This morning my wife and I woke up in a hotel in Dalton GA and drove downtown to see the start of the race. Parking was absolutely no problem, there were many spots to be had on the streets around town. We parked around 8:45 and walked a block to the starting area. Our eyes were scanning faces for someone that looked familiar and the first person I spotted was Dave Shields. It was part of the plan to catch up with him and buy a copy of his new book The Tour. We chatted with him for 5 or 10 minutes about how we enjoyed The Race. He was very friendly and talkative, I wish him the best of luck with his new book. Dave mentioned that he is working on a third book that continues the story of The Race, that will be something to look forward to.
With our back to the giant yellow and logo covered structure that covered the starting line we walked a block down the street. Several yellow Mavic cars were parked along the street and we saw the Health Net bus parked under a bridge. The colorful Jelly Belly bus and cars were parked beyond the bridge down the street. As we stood on the street corner near the bridge the team vehicles started to show up. It was like watching a parade as they rolled just a few feet in front of us. Toyoto-United, Navigators, Kodak all came rolling in and parked alongside the curbs. The giant Discovery bus parked right in the middle of the street.
As we walked around taking pictures of bikes and riders, getting free water bottles and generally gawking at what was going on, CSC, Davittoman-Lotto, Saunier-Duval and Quickstep had pulled in back towards the starting line. Walking back towards the starting line we stopped to talk to the SRAM guy and checked out the SRAM equipped bikes of team Kodak.
Generally, all the riders for the domestic teams were sitting around in camp chairs on the sidewalks beside their team vehicles. They were eating as their bikes were being prepared. You could just walk by and say “have a good ride today, we will be cheering.” The larger teams like Discovery, Phonak and CSC stayed in their large team buses, or smallish team RV in the case of CSC. You didn’t really see any of these riders come out until they rode up to sign in near the start line.
As we got close enough to the starting line to hear the commentary over the PA system we heard Tom Danielson being interviewed. Taking up a spot along the “cattle chute” that led up to the stage where the riders sign we watched most of the riders come up and sign in. This seemed like the perfect place for pictures or autographs as the riders were stopping to sign for almost everyone along the barricades. We had brought the recent issue of VeloNews with Floyd on the front and thought that if we could easily get his autograph we would. As the current race leader he was the last on to sign in, and he signed the magazine cover for us just before stepping up the stage.
The riders lined up for the start of a neutral lap. As the slowly moved by we saw Dave Z talking to Floyd and Floyd was laughing. I wonder if that was one of Dave Z’s on the bike interviews happening before our eyes… anyhow, a few minutes later they came back through to start the race. With all the riders gone and the team cars in pursuit the start area emptied out fast.
Back in the car we drove up to Chattanoog and toured the Litespeed factory. Pretty cool. In addition to seeing the factory and seeing how the bikes are made we got to see, and pickup, the 8 pound Ghisallo. Crazy, absolutely crazy how light the bike is. It would take another post to describe this bike.
Now we are near Blairsville. Tomorrow we will watch the riders come up Brasstown Bald and hopefully watch the podium presentation.
I would have to say that being there for the start of the stage today was much more than I expected. It was very cool to be amongst the teams as they prepared for the day. Being within arms length of the pros is a pretty unique part of the sport.