Where are the California Cycling Fans?

Amgen Tour of California, May 13, 2014–By Jim Freibert–Special reporter to Cyclists International–Opinion

After nine years of solid efforts by a multi-billion dollar entertainment company, one might wonder where the fans were at the Amgen Tour of California.

Like almost every AToC start I’ve seen in nine years (the majority) there are usually two or three thousand people milling around the team vehicles, near the rider sign in, the starting line, and points in between. But find them on the road during the race? Not so easy.

What’s surprising is how many Southern California cyclists are more interested in filling in
their training diary, their STRAVA post, or watching their club’s mileage log than going to see a race, even if it is just a few hours away.  The spectators who have come out to the Bay area races are from out of state, out of the country, or NorCal I found.

Tuesday’s start was par for the course: the biggest crowds were around Sky’s ‘jaguars,’ $12,000 Pinarellos. Others were waiting for Sir Bradley Wiggins to step out of his RV, or lined up along the fence to hear the pro cyclists interviewed as they signed in.

One couple from Oregon, Michael Fawcett and Judy Jones planned to see the first four stages, driving their RV to Big Sur before turning around after the racers pass them tomorrow.

Another way Amgen Tour organizers have been almost guaranteed a crowd has been to run the race past schools.

The second sprint on Tuesday’s Stage 3 was in front of Altamonte Creek Elementary School, in this case with 460 students, so there was at least 600 people witnessing sprint maybe even 700.

Are cycling fans riding to points along the course?  Usually yes, but yesterday I saw exactly three cycling jerseys, a total of eight road and mountain bikes, those among several hundred spectators.

Whatever grade school kids might lack in purchasing power certainly made up for in crowd noise and enthusiasm, however.

They got to see eight riders who had been away for 75 of the 78 miles – riding tempo. For the record it was hardly a “Sprint” but, Robert Squire of Jamis – Sutter Home earned five points for the effort of nudging ahead – to the delight of screaming kids.

While SoCal fans have rarely showed up in numbers, (perhaps they would rather go to the Tour de France), typical of Northern California, at any stage, even in driving rain, close to the finish there are tens of thousands of fans, though admittedly not the hundreds of thousands like you might find in Europe along the Tour or another big stage race.

At Mount Diablo State Park, elevation 3,849, bicyclists, hikers, and shuttles (no cars allowed) took hours to come off of the mountainside which includes grades as steep is 17 percent. Could inconvenience be a factor? We think not considering the dizzying grades and enormous time committed to watching the Tour de France by spectators all over that country.

Those grades whittled down the final group of just 11 riders.  The 12th finisher was none other than Haimar Zubeldia, who has stood on Tour de France podiums.

At the finish Bradley Wiggins who was the race leader after Monday’s time travel, lost 20 seconds to stage winner, Garmin-Sharp’s Rohan Dennis, but was still in the lead by 24 seconds. Wiggins rode courageously but had been isolated from his teammates, while GARMIN, and Orica-Green Edge the toughest two teams for the day, had double teamed him all the way up Mt.Diablo.

Two Colombian climbers, Janier Acevedo, Garmin, and Orica’s Johan Rubio Chaves attacked all the way to the summit, helping place their mates, Dennis (1st), and Peter Yates in 4th.

Two teams appear to have the firepower to trouble Wiggins, Garmin now with riders in 2nd, 10th, and 14th position overall.   The Aussies, Orica GreenEDGE with Adam Yates finishing fourth, Howsan in 12th, and Chaves in 13th. Maybe there will be enough excitement to bring bigger crowds out in Pasadena, and round Amgen’s home turf in Thousand Oaks.

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