Back to Work

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.

9 Responses to “Back to Work”

  • lorena beightler says:

    Thanks for mentioning the Ciclovia, Alan.

    I have been working on this for sometime now in Sacramento. It was clear to me in the beginning that Sacramento was not ready but now the paradigm has shifted and I’m excited about the future prospective of holding one in our city.

    It’s the support of the community coming out and showing the dignitaries how much we want this type of events that create the shift. I believe that we are at that tipping point.

    Thanks for your contribution to the conversation.

  • Steve Butcher says:

    This reminds me of the two times the Tour of Missouri rode through our little town of approximately 2000 people a few years ago. It even went right by our house the first year! It was quite an event with much of the town turning out. The elementary school took the kids down to the town square to watch the race. Then, just as you described, the leaders, followed moments later by the peloton were there and gone in a few seconds. I’d like to think the race helped raise our community’s awareness of cycling; even if it was for a little while.

  • Jeff Lock says:

    Gidday Alan
    We have the Tour Down Under in our capital city Adelaide every January.
    I travel the 700 Ks to town to experience the absolute cycling frenzy that a pro tour cycling event creates in Adelaide. As a person who cycles everywhere and for everything it is a buzz to just soak up a time where the community as a whole gets into cycling. The first race which is a prelude to the stage race is a criterion around the east end of Adelaide around the parklands. 80,000 people come to line the street circuit, most ride in and out and bring picnics and make an evening of it. It is impossible to get any work done on a bike in Adelaide in the month prior to the Tour. As part of the Tour they have one stage where amateurs can ride the same exact stage before the Pros. It has grown to be huge with over 7000 people riding the stage this year.
    All the little towns around Adelaide bid for the race to come through and all decorate their towns around a cycling theme for the passage of the peleton.
    For a brief period there is a real tolerance from car drivers to cyclists (Shame it does not last long)
    I would say that this event has definitely raised the awareness of cycling as a means of transportation with lots of people commuting as training for the amateurs ride. They then get the bug and continue.
    The government also gets a bit of a adrenaline rush with the publicity and like to big note themselves and usually make some grand announcements about cycling infrastructure.
    Our advocacy organizations have usually kept them to their word and we have some reasonable improvements to cycling infrastructure. Alas this seems to be in isolated spots and does not follow through to a sustained, coordinated and planned system of cycling infrastructure.
    Overall I would say a big race is a benefit

  • Jeff Lock says:

    I forgot to mention I watched the stage in Sacramento which was telecast live to Australian TV. It looks like it would be a lovely place to cycle.

  • Alan says:

    @Lorena

    Just yesterday we used the term “tipping point” to describe what’s happening with the bicycling scene in Sacramento.

    Thanks for all you do!

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Jeff

    Thanks for sharing what’s happening in your part of the world. It sounds as if you’re facing some of the same challenges we are here. Best of luck and keep doing what you’re doing!

    Alan

  • RJ says:

    I say: one more bicyclist is one more bicyclist.

  • Caspar says:

    The Giro d’Italia passed my town last monday. I left work 3 hours early that day. Watched the race on TV at home for half an hour, went to the road (500 meters from my house), saw them pass, raced back home and was just in time to see them finish. Later heared there was a great party at the finish. Should have gone there.

  • MohjhoRyder says:

    I positioned myself on the outside corner of the final turn before the sprint to the finish in Sacramento for the tour of California. Three times the peloton flew by no more than a few inches away. What a rush. It was a wonderful day just milling around Capital park checking out the bike scene waiting for the racers to show up.

 
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