hours, including a stiff ride up a mountain that probably would see me getting off and walking. Last summer, when I was in shape, I was nearly breaking myself on a ride (near home) that climbed 722 feet in 1.77 miles. Yesterday these guys attacked a mountain that climbed 1700 feet in 4 miles. That is a stiff hill, and that's a long way to go up it. And it came after 70 miles of hard riding, at a spot in the route where I'd normally be taking it easy and hoping for a little wind from behind.

If I rode 100 miles, I'd be ready to take it easy the next day. Instead, for these guys, the next day is a 200-km bike ride, about 135 miles.

So when I get out on the weekend and spend a couple of hours on a 20-mile ride, and come back groaning and grinning about what great shape I'm in, these guys are an inspiration to tell me that the human body can still do better, and fly faster, and have less of a belly. On a ride with spectacular vistas.

With the Tour of California, part of the excitement is that these are routes I actually could ride myself--or, in Long Beach, a route I actually have ridden parts of. A guy can fantasize about taking a long weekend and attacking some of the same roads. For the Southern California routes, I wouldn't even have to take a long weekend--just a map and lots of water.

And humility.

So my fascination with watching the cyclists is a little more than if I were watching basketball or football or some sport I'm not actively involved in. Sure, the vistas are great, and also the strategies are intriguing. But the raw power these guys put out is a headline attraction for me, because it sets a standard against which I can measure myself. And when I know a particular hill in California is a Category 1 climb, or a Cat 2 or Cat 3 or hors categorie, I can ride it with my own legs (or drive it in my own car) and understand better what the cameras are showing me in the summer when the Tour de France takes the exact same riders over legendary routes like Alpe d'Huez or some col in the Pyrenees.

Then when I go out on the road myself, even if I'm moving at only half the pace, I can put to work some of what I've learned about distance cycling, and leave my body in better shape too.

Too many words, but here are a few more: The AP doesn't know how to spell Voigt, and the way the promoter describes the scene (check out how they describe the size of the crowds, which it's heartwarming to hear).

I'll admit part of the fun this week is watching the U.S. riders do well on home roads. And yes, I'm still happy to see Levi Leipheimer clinging to his lead, even if it's by a slim thread!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bicycle Races Are Coming Today

Well, actually they're coming on Sunday. But Long Beach is gearing up.

Normally when I see this kind of preparation going on around my ordinary bike route, it means soon I'll have to be putting up with little cars zooming around in my way as part of the Long Beach Grand Prix.

This time, since it's the Tour of California, it'll be easier to put up with.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What I'm Not Doing Now

It's been busy around here.

Lately I've been managing a volume of family business, the details of which for discretion's sake do not belong on a public blog. It's been fascinating and mostly not unpleasant.

I've also been going at it at the regular workplace, spending time largely on a couple of projects which may or may not come to fruition, but for the same reasons shouldn't really be posted in a public forum.

It's not that there haven't been breaks. For one thing, the garage door broke. Got that fixed, which took the better part of a day. Also had new windows installed. Took many pictures of that, and one day I'll decide it's worth adding to the canon of Western culture, and I'll post all of the excruciating detail here for further rumination.

What I haven't been doing lately is getting in much riding. My brother has used the opportunity of interesting weather to get up on his iron steed and go, and my hat's off to him, though his hat's pulled down snugly around his ears.

Me, I'm still calling it approximately the off season, so I'm not pushing too hard. Weather's been mostly good (rain yesterday notwithstanding), but my weekends have been largely spent on other projects (see above). A few rides are coming up on the calendar, though, and I hope to take part. We'll see what time allows. If I go, I'll bring back pictures.

But in the short term, I'm at least spending 2.5 minutes a day reading the latest news on one of the most exciting sporting events to hit California in the past few years: the Tour of California. Being slightly nutty about these things, I dearly wish I had time to watch. This year's field is if anything even better than last year's incredible inaugural crowd.

Sunday Levi Leipheimer took the gold jersey on the prologue for the second year in a row with a ride up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower even more stunning than last year's. He seems to own that summit. I was 30 miles south, digging through boxes, thinking I really ought to be out in the fresh air watching.

Yesterday Dave Zabriskie weeded out with a nasty crash 70 miles into the dash up the Marin coast. He's fine, it turns out. It hurts to see a U.S. favorite drop so early, but that's part of the unpredictability that keeps the race a thrill a minute. (Well, a thrill an hour. My brother and I have conversations about how much of the Tour de France can be fast-forwarded every year, getting to the good spots where something happens.) Knowing as I do that the backdrops are as gorgeous as the race is exciting, I really wish I had time to spare, to see the messy details. Right now, though, I'll keep slogging away in the trenches.

This weekend, though, the boys in Lycra are headed to Long Beach for the final stage, a lap race around the flat roads of our waterfront parks, and I do intend to take some time to watch them finish. Last year I drove to Ventura County to watch a stage; this year they're bringing it to me. I wish them all well.