Today is the day before the Tour of California. I call it, Tour of California Eve. And, today is the day that I ride the same (almost) route as the professional cyclists. 106 miles, 7000 feet of climbing.
It’s 7:20 AM. After listening to the National Anthem played by a high school kid on an electric guitar, the mass of cyclist begin rolling out of the parking lot. Unlike the Pros who start in Mission Bay (San Diego), my Tour of California starts at the Trek Store in Chula Vista near the 60 km mark just before the Honey Springs climb then circles back toward Mission Bay, through the Imperial Beach sprint, and returns back to the Trek Store.
The cool, overcast day is perfect for riding. After 10 miles I hit the Honey Springs climb with fresh legs. Expecting a long day in the saddle, I climb the 6.7 miles an 1,800 feet keeping my heart rate low and enjoying the conversation and the view.
Slowly, I separate myself from the pack of riders and make a new friend, Ryan. He’s young and doesn’t appear to sweat (making me feel old and out-of-shape) as we reach the peak and descend to our first rest stop.
After 60 minutes of climbing, I enjoy the leg stretch and a natural break (that’s the “pro” word for bathroom break, but the pros don’t seem to stop for bathrooms along their race — makes you think a bit — how do they do it?) while I wait for the group at the rest stop.
After regrouping, we head to San Diego’s back county through tree lined roads and incredible vistas. I savor this portion of the ride since the second half will be through the congested streets of the city. Unlike the pros, my pace is easy and gives me ample time to contemplate the view.
The back county is deceiving hilly. At one point I crest a rolling hill and look down at a long descent only to find it is not a descent, just an ascent that looks flat. This route is well established and used by regular riders who name the hilltops. Here, I pass a self-styled a label drilled into the asphalt, “Petit Col Du Japatul”.
The descent back to civilization is fast with long sweeping curves and few cars. I feel like I’m flying as my computer registers top speeds over 35 mph. Upon entering the city, the traffic and congestion reduce my pace to a crawl. Suddenly, fatigue and hunger set in.
I battle the temptation to eat a processed nutrition bar knowing that there are sandwiches and real food in another half hour at the Mile 65 rest stop. But, I am crushed with disappointment when I see emergency vehicles blocking the planned route through Mission Valley. A detour means waiting longer for real food. Fearing the dreaded bonk, I beg a few Cheez-Its from my friend to hold off the hunger for a few more miles. When I finally roll into the rest stop, I make a beeline to the food. I eat 3 half sandwiches, two cups of Coke, a bag of chips, and a banana. I guess I was really hungry.
Refueled, we ride through Balboa Park turning the tourists’ eyes to our peloton. Now I feel like I’m in the Tour with gawking eyes and adoring fans cheering me along.
Silence settles in when I realize that 30 more miles means two more hours. It’s been a long day, my shoulders ache, my legs are tired, and I really want to sit on something larger than a bike seat. Riding through the Imperial Beach sprint point (and not sprinting — much too tired for that) tells me that it’s time to turn east for the final 15 miles. The group’s mood lifts in anticipation of the finish line.
The final turn from Otay Lakes Road to Lane Avenue sees the pace quicken for our amateur version of a sprint finish. It’s not much of a sprint and there is no “lung” to cross the finish line, but the feelings of elation, accomplishment, and relief put a large grin on my face.
I just finished Stage 1 of Amgen’s Tour of California.
- My Total Ride Time: 7:53 hours (not counting rest stops).
- Peter Sagan: (Tour of California Stage 1 Winner): 4:20 hours.