Wednesday February 18 – Clovis
It’s now Wednesday and I’m going to have to mention the A word again. I’ve been trying to avoid it, but sometimes it’s just not worth swimming against the tide.
That’s right, I’m talking about Armstrong.
This event was always going to be about Lance and his comeback, especially with the close ties that the race already has with the various cancer charities and initiatives, but yesterday hit a new level of ridiculousness.
There we were, sat in the press conference when Astana’s press man walks in to address the press – and what did he talk about? Armstrong’s frickin bike. The one that got stolen after the prologue.
Here’s what he said, in full:
“The bike has been found by the police of Sacramento. We don’t know much more than a bike was found. We saw a picture of a bike without wheels, but that doesn’t mean that the wheels were not there. As soon as we know more we’ll let you know.
“The bike looks OK, but we have no idea if the police know more about who did it or what happened, they are investigating.”
I kid you not, he stood there (actually, he was seated, but saying he stood there sounds more dramatic) and actually said in all seriousness, to a group of gathered journalists, “the bike looks OK.”
You know what was worse? At least half of the people in the room were hurriedly making notes without even a trace of a smirk on their faces. There could have been more, but I couldn’t see as I’d buried my head in shame.
So, a small message to all bike thieves out there. If you are thinking of pinching a bike this week, or in fact at any time during Lance’s comeback, please, please, please don’t pinch a yellow and black Trek with Livestrong on it – I just can’t handle the fall out.
Monday February 16 – Santa Cruz
Driving across California you get to see some weird and wonderful things. Now obviously my full concentration is on the road ahead, but I’d be missing out if I didn’t glance to either side every now and then.
In between the driving hailstorms I do try and check out the scenery, but sometimes the real gems are the little signs at the side of the road.
I’ve already seen a huge billboard advertising a website called www.dontshake yourbaby.com, with the wording above it saying Don’t Shake Your Baby, and a picture of a baby on there.
Now I don’t have kids, but if I did, I reckon I could have worked out for myself that I shouldn’t be shaking them. After all, it’s pretty hard to mistake a baby for a bottle of Orangina.
It’s actually an advert taken out by the Hannah Rose Foundation, a charity that does a lot of good awareness raising, but it’s worrying that people out there need to be told this.
I’ve also seen a curious banner on the side of a housing development. These new homes had been built right next to the Freeway on what looks like a floodplain. They all look the same and are miles away from the town they’re supposed to be in.
So how were they trying to sell them? The banner said ‘if you lived here, you’d be home.’
Exactly who is that aimed at? Seeing as there’s no other reason to be at that point on the planet, I can only think it’s aimed at lazy people, or people who don’t want to live anywhere else in the world – and there can’t be many of those.
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Sunday February 15 – Santa Rosa
Boy oh boy can it rain over here. By the end of the day I reckon about 20cm of rain had fallen. And that was just on me. The really annoying thing is I came out to California thinking the weather would be something like it is around our spring time, and packed my bag accordingly.
Now everything I own is wet, and I’m quickly running out of clean clothes. My already stretched credit card could take a hammering over the next few days (can you all please keep that quiet from customs).
I do have one secret weapon up my sleeve though – heat seating. My hire car has this wonderful innovation where the seats heat up to a temperature that could boil water, too hot for my backside, but perfect for damp clothing. So now I’m driving round California with wet socks and pants all over the passenger seat. It’s getting a bit smelly.
Monday’s stage started at 8.30 this morning in order to get over the Golden Gate Bridge without disrupting traffic too much. Early starts aren’t great for bike riders, or the associated media, but it does at least mean an early finish.
Yesterday I didn’t get back to my hotel (the Flamingo spa – it had lots of very pink, very neon lights out the front) until nine o’clock, and only just managed to persuade them to feed me.
The main problem was the restaurant had been turned in to dance floor and a party was in full flow. So I was left, eating my dinner out of a carboard box in the hotel lobby while finishing my work. Oh the glamour!
I’m Twittering my way across California too. Keep up to date with the most inane snippets of info at www.twitter.com/SRichardsonCW.
Saturday February 14 – Sacramento
Today was Valentine’s day, and I definitely felt plenty of love in the air. Not for me mind, for Lance Armstrong.
While I’m sure my postman back home will have struggled to deliver a sack full of cards to my home address, nothing I will return home to will compare to the love that American’s have for Lance. The crowds at the prologue were simply amazing.
They may not compare in size, or noise, to those that crammed on to the prologue course in London when the Tour de France visited back in 2007, but in terms of fanaticism out here they’re in a league of their own.
Whenever Lance popped his head out of the Astana motor-home he was faced with a see of yelling fans, by the time he set off on the 3.9km course emotions had reached fever pitch. There are plenty of cycling fans here in Sacramento, George Hincapie is still popular and Mark Cavendish and Fabian Cancellara are recognised, but everyone else has come to see Lance.
And doesn’t he know how to milk it.
By the time I had left the press conference and gotten back to the press room to start writing, Armstrong had already Twittered countless times and had put up pictures of fans he’d taken on his blackberry – it’s enough to make the press pack here look bad!
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Friday February 13 – San Francisco
Have you ever turned up late to a party and gotten the feeling that you’ve missed half the fun? That was the feeling I got when I landed in California, turned on my phone, and received a text message from a colleague saying; ‘Paul Kimmage had a showdown with Armstrong at the press conference in California.’
Now that I would have liked to have seen.
There are very few journalists who’ll stick their neck on the line when face to face with Armstrong in a crowded room – he’s an intimidating character on and off the bike. To come and do it in his own back yard takes some guts.
It does set a worrying precedent for the race though. In this week’s Cycling Weekly I wrote that the racing could be overshadowed in California by Armstrong’s presence, and that is threatening to come true.
And unfortunately America’s Chosen One isn’t the only rider who threatens to grab some of the limelight. California is no stranger to tales of the ridiculous, and that’s exactly how Floyd Landis’s comeback is looking.
>>Cycling Weekly’s Tour of California preview
Riding for a small American outfit with the ridiculous name of Ouch, it’s hard to see why 33 year old Landis is doing this – maybe, like Tyler Hamilton, Jose Enrique Gutierrez, Oscar Sevilla and Francesco Mancebo there’s simply nothing else he can do.
Someone did say that America was once tipped on its central axis and all the nuts rolled to the west – does that include dopers too?
What’s most disappointing is that last year it felt like the sport had finally moved on. Moved on from the vice like grip of Armstrong and the murky past that lead to Operacion Puerto. There’s half a dozen riders in this event that are dragging the sport back two years.
So what of the racing? Anyone fancy a bet that Mark Cavendish will win the prologue? He’s done it before at the Tour of Romandy, and if all five corners on tomorrow’s 3.9km circuit are tight and require a rider to sprint out of them, he might just be in with a chance.