I planned to ride through Ventura County today, which is normal for me on weekends. The weather was perfect. Cool, crystal clear, and no wind. You could see individual trees out at the Channel Islands, which are 30 miles away!
So I headed out, and decided to make a run up to Ojai, on the off chance I might get a glimpse of the Tour Of Califronia as it passed through. I had no idea how many people would be there, or what the exact route was. But I figured if I got into town it would be obvious where the route was, or if there were going to be too many people watching to make it comfortable.
Going up the bike path from Ventura to Ojai, there were maybe 3 times as many cyclists on the path than usual, and after talking with a few of them, it was obvious everyone was going to see the race pass by.
I got into Ojai around 11:30 AM, and it wasn't crowded at all. I stopped a course marshal and asked about the schedule, and she said they were due to pass by around 12:15. The roads were still open, so I took Route 150 through Ojai and out of town, riding up to the summit of the King Of The Mountains checkpoint, about 3 miles out of town. There were a lot of cyclists doing the same thing.
I rode back into town around noon, and found an empty spot along the golf course that's along the road. I parked my bike against the chain link fence, and turned my attention in the direction the riders would come from. Soon, a few course marshalls and support vehicles came by. Then a few more. Then the local traffic was halted as the race was approaching. The silence was deafening, it was so exciting.
I have to tell you, my heart was absolutely pounding. I have never seen a pro race before in person...but having ridden for 11 years and watched untold hours of racing on TV, I was still unprepared for what I saw. When the riders approached, there was a nine man break away out front, with a larger breakaway just behind them, then about a 3 minute gap to the main field. I couldn't believe how fast they were going. (They were on a straight section with a slight downhill and a slight tail wind. So 35, maybe even 40 MPH.)
I was standing on the curb of the roadway, and the riders were 5 feet from me as they passed. The sound of the peloton breaking the wind as they passed was actually intimidating. There were whistles and shouts between the riders -- not friendly...but with an aggressive, competitive tone. The main field was flying, and to think that a group of riders were able to break away from those guys is incomprehensible to me. (I was at the mid-point of the race, so the peloton wasn't trying to reel in the two breakaway groups yet.)
The level of concentration on the riders faces was also surprising. It just doesn't come across that way on TV. I can see where they wouldn't have any sense of the terrain they were crossing aside from the impact it had on the racing. It's just too dangerous to look away even for a second.
Also, the disparity of the size of the riders was more apparent live. The big sprinters were really big, and the climbers were tiny little guys...they almost looked like children in comparison.
The time it took for all the riders to pass was under 4 minutes, but it seemed like 20 minutes to me. There was so much going on. And the level of riding was so fast and in such close quarters...it's still resonating with me ten hours later. I actually had a hard time riding back in to Ventura after it was over. What was I doing, tootling along at 15 MPH on the bike path???
What was really great, however, was how I felt whenever a gaggle of OCP racer-wannabe's passed me. They were at least a thousand light years away from the real pros in ability, but they were posturing nonetheless. Didn't they see the same race as me? Don't they know how bad they suck?
With the great weather and relaxed viewing, I wish all the 50 plussers could have been there!