By Luke Ramseth
The race turned inland yesterday and today- Modesto, Merced, Clovis. As such, we were thinking we could skip today’s stage to save money and regroup for the second half of the race. And let’s be honest, when you think of central Cali towns, it’s not always the best impression (sorry Fresno). But screw that, last minute we made the two hour trek to the stage 4 start in Merced.
Among other news, it didn’t rain on us on the drive over, or all day long. Yes!
Our plan for the day: Nate would stick around the start line, check in on the Bissell team, and interview the always enthusiastic race announcer Dave Towle. My plan was to get out on the bike well before the race started and get up the first categorized climb of the day.
I had just made it through town when an over-enthusiastic race official whistled me to “get off the road, cyclist”. I grudgingly obliged. Apparently I hadn’t started early enough. It ended up working out, as I got to talk to a guy watching the race there, in a cowboy hat and boots. The dude knew nothing about cycling (he was asking me why I wasn’t racing), but I loved his enthusiasm. He realized it was good for his town, and knew his kids would like watching, so he had come out to support it. It’s the same kind of interest that Lance and the race seems to be bringing to all these towns. People don’t necessarily know anything about racing, but all of a sudden they’re aware of cycling, of the benefits of riding your bike to stay healthy and get around. Maybe I’m full of shit but that’s what I like to think.
Back to the race. The peleton cruised by at top speed, and already their was a Jelly Belly and BMC rider trying to escape off the front. After the whole caravan passed, I jumped back on the bike and followed for awhile. You wouldn’t believe how many people were cheering me like I was a racer.
In the orchards outside town, I rode up to a big group of people tailgating it and watching the race come by. I told them about our road trip, and they were stoked. “Where do you go to school?” “How were the crowds in Merced?” “Want some food?” I stuck around for a few stories and some jokes. Thanks to you guys, you made my day.
Nate ended up getting a great interview with Towle, and got to chat with him about doping, the Lance effect, and Towle’s favorite stop so far (Santa Cruz, for those hardy fans). He also snagged some more quality footage of the first sunny start of the week.
A break ended up forming early in the stage, after some attacks from Floyd Landis and even Christian Vande Velde. The final breakaway trio ended up Tyler Hamilton, Jason McCartney of Saxo Bank (again), and Serge Pauwels (Cervelo).
There were some gnarly climbs on tap today, which favored the escapees, but in the end the pack sucked them back up in near Clovis. Arguably the two fastest guys in the world dueled it out, Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen. Cavendish nipped Boonen by an inch at the line. Watch for a rivalry forming between these two guys the rest of the season. Green jersey, anybody?
Highlights of the day: I’ve never been cheered for so much on the bike, even when I was actually racing. I loved the vibe of the Merced locals outside town. Nate’s interview with Towle. Another killer ride out to the Santa Cruz beach after we got back.
Sorry no photos today. I’ll try and get up a few videos.