By Luke Ramseth
The atmosphere of the 2009 Tour of California came to a peak, and an end, in San Diego County on Sunday.
On tap for the riders was Palomar Mountain, the last chance for a crazy breakaway attempt to unseat race leader Levi Leipheimer, and supposedly the closest thing to Alpe d’Huez that America has ever seen.
As for my cameraman Nate Abaurrea and I, Palomar wasn’t in the works. We took it easy in the vibrant finish line area of toasty downtown Escondido, again with thousands of others. At every finish line all week, there has been a full spectrum of vendors, both bike related and local. Lance’s Livestrong posse has constantly been working the crowd, handing out chalk for writing messages on the road. Positive messages cheering Lance, cancer survivors, and other riders has been the norm. But every once and a while, we’ve seen a nice “No dopers beyond this line” or “doping is the cancer” etc. It’s good to see that not every single American bike fan is in love with Lance.
Also set up around the finish are huge TV screens with live feeds of the race. At one of these, I spotted Bissell’s Andy Jaques-Maynes sitting on the curb and watching his brother Ben in the breakaway. It’s been a tough week for Andy after his crash, but seemed surprisingly upbeat. He told me about how he finally got to join his brother on Bissell (the owner realized there was an identical to Ben), and told me about his role on the team.
One last time, I watched the crowd start to gather about an hour before they were supposed to finish, people staking their claim along the barriers. According to Velonews, there were 300,000 fans on the course, probably one of the biggest day fan-wise ever for American cycling. 2 million fans watched in person throughout the whole race.
A big break had formed on the steeps of Palomar, and the duo of Frank Schleck (remember his Alpe d’Huez win a couple years back?) and Liquigas’ Vincenzo Nibali got a gap. While Levi remained safely tucked away in the chase group with first lieutenant Armstrong, the duo built up a good lead. They duked it out at the line, while that yellow Livestrong dust flew in all directions. Schleck won it, and my guy George Hincapie led the chase group in for third place.
Highlights of the day: Chatting with Andy, Astana took the overall team prize and watching their excitement and dousing each other with champagne on stage was cool. A solid last day of our adventure, and a long drive to look forward to.
Afterwards (at 5pm) we raced to the car, and hit the road for Humboldt. Didn’t get back to the dorms until 5 this morning. Cali tip to tip!
Anyway, thanks for reading. Check back in a every so often for some write-ups on the Humboldt cycling scene, and our collegiate races.