Stage Two of the 2009 Tour of California is unquestionably the jewel of this year's race. From the Sausalito waterfront the peloton will cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, pass stately San Francisco homes, skirt the beaches, cliffs and dunes of the breathtaking Pacific Coast Highway and climb into a canopy of Coastal Redwoods on magical Tunitas Creek Road which rises to meet Skyline Blvd. the backbone of bay area cycling,
These are roads beloved by those of us who ride and are lucky enough to call this idyllic meeting of land and sea home. From this highpoint they'll hurtle down the cambered turns of 84 to rejoin the ribbon of Highway 1 that will take them to the final climb up Bonnie Doon Road and the high speed descent into the Santa Cruz finish. In a word, this stage is magnificent.
At 9am Monday, just under a month before the pro peloton arrives, six intrepid riders from Rapha's Continental Squad assembled for Stage Two of their own Tour of California. Ryan Thomson, Ben Leiberson, Jeremy Dunn, Dan Langlois, Hahn Rossman and Cole Maness clipped in for the second day of their 800-mile journey to Escondido. They'd arrived in Sacramento a day earlier, swiftly dispensed with a prologue appetizer and then driven in search of good coffee and Stage One, 107 miles from Davis to Santa Rosa.
I think it was four or five weeks ago when I first spoke with Continental rider, producer and photographer, Daniel Pasley about the big idea that was bubbling up in the inventive minds of Rapha's Portland HQ. Even by Rapha standards this is a truly epic undertaking. Ride the entire route of this year's Tour in eight days... documenting the experience in words and pictures to be shared with all of us when the race itself begins. To pull it off Daniel and Cary S-H have packed an enormous van with enough food, kit, tubes, tires, film, ibuprofen, embro and noxema to sustain six riders in pursuit of a dream many of us share but don't have the legs to carry off.
And so Juli and I came along to photograph and support the team as they rode over familiar roads with unfamiliar speed. The day was extraordinary, with temperatures reaching into the low seventies under a cloudless sky we led riders and the support vehicle out of Sausalito onto the Bridge and into the city beyond. Our freshly waxed S4 made a rather nice pace car and an easy-to-spot target out on the road. For much of the day my head and cameras were stuck out the passenger window or the sunroof while Juli did her best to put the car in the right place for photography. I've included a small sample of the days images here. A complete gallery will follow in the days ahead.
First a big thank you to Daniel, Carey and Slate for having us along. We made ourselves useful dispensing water, bananas and snacks when needed and taking custody of extra layers when we were in a better position to support the guys as our two vehicles leap frogged South often book-ending the peloton.
Tunitas provided the riding and photographic highlights early in the day. Ben Leiberson powered his way up the steepest sections out of the saddle, averaging 12-13 mph according to our speedometer. (twice the speed I climb Tunitas I should note). And I'm happy to report that much of the road has been very recently repaved (with real asphalt, not the same chip-and-seal treatment the lower section received last summer). If this doesn't attract too many motorcycles this will be lasting gift for all of us who love this special road. Jeremy and Dan took over the assault nearer the top when they decided to reel in a Webcor rider they spied a few turns up the road.
To a man they all loved the climb and someone, perhaps feeling the afterglow said "that was the best climb I've ever ridden" and it could be, it is that good. They filled bottles emptied during the climb and rummaged through the van with Carey's help to find their Stowaway Jackets in preparation for several miles of high-speed descending through the trees. This was Juli's first experience following skilled riders heading downhill with a purpose... she was quite surprised how they could easily outpace a car.
All too soon the road flattened out approaching Highway 1 where the group made one last stop at the St. Gregorio Store (picking up several It's-it ice cream bars) to sustain them on the long stretch of coast ahead. The bars disappeared in less time than it takes Daniel to change a roll of film, and that's damn fast. The paceline made good progress on this section and we kept our drive-by photography to a minimum so as not to disturb their rhythm, the afternoon was getting on and the Bonnie Doon climb still lay ahead.
Bonnie Doon is a beautiful road that I've not been on before, but I definitely plan to ride it at some point this year. Near the top we said our goodbyes and called it a day, anxious to get back and check on our two sick cats, Ventoux and Roubaix. I planned to see the riders off the next morning from the start of Stage 3, which is only a few blocks from our house in San Jose. More on that tomorrow.Image Gallery