As I mentioned on Monday, I was able to attend my second professional bicycle road race this past weekend. The 2014 Amgen Tour of California finished in my hometown of Pasadena and I cold not resist the opportunity to see many top professional racers up close and in person.
My interest in cycling began with this race…the 1984 Summer Olympics Cycling Road Race. I remember watching this race at my grandmother’s house and cheering on Alexi Grewal all the way to the finish. It was thrilling. Of course, I had no idea that the Europeans were the dominant cyclists in the world back then. So, I had no idea how special this finish was for the United States. The next summer, I was flipping through the channels and found a story airing about an American named Greg LeMond who had moved to Europe to take on cycling’s biggest race…the Tour de France. In 1984, LeMond finished third in the race. In 1985, he was poised to win the whole thing when team politics worked against him and he ended up finishing second to one of the great Tour de France champions, Bernard Hinault.
In 1986, Greg LeMond would become the first American to win this prestigious race. The above video is from the Tour de France’s most famous stages, finishing at L’Alpe de Huez. After watching the Tour de France, I have a dream of making the sojourn to this ski station to one day watch the Tour de France finish. By 1986, the sport of cycling had me. I even bought a proper bicycle in 1987 and started “racing” my friends. I even rode a half century bicycle ride (50 miles) over some of the same roads that the 1984 Olympic Games Road Race covered. My dream, back then, was of riding in the Olympics. It’s stages like L’Alpe de Huez that kept me from ever even dreaming of riding in the Tour de France. The first professional road race I attended was back in 1987. There was a criterion road race in Long Beach. Team 7-Eleven was going to be there and Davis Phinney was a favorite to win. Criterion races are single day races that are done in laps. So, they are different from the stage races like the Tour de France.
Over the years America has hosted several stage races. The first big stage race was the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic (1975-1979), which would later become the Coors Classic (1980-1988). This race took place throughout Northern California, Nevada and into Colorado. There was a movie in the 1980’s called American Flyers that I loved with used this stage race as the center piece of their story. They called the stage race the Hell of the West. Later, from 1989-1990, there was the Tour de Trump (yep. sponsored by Donald Trump) which later became the Tour DuPont (from 1991-1996). The Tour of California started in 2006. So, it hasn’t been around for as long.
On this past Saturday, I walked down to the Pasadena City Hall area to check out the scene. The big teams were represented…Team BMC…
Team Sky…with 2012 Tour de France Champion Bradley Wiggins…
One of the biggest United States based teams…Garmin Sharp…
And Cannondale with their famous sprinter Mark Cavendish.
The finish line festival was quite the happening place to be.
Like the running races I’ve participated in, this are seemed an awful lot like the race expos. However, it was done to a grander scale because this was a professional race.
All of the major riders had displays like this with them on it…
It was all very cool.
Also, like the running expos I’ve been to, there were plenty of back drops for you to get a selfie with…
See what I mean?
I didn’t get a selfie with this backdrop because there were too many others doing so.
They even had the official Tour de France stationary bike! I’ve seen commercials for this machine for years. It was pretty cool to see it in person!
And there was an official merchandise tent as well stocked with official gear.
There were plenty of larger than life screens with the live television coverage. Pasadena was the finish of this stage. So, the riders wouldn’t be in town for a while.
This was the largest screen with coverage. I really liked that they had this. After all, since no one could predict the exact moment when the racers would be in town, it was good to see where they were. It also gave you some clue as to who was leading the way.
In case you couldn’t catch the coverage, there was a leaderboard which was being updated.
Here’s the stage where they would give the presentations to the winners of the various categories…overall general classification, king of the mountains, winner of the stage, etc.
This is behind the finish line. The riders would finish the stage with three laps of Pasadena. So, they would cross this area a few times before the race actually ended.
Here’s the other side of the finish line with Pasadena City Hall in the background…
This is where I would camp out and watch the race.
Here was my view of where the racers would come in from. See all the signs along the road? I think the running races I get to run should have this kind of thing around the finish line. It got really loud with people pounding the signs as the racers came into view and made the whole atmosphere really exciting!
Here come the racers! Can you hear the people banging the signs? Pretty cool! There were several moments before this where the crowd got excited because we thought the riders were coming into town. By the time they actually got here, it was pretty thrilling!
This was the guy in last place. He came through a minute or two after the second peloton. What was sad is that he never caught the second peloton.
These were the leaders from my the video on the end of the first lap. They were still in the lead!
However, the first peloton was not far behind.
Okay, here’s the funny thing about this race…this is the finish of the 2nd of 3 laps around Pasadena. However, it was the third time through this part. Clearly, the guy in the front thought it was the last lap. So, did we.
Here is the televised coverage of the end of the stage. At 10:59 in this video, you can see a front view of his face. It’s funny and sad at the same time as you see him realize that he didn’t actually win the stage but had one more lap to go. Honestly, because of his reaction, many of us watching assumed he had won the race as well. After all, it was the third time through this area. What we didn’t know is that when they crossed the finish line the first time, that started lap 1. So, we all miscounted and so did he.
So, since I thought the race was over, I abandoned my spot and said my good byes to those whom I shared the area with and started walking back. However, the guys at the announcers stage were still going. A few seconds later, I saw the riders passing by still racing. So, I made my way back to the finish area and caught the actual finish.
One thing that I really liked is that the crowd stayed energized and supportive even of the back of the packers.
Okay, this photo is not very clear because I was standing pretty far back. However, the guy in yellow is Bradley Wiggins. He would go on to win the 2014 Amgen Tour of California the next day. He was the leader of the race coming in and was still the leader at the end. So, here he is getting his leader’s Yellow Jersey.
I don’t know that this is any better. However, this is not only the 2014 Amgen Tour of California champion, but he also won the 2012 Tour de France and the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
Afterwards, I started on my way home when I saw crowds by the team busses. Here’s the crowd by Bradley Wiggins’s Team Sky bus.
And lots of people were also by team BMC’s bus as well.
The guy getting off his bicycle in the red, white and blue jersey Thor Hushovd, who finished third! I think he’s the reigning Dutch professional champion and a leader of the Tour de France.
After the races, the team cars loaded up the bicycles.
Here are some of the riders cooling down after a hot day of racing!
This is Joe Dombrowski from Team Sky. I guess he’s one of the top climbers for this team. I was surprised how tiny these cyclists are. For a while, I didn’t even know he was a racer.
The cool thing about cycling is that the racers seem very approachable. All of the guys did their time signing autographs and taking pics with the fans.
All in all, it was a fun day of cycling and as close to the Tour de France as I’ve come. I loved that I got to witness a Tour de France champion ride right by me up close! In 2016, Los Angeles will be hosting the Olympic trials for the marathon. After watching this bicycle race in person, I may have to find a way to be there for the Olympic Marathon trials.
Have you ever been to a professional cycling race? Have you ever been a spectator at a major race?