Tour of California Stage 3 – Mt. Hamilton Photography

Levi Leipheimer tucked safel in the second group summiting Mt. HamiltonWe arrived on the backside of Mt. Hamilton just after 8 am, nearly five hours before the riders would reach our position. The drive up from San Jose had been sunny, the road wet from heavy rains the night before. We stopped repeatedly to clear debris and rocks from the descent, and Brendan did his best imitation of the fool with the antlers. It came as no surprise that the 4209 ft. summit was gray, cold and damp. We tried to stay warm and hoped the sun would emerge long before the Peleton reached the lower slopes giving us good light for photography.

After checking out the location we'd scouted a week earlier, we decided to move higher up to a turnout overlooking a steep serpentine section. Within ten minutes we were joined by the producer and crew from the Versus network. The Lick Observatory Campus police stopped by to check credentials and indicated spectators and/or cars wouldn't be allowed on this stretch of road. Not good news for fans, but welcome news for those of us trying to get unobstructed images.

We checked gear, cheered on anyone braving the climb, tucked in to a bag of sandwiches from Whole Foods and waited.

Periodically the clouds lifted letting the sun peek out, but it never lasted more than a few minutes. By 11 am, more photographers started to show up. The shooter for ESPN.com set up a remote 30 feet above the road way which effectively limited how far we could move down the road without spoiling his wide-angle shot, and VS wanted to pan from long shot to wide across the road. By now the location was starting to lose some of its wild appeal.

Grabbing my gear I scrambled up the steep hillside looking for a better angle and some distance from the throng. I found something promising but if the cloud cover and mist didn't lift, it was going to be touch and go. I stayed there for twenty minutes pondering the lense options before reluctantly trudging back down in defeat when the clouds persisted. As we hit the noon hour, activity on the road increased. The first of many CHP units appeared followed by a road crew driving a sketchy snow plow. I'd assumed they'd use a street sweeper on the road, the plow seemed more likely to cause damage than remedy it. I read later that the plow almost collided with riders from PezCyclingNews making their way up the climb.

A loudspeaker vehicle gave us a race update. The leading group ahead of the Peleton was now on the climb and the Rock Racing riders: Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla, and Santiago Botero, who'd been prevented from participating in the race proper were out on a "training ride" five minutes ahead of the lead group. They soon appeared, climbing easily, we photographed them but I wasn't impressed. Michael Ball seems intent on making an ass of himself. Pity, I like the green and black superhero look.

A caravan of CHP units, motos and VIP cars surged up the road signaling the legitimate riders had arrived. We heard cowbells and then a small pack of riders led by Astana's "Chechu" Rubiera climbed into view. Just behind them Levi Leipheimer was tucked in and riding strong. The light was decent, but not remarkable as the sun was still nowhere to be found. The clean mountainside background we'd imagined was often compromised by fans in brighter garb than the riders, and helmeted fans backing helmeted riders makes for some strange juxtapositions. Judge for yourself. Next year I'm getting a spot on a moto if it kills me.

Postscript: Those people who had issues with the race traveling the rural route over Mt. Hamilton needn't have worked themselves into such a lather. The superb organization and execution on race day went off without a hitch. Driving back to San Jose, one hour after the race convoy had passed, there was no evidence anything unusual had taken place on the mountain that day. There was no paint on the road, no spectator garbage of any kind and the mountain returned to blissful peace and quiet. Amen.

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