On ATOC, weather, old friends we met for the first time and beer before noon

The story of the Amgen Tour of California is, if you were to listen to real sports writers paid to cover things like the Amgen Tour of California, a story about weather. By now, anyone reading this blog knows about the cancelled Stage 1 and truncated Stage 2. You’ve read stories about snow and rain – perhaps you’ve even stood outside in the rain just to catch the glimpse of the pro-peloton rolling through your neighborhood.

But since I’m a cycling fan first and a member of the press second (or third or fourth, even), I’ll say something a bit different about this race that I’ve heard several people called cursed – by now you, no doubt, know all about the weather woes of previous editions of this race. Because I’m a cycling fan first, I’m going to talk about cycling fans.

I’ve been at the finishing circuit every year they ATOC has circled the Capitol. I’ve sat in the rain drinking beers outside Crepeville, sipped Fat Tire from a can at the Amgen VIP booth, shot photos from the corner of 18th and L – opposite Crepeville – and I’ve leaned over orange barricades 75 meters from the finish. I’m not the only one.

The crowds do fluctuate. Rain tends to keep those who work downtown from running outside to watch the finish before they clock out for the day. Lance Armstrong tends to attract casual fans more interested in cycling’s pop star than anything else. Even as I walked around I heard more than a few people coming out of their offices to find the roads closed and musing about what it is that must be happening.

But then there’s the rest of us. With our tablets, smart-phones and laptops streaming the race at is approaches. Walking around the Lifestyle Fair just so we can drool over the latest bicycles from the big manufacturers. We care about the results – even if we have no idea what’s going on until the Peloton roars by at 40 miles per hour. We care about the excitement of the roar of 150 or so of the fastest cyclists in the world blowing past in an all out sprint. We don’t care about the rain, mostly.

Fewer people showed up to the finish this year, I’m sure. But it was still crowded. People still lined up at the barricades three or four deep. Because we love cycling. We love the bike. We love it February. We love it in May. We love it in the snow. We love it in the rain.

So yes, on Monday, with rain threatening, I took my press pass downtown and drooled over bikes and ran up and took a couple of photos of Ben Swift after his victory and went to the press conference and had a beer with Sam, all because I love cycling. Not so much because I love professional cycling but because I just like cycling.

And then, on Tuesday, I did it again. Only this time with on my bike, with guaranteed rain, to the sprint point in Folsom. Kurt and I rode out early, scoped out the route and more or less just milled around and grabbed a good spot near the sprint point. We stood around in the rain. We took pictures. We met friends. And we weren’t the only ones.

But why?

At Monday’s press conference Andrew Messick, President of AEG Sports, talked about the timeline around moving the Stage 2 start from Squaw Valley USA to Nevada City. It was sometime after midnight, he said, that he first contacted the Nevada City race committee and told them about the change. By 6:30 that morning Nevada City was ready to host the start of Stage 2. With almost no notice, cycling fans turned up at the start and saw the riders off, kicking off the Tour of California in style.

Several years ago now, I accompanied my wife to her company holiday party and I met Sam. The British spouse of my wife’s co-worker who had a funny last name and, like me, was just starting to ride his bike. Eventually, we started riding together and now I count Sam as one of my best friends; because of the relationship we built on the bike.

A co-worker and I started talking about cycling one day. He was a mountain biker. I was a roadie. We conjured up an idea for a blog about cycling and just ran with it.

A handful of cyclists interact with me or this blog on Twitter. Yesterday, I met one of those people, in person, for the first time. It was a blast and, at least I think, we hit it off as fast friends. I was even there when she drank a beer before noon for the first time, ever. And while that was happening, thousands of people lined up on the side of the road to catch a glimpse of elite professional cyclists ride past, in a matter of seconds.

But do we love cycling because of the people? Or do we love the people because they love cycling?

Does it even matter?

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  1. #1 by Heather Nielson on May 17, 2011 - 9:28 pm

    oh my gawd that’s sooo incriminating!!! I have a camera in one hand and my iPhone in the other!!! I need to learn to turn it off…lol….i had a great time today. What a great write-up Michael!

  2. #2 by Sam on May 18, 2011 - 9:48 am

    Very glad I went to that company holiday party instead of staying home. As soon as the British weather clears off, let’s head out…

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