2009 Tour of California Stage 2 – A Bonnie Doon Day for Levi

Rock Racing's Chris Baldwin prays for deliverance from the pain on the last climb of the day

Chris Baldwin of Rock Racing, eyes shut seems to be praying for the pain to stop

Complete Stage 2 Gallery

The alarm went off at 6:30am and before my eyes opened I could hear the rain pinging off the bedroom window. Stage 2, 116 miles, Sausalito to Santa Cruz and for the second successive day, the weather was awful. I spooned a bowl of cereal while I finished posting the Prologue gallery... uploaded the night before. Then I checked with Brendan but he was feeling a little under the weather... so, like it or not, I was traveling solo for the day. I tuned in to a local tv channel showing pictures from a miserable-looking Sausalito start line and the Golden Gate Bridge, and immediately felt better about deciding not to make for the bridge.

I grabbed freshly charged batteries for the 1D mkII and 5D mkII, loaded and formatted several CF cards, and packed 2 protein bars, 2 apples and a banana for the road. It was raining hard as I pulled the Audi out the garage for a quick run to the gas station before heading out for highway 92 and the coast. At least President's Day traffic was extremely light.

Months back, Brendan and I talked about camping out on Tunitas Creek Road (the day's first KOM) but after some helpful advice from Amgen Race Director Eric Smith I realized that wasn't going to work... in all likelihood I'd be stuck with a single, all-or-nothing location. Instead I opted to shoot an uphill curve on Highway 1 (PCH) just before Tunitas Creek Road, knowing I could then continue down the PCH when the peloton and race caravan turned left onto the Tunitas/35/84 loop. I checked my watch expecting the peloton to arrive in about an hour, shouldered my cameras and crossed the road to wait in the lee of some trees on the other side.

About 10:15 a breakaway of 10 riders led by eventual stage winner Tom Peterson, appeared behind a screen of CHP cruisers and motorbikes; 3:30 ahead of their pursuers. The showers and rain squalls had stopped temporarily. I shot with both cameras. My 300 was on the 5D, a 50 f1.4 on the 1D. The small pack literally cruised up the hill and were gone in less than 15 seconds. I'm sure I spotted an empty camera bike... damn.

Minutes later the peloton arrived in a sweeping left-to-right echelon that filled both sides of the road. I banged away with the 50. 30 seconds and I was done, I didn't bother reviewing what I got. I just said goodbye to the chaps who'd been standing beside me and ran for the car 150 yards up the road. I waited for a gap in traffic and double-timed it South.

As I put miles between me and the peloton the skies were dramatically clearing and huge surf was pounding the coast to my right . I kept my eyes open for the Rapha Gentlemen's ride that left Palo Alto at 7:30 am bound for the finish line in Santa Cruz. I soon spotted Slate's smooth pedaling style leading a group of four riders a minute back of a lead group of five or six. I feel bad about not stopping but I just blasted past them heading for Bonnie Doon Road. Apologies Slate & Tim.

I could have enjoyed a little break with the Rapha peloton and not jeopardized access to the second KOM. The police at Bonnie Doon were still letting cars up the hill an hour after I made the decisive left and went straight to the same spot that Daniel and I had photographed the Continental riders on a few weeks before.

With a good parking spot secured, I pulled on my Showers Pass Jacket, checked the cameras once more and made a beeline for the position I wanted. There are no guarantees that you'll get an unobstructed position when shooting a cycling road race, someone always appears at the last minute to foul your composition but it certainly helps to be out there early to shoo away the clueless who might otherwise settle. I chatted with Zack, Jenny and John while we waited and stayed on top of the changing light by shooting the cycling spectators riding up the hill. For a good half hour the light improved. The clouds acting like a giant soft box gave us near perfect flat light. Of course, it didn't last.

Levi Leipheimer's decisive move on Bonnie Doon. Nobali tries to go with him at first.

Levi Leipheimer's decisive move on Bonnie Doon. Nibali tries to go with him at first.

The imminent arrival of the race triggered a literal downpour and shortly thereafter Quickstep's Carlos Barredo rounded the bend below us. He'd shed his wet-weather gear at the base of the climb and attacked the disintegrating breakaway twice to open a sizable gap over the chasers. He raced towards us as sheets of rain bounced off the road and spray from the cars and motorcycles filled the air. You can see just how much water was flying about in the image of Chris Baldwin (above).

I owe a debt of gratitude to Zack and Jenny, who held my umbrella over me as the heavens drenched the peloton and the photographer. Somehow the water droplets in the air confused the servo AF and the shutter speed shot skyward to try and freeze the droplets. Not what I originally intended but hope you'll agree the results worked out.

With no chance to beat the riders to the finish in Santa Cruz it was back to highway 1 to get some representative landscape shots to round out the day. I drove back slowly, stopping often whenever I saw a promising vista. It was a nice way to come down from the break-neck pace of the morning. I made it home just before 5. Nine hours on the road for ten minutes of action... that's road-race photography for you.

The incredible California coastline.

5 Responses to 2009 Tour of California Stage 2 – A Bonnie Doon Day for Levi

  1. BR says:

    Great images Michael, thanks. Levi’s move was great and I am happy that the last few miles were dry. I almost wish I was there :-)

  2. Tim Cox says:

    Wow! Michael… those are some superb action shots and breathtaking scenic views. Tremendous job! I’m looking forward to a full account over something drink-shaped. As you might imagine, the Rapha Redwoods Tour (Palo Alto to Santa Cruz) was rather eventful; the truly horrendous weather turned a challenging ride into a, well, epic adventure! I’ve just returned from LBS CyclePath, where I deposited my front wheel for its trip to Rolf (new rim needed). See you soon.

  3. Jenny Keller says:

    Hey Michael, wow, way to go. Gorgeous images – taken during that total downpour, no less. Especially love the black-and-whites. So fun to see these – they totally capture the drama of the day. Thanks, Jenny and Zack.

  4. Look forward to the whole story Tim. I hope your didn’t ding your wheel on the railroad crossing by the Cement plant. While I was working my way back shooting landscapes I saw a rider go down hard there.