By Luke Ramseth
Lance-fest 2009 is on. Possibly up to 100,000 people packed the streets of Sacramento for the Prologue of the Tour of California, and I swear about half of them were packed around the Astana team bus watching Lance warm up. No joke. There’s a bicycle race going on here, people.
Nevertheless, I think his comeback is good for the sport. And what’s a better way to come back to the American racing scene than a packed crowd and stacked field? This is Floyd Landis (team OUCH) and Ivan Basso’s (Liquigas) first race back from their suspensions as well, which only helped to increase Saturday’s hype.
As far as the course goes, its a 2.5 mile all-out, head exploding, pancake flat loop around the capital. The average time on the day was around 4 minutes, 45 seconds.
My buddy Nate and I have press passes for the entire race, but we arrived and couldn’t find the media tent to pick them up. Bummer. Apparently they had moved the tent back to the hotel, too far of a trek before the race started. It didn’t end up mattering, as the riders were surprisingly accessible. We chatted up the Bissell team, who have Ben and Andy Jaques-Maynes, local Norcal boys who are from Nate’s hometown of Watsonville.
Time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara ended up winning it by a 3 seconds, a huge gap on such a small course. The dude is a powerhouse. Two-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer was second. Lance was an impressive 10th. Ben Jaques-Maynes came in 13th. Floyd Landis cruised through for an disappointing 80th.
The highlights of the day: I almost got run over by George Hincapie on his way to the start line. Talked to Bissell’s Omer Kem. Omer’s from Salem, Oregon and knows a few things about Humboldt. Nice. Watched the Lance hype get to ten deep around the Astana team bus. Observing
retired racer Bobby Julich obsess over the details of his Saxo Bank rider’s warm-ups routines. Twins Ben and Andy were both in the top ten at one point. The last 10 riders that rolled up to the start line: a who’s who of the best racers in the world.
Even sans press passes, all in all it was an electrifying start to our Tour of California road trip.