Adam Jensen: Cycling’s fleeting, and thrilling, appeal
I didn’t know quite what to expect heading out to the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race May 8.
The closest I’ve come to seeing live, world-class cycling was probably in 2011, when I was sitting on the back of a photo motorcycle in the South Shore casino corridor, expecting to go on a mission around the lake snapping pictures of the first stage of that year’s Amgen Tour of California men’s race. It was from that perch I heard the stage had been canceled due to poor road conditions brought on by May storms.
While some weather threatened again this year, the roads stayed dry and the race took place as scheduled, to the relief of many.
Posting up last Friday at the top of Keller Road, near Heavenly Mountain Resort’s California Lodge, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few hundred cycling fans, and more than a few familiar faces, eager to greet the cyclists as they neared the finish line of stage one.
Although spectating time at the location was limited to one pass of the competitors, I found half the excitement was in the anticipation. The tech-savvy spectators among the crowd had the location of the peloton dialed. Murmurs of a breakaway spread through the crowd like a high-school rumor. Even casual cyclists who rode to the spot got the professional-athlete treatment, with the crowd cheering and giving good-natured high fives.
People crowded around and craned their necks to try and get a glimpse of the competitors as soon as the made the turn up the hill, and when they did, it was fully on — cowbells, clapping, hooting and hollering.
Much of the race took place at high speeds, but Keller’s 15-percent grade slowed the cyclists to a more pedestrian pace and allowed spectators to get quite the up-close glimpse. Forget about sitting courtside, this was more like sitting on the court. While still giving space to the riders, the crowd squeezed in on both sides, creating a funnel of excitement around cyclists pushing themselves to their physical limits. I imagine it’s a little stressful for the athletes having fans so close, but I’m pretty sure I caught a couple grins among the grimaces present following a more than 70-mile race. Then again, the brief smiles may have very well been the result of having the finish line only a few hundred meters away.
And, before long, all the riders had passed. While viewing the race was brief, I can see why events like the Tour de France attract such dedicated spectators. It’s a short, but thrilling, spectator experience.
It was great to see some of this year’s Amgen Tour following 2011’s disappointment. Hopefully we’ll see the race back again soon.
Adam Jensen is the editor of Lake Tahoe Action. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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