Ready, Set, Go
By Lynn Lieu
Amgen Tour of California Kicks off Today
Today marks the beginning of one of California’s biggest annual bicycle tours. This year’s Amgen Tour travels from Northern California all the way to the Inland Empire taking 16 teams from all over the world along for the ride. The eight-day event is one of only two American races listed as a Union Cycliste Internationale multi-day (UCI 2.HC) event on the international professional calendar. The course takes place in eight stages covering nearly 800 miles of Californiascenic highways and roadways.
The tour kicks off today in Santa Rosafor Stage 1. Stage 2 starts in San Francisco and finishes in Santa Cruz. Riders will then head east to San Jose and Sonora for Stages 3 and 4, then south to Bakersfieldfor individual time trials in Stage 5 and to the Inland Empire for Stage 6, where the Weekly was welcomed to a ride-along tour.
Stage 6 begins on May 18 in Palmdale right off the 138 and makes it way up toBigBearLake. The path is commonly referred to as “The Big Bear Climb”; it’s a 115 mile trek mostly uphill. At its highest point riders will have climbed 1,372 meters; Palmdale sits at a little below 838 meters and the finish line at Big Bear Lake, the second highest point on the trail, sits at roughly 2,095.5 meters.
On a gloomy April morning I, a novice to cycling, was picked up at the starting point of Stage 6 for a nearly one hour ride up to Big Bear Lake. Along the way professional cycling announcer Larry Longo and assistant director for BMC Racing Mike Sayers clued me in on what a stage like this means to riders.
The last and only time the tour made it’s way to Big Bear was two years ago in 2010, when Hwy 2 washed out and the tour was rerouted. As we make our way closer to the mountain, Longo and Sayers emphasis how teams will likely form to avoid the heavy cross winds in the valley. Riding in each other’s draft, racers will likely be traveling in a diagonal line until they’re out of range of heavy winds. Once on the uphill trek, Sayers says that it’s important to manage your energy and calorie intake.
The experts guesstimate that about 25 percent of riders will drop out in this stage. While all riders can complete the stage, to qualify for the next stage riders must finish within a set timeframe determined by the first rider to finish.
As we make our way higher up the mountain the fog begins to thin and the sun breaks through to what would seem like a completely different world. Higher up the weather seems better, but higher up the atmosphere is also thinner creating another challenge for riders.
Once at the top, riders will have to make their way around the lake before reaching the finish line. While there may be break away leaders when the race comes to Big Bear, the trek around the lake does eliminate a lot of the front runners’ lead, making for a more dramatic finish to what locals call the Super Bowl of Big Bear.
While the race will be televised, the best spot to watch this epic tour is right at the finish line where you can expect vendors, demonstrations, live broadcast and of course various road closures.
The tour will continue on to Ontario the next day and wrap up on May 20 in Los Angeles.