Spectating in person at a professional stage race is not like watching on television. You arrive hours early to stake out a viewing spot (sometimes days ahead in the case of big races like the TDF), hang around and chat about bikes, eat some food, perhaps partake in a little liquid refreshment, and follow the race progress on your iPhone or portable TV. Eventually, word comes that the peloton is approaching, and as everyone presses forward to the curb, the race roars by like a passing train, departing as quickly as it arrived. It ends up being an awful lot of build up for what amounts to about 30 seconds of excitement.
Stage one of the Tour of California was in town yesterday. The race has traditionally been held in February, but because bad weather has hampered attendance in years past, the organizers moved the race forward to May. It was a calculated risk due to the fact that the race now coincides with the Giro d’Italia, but it paid off big time with attendance by some of the top riders in the world and the biggest crowds of any sort I’ve seen in downtown Sacramento.
We spent the afternoon hanging out with friends at the Bikes in the Park race viewing event in Fremont Park where the Bicycle Film Festival was held just the night before. The weather was perfect, and it was a real treat seeing so many people out-and-about on bikes of all sorts, relaxing and having a great time. It appeared that for many people (including us), the event was more about socializing and enjoying the spectacle than it was about the race itself. One block off of the race course a person could have mistaken the scene for a Ciclovía. It got me wondering whether Sacramento is ready for one of these wonderful Columbian street closure events.
The local dignitaries, the mainstream press, and the traveling road show that are part-and-parcel of any large stage race were all concentrated down around the finish line. It was quite a contrast to the scene at Fremont Park where many of the most active bicycle advocates in the area were assembled. The disconnect between these two locations was a perfect metaphor for the disconnect that sometimes exists between the racing community and the advocacy community. It begs the question, do large races like this do anything to increase participation in utility bicycling or improve conditions for everyday transportational bicyclists? Honestly, I don’t know. And while the race is headed off to another city today before the dust has even settled, the dedicated individuals who make up the bike advocacy community are rolling up their sleeves and getting back to work.