I’m on battery. Very little time here, probably less than I think. My battery is bad. My PC will bluescreen any second because that’s how it announces it’s run out of juice. So this report, about my big ride to watch the Tour of California Mount Diablo stage, will be merciful and quick. It’s targeted at my bike club pals, so if you’re not one of them there may be some unfamiliar proper nouns in here, but just roll with it. If the text, brief though it may be, becomes too much, scroll down for the photos and movies. And then go back and read the text so you’ll know what the hell you just saw. Or not. Whatever. (For the report of last year’s Tour of California Diablo stage, click here.)
Full (but quick) report
Breakfast before the big outing was a plate of leftover Fettuccine Carbovera. I’m coining a term there for Erin’s ad hoc creation. It was like a Carbonara, to gratify the family’s saturated fat centers, but also like a Primavera, with a bunch of vegetables she threw in, probably to assuage her guilt at serving a starch-bomb to the family to begin with. Very tasty. With this I had a glass of my homemade Caffeine Water, which is like that Vitamin Water people drink except that instead of having corn syrup and artificial color to complement the needless easy-to-get vitamin supplement that gives people, including college-educated full-grown adults, an excuse to drink sugar water, my drink is just water and an off-brand caffeine tablet. When NoDoz was recalled well over a year ago I had to switch to this off-brand, which I’m convinced doesn’t dissolve readily, because I end up getting no benefit from it during my ride and then being bizarrely unable to sleep like eight hours later. So I dissolve it which makes a beverage with such a foul flavor, it must give me a performance advantage.
I was pleasantly surprised to see four EBVC dudes waiting at the coffee shop. Sean had pre-flaked and based on my flakage chart I didn’t expect to see him, and I figured at least one other guy would probably flake as well. I was less pleasantly surprised by how few of us decided to spend the whole day standing out in the sun to begin with. It wasn’t easy for me to get a furlough: I missed one daughter’s soccer game and the other’s violin recital for this. As I was leaving they let me know how unimpressed they were with my decision. Parenting is hard, but they’ll thank me for this tough love later. I don’t know why they’ll thank me—probably just to make me feel guilty all over again—but they’ll thank me. If they don’t I’ll make them.
I’d been thinking of Jens Voigt that morning, and even cornered my younger daughter and made her watch his interview following his brilliant win in stage five, where he said, “I was really hurting so I thought ‘now or never.’” I explained the point of this to my daughter—if you feel good the others do too, so you better attack when you’re suffering to make sure they are, too—figuring it might help her soccer game. She’s good at soccer but in my opinion doesn’t suffer enough, yet. I also told her about how Jens Voigt is known for saying, “Shut up, legs!” as they scream at him during a solo breakaway effort.
I was late meeting the guys, yes. But not as late as Tony said. His 10-minute-late claim is about as realistic as “clean coal.” I timed myself and was exactly 5 minutes 40 seconds late. It’s not my fault. I was all ready to go, and ahead of schedule, when I suddenly realized I wasn’t done with my, uh, toiletries. This wouldn’t have been a problem except at that moment my wife started taking a shower. We have only one bathroom (a sore point in our family, I might add). She would be talking to painters and buying paint and shuttling the kids around everywhere all day so I had to be careful what more I asked for. Could I manage to ride without doing this download? “Shut up, bowels!” I said to myself. Well, I said it to my bowels, really, in my best stern German voice.
So, yeah, I was late. It was worth it. No offense, guys. We made good time meeting up with Ian and Matt at Whole Foods, despite getting totally wrong instructions from some guy in a parking lot who probably just stands around giving bad directions to people. Diablo was mobbed. It was hot. I was wearing a backpack. It contained a good camera, a big thing of sunscreen, two glorious sandwiches (in the special internal sandwich pocket), an orange, a hat, sandals, phone, and in the outside pocket a totally brown banana that I brought just to get it out of the kitchen where it was slowly killing the flowers I’d bought for Mothers Day. Ripening fruit put out ethylene gas. Erin refused to move the flowers from over the sink. They were her flowers. I got a big furlough today. I didn’t argue. Plus I hoped to aggravate Ian with the brown speckledness of the banana. As he is known for pointing out, he likes a firm banana.
There were spectators here and there reclining along the side of North Gate Road. I couldn’t decide whether or not to tell them the racers would be coming up South Gate, making this vantage point utterly useless. In the end I didn’t tell them. Perhaps they had their reasons. It’s often best not to engage. Today I engaged with a shoeshine guy. He was right in my face and I decided there was no harm in getting a quote. He said, “Let me look at your shoes,” and then squirted this stuff on them. Now I was on the hook. Smooth. “You’ve been had, don’t feel bad,” he said. Now my shoes stink. I don’t know what he used to shine them, but the fumes are making it hard to think. To the extent you hate this report it’s his fault. Oh, and that of my battery because it’s making me rush so much.
My backpack was heavy and suffocated my spine. Remember “Goldfinger”? That woman died because her spine couldn’t breathe through the gold paint, and she wasn’t even trying to pedal a bike up the harder side of Diablo. (The racers themselves did the easy side, South Gate. We did North Gate, for fear of being harassed by one another for being wimps.) I was one second slower than last time from Checkpoint Charlie to the ranger station, due to the backpack.
Here are some photos, which perhaps we’ll use in the “Men of East Bay Velo Club” calendar.
While we waited for the racers for a couple hours, we tried to watch the race on our smartphones. I got about five seconds of video before it froze, so I gave up and stashed the phone in my pocket. Ten minutes later Phil Liggett is suddenly talking out of my pocket. I had to force-kill the app to save my battery. Ian theorized that the titanium in my leg was interfering with the signal. Mark and Lucas had better luck and were getting the blow-by-blow report, and could see that our local hero, Nathan English, was in the breakaway with Andy Schleck. We were pretty excited about that, of course. Local Boy Makes Good! But as the racers approached Mount Diablo itself, Nate got caught. Lucas was yelling at his phone, “C’mon Nate!” I guess that’s progress: a generation ago men our age were yelling at football players through the TV. At least phones could communicate, unlike TVs, and at least Lucas didn’t call him a dumb bastard or anything like football fans do.
The other guys bought sandwiches at the Food Whole. Lucas showed his off. It did look fancy. (Oooh! Brie!) My sandwiches didn’t look so fancy but deep down inside I’ll bet Lucas was envious. Mine were handmade by college grads: I made one, my wife the other, and I looked forward to testing the theory about whether a sandwich always tastes better when somebody else makes it. But I queered the whole test by not using identical ingredients. One sandwich had avocado, cheddar, tomatoes, salt, and pepper; the other had mozzarella instead, and the addition of cucumbers. I tried to brag: “These cucumbers were marinated in Italian dressing all night.” Mark correctly guessed that they were leftovers from one of my kids, not any premeditated culinary scheme. The cheese in my sandwiches was nicely melted from the hot day and my stuffy backpack . On the other hand, the banana had gotten even riper—let’s face it, flat-out rotten. But good. (By the way, Alex, who met us up there, had the best lunch of all, that being sandwiches he made fresh right there on the mountain, using a really cool knife to cut charcuterie and a cheese that was so fancy I can’t remember, or never knew, its name, all on an Acme baguette. I was too jealous to snap a photo of it.)
Eventually the racers approached. We could see them, ant-like, on distant stretches of road. Just find the copter and look down. A million support vehicles drove by, along with an astonishing number of snub-nosed (well, short-fuselage) school buses with the “School” part covered up. They were carrying VIPs, no doubt, to a point farther up the road than we mere fans were allowed to go. Probably those people were rich or good-looking but had almost no interest in cycling. That’s just how it goes.
I focused my camera, zoomed all the way in to 16x, on a switchback way down the mountain. I thought the helicopter might rise up behind the riders and I could catch a really good shot, maybe even a really cool movie. As I sat there waiting for it, it actually happened! Somebody next to me said, “Here’s your Airwolf moment!” and it was almost too good to be true. Actually, it proved entirely too good to be true, because in the heat of the moment I totally choked and failed to snap a photo, much less make a movie. The helicopter rose out of view and man was I pissed at myself.
When the racers came by I almost made good on my vow not to try to film them, which is almost impossible, and just to enjoy the visual spectacle through my eyes alone. But I couldn’t resist, but also didn’t really look at the camera screen, so what you get below is kind of a Blair Witch Handheld Cinema Verité kind of thing. It has its moments, particularly the part where you can see the BMC boys, including race leader Tejay, with my very own bike (the grey and black Orbea) in the background!
Nate came by. He ended up riding pretty well, passing by former Tour de France winner Andy Schleck. Here are a couple photos of him. I wonder if his all-time Strava record for Mount Diablo fell. I could check, except I’m not on Strava (nor Facebook, nor Twitter, nor Tumblr, etc.) … I refuse.
It didn’t take as long for the racers to go by as I’d expected. They were all flying. If the tables were turned and any one of these guys was standing on the side of the road watching me ride by, even on my best day, he’d shake his head and think, “Poor stupid bastard, why does he even try?” And he’d be right. I am humbled, which is humbling, because I think I was pretty humble to begin with.
The descent was madcap. Throngs of cyclists, of varying ability. Skilled, unskilled, bold, cautious … the worst combination was bold and unskilled, followed close behind by skilled and bold. Nobody should be bold in such circumstances. Some of the lesser pros blew by us, one of them trailing garbage. Throughout my descent (I went it alone, not wanting to cause—or become—collateral damage) I kept hearing this whistling sound. What was it? Finally I realized: it was the whistle built into the Fastek buckle of my daughter’s backpack. (I borrowed the one without the butterflies on it but probably still looked like an idiot, but it didn’t matter because I couldn’t see myself anyway—BAM!)
At the bottom we regrouped right where the team vans were all parked. We saw Jens Voigt himself roll up, and suddenly I remembered Mary Beth’s request to get a photo of him. (She couldn’t come to the race because she had to walk her dog or something.) As luck would have it, I already had my phone out, to call my wife and say I’d be late (and to ask her to put a fresh rug in the doghouse for me). So I flipped it into camera mode and pointed it at Jens. He looked over and even waved, and—dammit it to hell, the think wouldn’t snap the picture! I don’t know why. It just didn’t feel like it. I almost spiked it onto the sidewalk, but instead ran over to Jens’s bike. The rumor I’d heard turns out to be true, about what he has painted on his top tube:
The guys were leaving and I scrambled back to my bike and took off in a hurry, further cementing the fear I’d had periodically all day that I was leaving things behind. I think I actually made it home with almost everything—only my hopes of the Airwolf shot and the Jens Voigt shot were left behind.
A few of us rode to Bart, to mitigate the Dutch we’d be in with the wives for staying out too long. At least we wore plenty of sunscreen, and we didn’t hit a pub on the way and show up at home drunk. Punch-drunk perhaps, but it’s always that way after seeing a live sporting event of this caliber.
Dinner was crab cakes. I made the tartar sauce myself. There were mashed potatoes—mine plus the kids’ because they’d somehow spoiled their appetites. I had a beer, a San Miguel, which is a pointless nothing-beer … it’s not watery like a Corona, which goes down nice on a hot evening after a long ride, nor tasty like a Belgian ale, nor powerful like an IPA. But it was cold and liquid and didn’t bother me a bit. Not having another beer cold did bother me a bit, but it’s just as well, considering how (relatively) slow I am on Mount Diablo these days with my off-season belly.
It’s almost time to switch Bart trains, so I can make a bunch of new enemies based on the stench of these shoes. I can’t believe my luck, that this laptop battery has held out so long. I hope you also consider this to be a stroke of luck. I guess if you’re still reading you do.
I was so absorbed in this report, and my nagging fear of sudden battery death, that I got off at the wrong Bart station. I hope you’re happy. Oh, and one more thing: Mary Beth, here’s a photo of Jens Voigt. Obviously it’s not from this race (wrong kit); I snapped it at another great American bike race.