With only two stages left to go the 2011 Amgen Tour of California will end in the south on Sunday. Chris Horner of Team Radio Shack holds the lead, but anything can happen tomorrow as the world class cyclists race to a finish at the top of Mt. Baldy.
I got to see the finish of Stage 2 in Sacramento, and a group of us rode our bikes (in the rain) to a small hill on the Stage 3 route to watch the race go by on its way to Modesto.
While you may only see the cyclists for a few seconds, the anticipation is palpable. About 30 minutes to an hour before the first riders pass by, the road is closed, with only police and official race vehicles passing by. An announcer's car will blare out the status of the race. Then come more vehicles. You know they are getting close when you see a helicopter and small plane approach.
Anticipation builds. Lead vehicles (mostly motorcycles) are followed by the first of the racers, along with motos with cameras, which in turn are followed by team cars. At some point the largest group of riders (the "peloton") passes by at astonishing speed, followed by more team cars, ambulances, and one or more "broom wagons" the signify the end of the caravan.
Standing there, you realize just how close the race has come to your feet. If you are lucky, you may find a water bottle or two discarded at the side of the road, which you are free to keep as a souvenir.
A friend of mine was standing at the side of the road with her camcorder running when one of the race favorites stopped right in front of her for a quick wheel change due to a flat tire. She personally cheered him on, and he left a water bottle behind.
No other major sporting event allows spectators to come as close to the athletes (and for free!) than a bike race on the road. If you haven't had the experience, and the race comes nearby, you need to get out there. Tomorrow's stage starts in Claremont, passes twice through Baldy village, and ends at the top of Mt. Baldy. The final stage starts in Santa Clarita and ends in Thousand Oaks.