Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tour de Awesome

Mini-post time.

This week is the inaugural Amgen Tour of California, a pro cycling race held in California and modeled on the Tour de France. I've been surprised and pleased by the amount of press it's been getting locally. In modern times, cycling only was treated as a sport in America when Lance Armstrong started winning tours, and even then coverage tended to be spotty at best. For this tour, though, I first started reading about it a month before it kicked off this past Sunday, and the week before it it felt like there was a story almost every day in either the San Jose Mercury-News or the San Francisco Chronicle. Since it started coverage has continued to be strong, at its fullest during the days when the tour passed through the Bay Area, but still respectable now that they've moved further south.

On further reflection, there are several reasons for this. First of all, the Bay Area thinks of itself as a mecca for cycling. This is more true in some places than others; Berkeley has more bicycles per capita than anywhere in the US, but you won't see them as often in Santa Clara. Still, the Bay Area is a place that prides itself on its athletic, outdoorsy spirit, and cycling is one of the activities generally supported in public; I've seen far more bike lanes and the like here than anywhere else I've lived. There's a symbiotic relationship: the more people cycle, the easier it is for governments and businesses to support items that help cyclists; and the more cycling-friendly an area is, the more people will choose to ride their bikes. The result is that there are quite a few riders around this area (the generally temperate weather helps this too), and so both the tour's promoters and local media can make the reasonable assumption that the local cyclists would be interested in such an event.

Besides that, there's some good old-fashioned boosterism at play. The Tour is a financial gain for the host communities; in exchange for paying several officers overtime to direct traffic and close roads, the cities get to sell hundreds of hotel rooms, food and entertainment for the entourage, and collect tax on all that activity. Beyond that, the tour serves as a sort of advertisement for California itself; they're getting a free hour on ESPN2 each night, and I'm sure that at least a few people watching short-sleeved riders on sun-soaked pavement are wondering, "This is February? Gosh, I'd like to be there right about now!" Plus it's the sort of event a city can put on its web site or whatever to show how popular it is.

Also, events such as this can be a big draw for communities. Later AEG, a major organizer for the tour, has been boasting that the tour is the largest-attended sporting event in California history. That sounds kind of funny, when you see the spectators it doesn't look like a group as large as what you'd find in a football stadium, but the hundreds of miles of track provide plentiful opportunity for spectators to gather; the estimated total attendence by day five was 680,000 people. Some staked out spots on remote mountain roads; many more converged at the starting and finish lines with thousands of other people. Cycling's kind of a funny spectator sport - people wait an hour before seeing the riders arrive, and ten seconds later they're gone - but also a charming one that puts more emphasis on conversation and community while waiting for them to arrive. It's been especially fun to read about the schools and other communities that turn out in force to watch the racers go by.

One cool aspect of the race has been, oddly enough, its website. Google (based in Mountain View) and Adobe (based here in San Jose) sponsor the race, and the form their sponsorship takes is a darn cool web site. It incorporates Google Maps showing the day's route, live video feed of the race shot from a chase cam, a personable play-by-play box (way better than the type you get for NFL games), and all sorts of other goodies. It had a few glitches at first, but since those were the result of the surprising popularity I don't think people were too upset, and it's now become my favorite crutch to follow the race.

I had hoped to catch part of it while they were in the area but failed to do so. In retrospect my best chance was during the Prologue last Sunday in San Francisco. I slept in too late to catch the start, and ended up deciding against going up to catch the finish. I wish now that I had done so, it turned out to be a beautiful day and had some of the most compact crowds of the tour. Monday was another possibility; since I had the day off for Presidents Day I could have driven up to the North Bay and caught some of it, but I elected to go on a long hike instead. I don't feel so bad about that choice, though in retrospect I wish I would have called up my Aunt Fran (who lives in Santa Rosa, the finishing city) to see if she wanted to do it together; that would have been fun. My third good chance was on Tuesday, when I technically could have left work and caught the end of the leg in downtown San Jose; that would have been fun, but I elected to ride to work that day instead of drive, and so didn't really have the opportunity to cut out for that. Ah, well... it would have been fun to be there for part of history, but it sounds like the tour is successful enough for them to bring it back next year, and I may try to catch it then.

This is probably a coincidence, but I've noticed way more cyclists on the trail this past week than before. It's actually been an ongoing trend. When I first started riding in mid-January, it wasn't unusual for me to cross only a single cyclist during my 7-8 mile trip down to work; now, I easily pass a dozen each way. It's probably for rather mundane reasons... it's gradually getting warmer and sunnier, so more people feel comfortable spending a chunk of time outdoors. Still, who knows... perhaps there are a few people who ran across the Tour coverage, thought "Oh, that looks like fun," and hopped out to do some riding of their own. That would be cool, and would really complete the circle for the Bay and the Tour.

My own riding has come along pretty well, I guess. Ever since that first day I haven't had to stop en route between home and work. I have my route pretty much figured out now, and it provides an optimal mix of speed and lack of imminent death. The bike came out of my crash in awesome shape, far better than me; I took it in for the one-month checkin last week and they didn't find any major problems. It now takes me about 45 minutes to ride in the morning and 30-35 to return in the afternoon, depending on how tired I am and how heavy foot traffic is. It's been fun, I'm feeling good, and will probably keep it up for the forseeable future. Still no real temptation to take it out for a long spin on the weekends - I'm still a hiking guy when it comes to purely recreational exercise - but maybe that will come with time.

Oh, and for the morbidly curious, my wounds are mostly healed now. The face sealed up really quickly in the first few days; there's a scar on my shoulder that may be permanent but the rest of that area has closed up; and the scabs on my hands finally fell off today, that area's still pinkish but looks pretty solid. You can best understand the depths of my joy by listening to They Might Be Giants' song "The Bloodmobile".


  1. Hey, do you cylce with a water bottle?

  2. Wow, my first-ever non-spam anonymous comment! This is exciting.

    Yeah, I cycle with a water bottle. I don't use it that often, though... it's pretty cool when I ride, downright chilly in the morning, so I don't lose much water. I'm sure I'll be drinking like a sailor once summer rolls around.