Ten reasons to love the Tour of California:
1) The California Factor
Okay, the weather stank Tuesday, and the forecast for the rest of the week ain’t too bright, but California still is and will forever be the Golden State. You just ask the riders where they’re rather be – in Belgium getting ready for Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne or cruising down the Big Sur coast. Even Tom Boonen’s with the majority.
2) Dave Towle
For those who don’t know him, Dave Towle is the finish-line announcer on the Tour of California, and also the closest thing we’ve seen to a human ghetto blaster. Every day, as the peloton bowls into the final few hundred metres I feel genuinely concerned that Dave might actually self-combust. I hope he doesn’t, because I haven’t heard blood vessel-bursting fury such since the last time I put on a Metallica CD (which incidentally was never).
3) Eye candy
Rock Racing’s bevy of brown-haired beauties. Nuff said.
4) Luscious landscapes
Today’s third stage through the Coast range of mountains contained enough microcosms of mainland Europe to put tourism in the Old Continent out of business. The first twenty flat kilometres could have been plucked from the Po Delta, and from there the route was like a virtual journey through the Welsh Brecon Beacons, the Dentelles of Eastern Provence, the Appenines of central Italy and finally the Pyrenees. I’ll stop now because I can tell you’re getting jealous.
5) Brilliant young riders
Today’s stage winner Robert Gesink, Kevin Seeldrayers, Bauke Mollema, Edvald Boassen Hagen, Mark Cavendish…these fellas are the future of international cycling, and they’re all here this week.
6) A wake-up call for the established powers
Rock Racing’s boss believes that “one day the dollar will rule cycling”, and anyone who’s seen this race thrive in its first three years would chorus in agreement. ASO boss Patrice Clerc has already dropped in, Giro chief Zomegnan is due later this week; both men should look closely at crowds here in California – their enthusiasm, their multi-thousand dollar bikes and their sheer numbers – and wonder what on earth is going wrong in the countries we still regard as cycling’s spiritual home. The brutal truth is that this race is already better supported than Paris-Nice or the Tirreno Adriatico and its progress curve is heading in the opposite direction.
7) The perfect mixture
This year’s formula of a prologue, a medium mountain stage, a 24-kilometre time trial and no summit finish is just about perfect for a one-week stage race. The overall winner on Sunday might be a time-triallist (probably Fabian Cancellara), he might be a climber (step forward Robert Gesink) or he might be a bit of both (Levi Leipheimer). That’s what I call the perfect stage race.
8) The press room buffets
Race organisers AEG have already learned one very important lesson: the best way to a journalist’s heart is through his stomach, preferably through the medium of cookies, muffins, fizzy drinks and other treats that would erroneously be described as “junk food”.
9) The “G” word
Yes, we’re here to cover a bike race, but let’s suppose – just theoretically – that I did fancy a game of golf… well, in that rare eventuality, I would be rather spoilt for choice: Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay, Riviera, Pasatiempo. Oh, and before you write in to complain, it’s quite alright, because according to an article in the San Jose local press the other day, cycling is the new golf in the United States. Besides, Greg LeMond humoured me for 20 minutes Sunday night with his iPhone, showing me the best golf courses in northern California via Google Earth.
10) Crashing with my new friends the Boulangers
BikeRadar.com US editor Gary Boulanger and I got chummy by shooting the breeze about professional cycling over Gmail’s instant message service the past few months. It just so happens that Gary and his charming family live in Mountain View, just outside San Francisco, and the Boulanger’s were kind enough to let me crash earlier this week. I say thanks for Gary, his wife Jean and kids Henri and Samantha for putting up with me; my thrifty boss says thanks for saving him a few dollars.