Sunday, February 17, 2008

Warming Trend

Team Gerolsteiner warms up in front of Palo Alto City Hall.

Today the 2008 Tour of California kicked off with its Prologue ride through the streets of Palo Alto and Stanford, where I rode my bike growing up. I felt like Dave in Breaking Away, energized beyond belief when he hears that his heroes from Team Cinzano are coming to ride in his Midwestern hometown. Cinzano isn’t a major team sponsor anymore, but the teams whose buses were parked all over downtown Palo Alto today were all the big headliners whose names I see every year when I’m watching the Tour de France.

The large crowd of spectators was well behaved, and the Tour organizers gave us all excellent access to the teams before the riders started. My brother and I wandered around checking out who was warming up next and what gear they had.

The Prologue was a “time trial.” That means that instead of riding in a pack, jockeying to see who can get to the front by the end, the riders start off one by one, at one-minute intervals, and they race the course alone, each striving for the best solo time. Riders in time trials use special bikes designed to be more aerodynamic than a regular road cycle. This model from Specialized has remarkably low handlebars. Time trial bikes aren’t built for comfort.

The guy on the left is Oscar Freire, three-time World Cycling Champion, riding for Rabobank. Sitting there calmly warming up before his stint in the time trial, right there about a half-block from where Ramona’s Pizza used to be. He very charmingly let several people take pictures with him as he came up to speed.

On the cycle closest to us is Jens Voigt, who has worn the leader’s yellow jersey twice in the Tour de France and consistently plays a prominent role in whichever team he’s riding for.

Bobby Julich has been riding with Jens Voigt on Team CSC since 2004, and they rode together on Credit Agricole’s team a couple of years before that. Bobby won the Paris-Nice road race in 2005. He came out of the trailer as we were watching Jens start his warmup. Bobby was due to start in a few minutes. He put in a few last warmup strokes on his machine, then rolled off toward the starting line. We saw him on the course a few minutes later.

After the race, most of the riders headed off to their hotels for some well-earned quiet time. Here’s Levi Leipheimer at his team trailer, where he was finishing up with putting away his cycle. We saw George Hincapie in the parking lot too, putting in a few minutes of cool-down time on rollers before heading for the showers.

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