by Gabe Meline
I was talking with Loretta at Centro Espresso and we both agreed that yesterday’s Stage One of the Tour of California was our favorite so far. Neither of us could put a finger on exactly why. The scene downtown was the same as it’s always been, the finish was made less thrilling by the officials’ decision to end the race after the first circuit, but still, we were both just totally stoked about it for some intangible reason.
The rain was at its least pelting when I looked up into the sky past the jumbotron and saw the helicopter edging sideways down Fourth Street. Exhaust fumes from a nearby trailer were making me a little woozy, so I moved next to the dumpster, atop which sat two kids, totally excited. Finally, the racers were coming into downtown Santa Rosa: “They just passed Foster’s Freeze!” yelled a spectator, in glasses and a beanie. “And Grocery Outlet!” yelled another.
The band at Fourth and Mendocino launched into the Jimi Hendrix version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Mancebo roared into town, then the rest of the guys. Something about the rain made it special, like we all deserved it. I ran over to the finish line just in time to watch Mancebo cross and jubilantly pump his fist in the air over and over. It was cute.
Headed over to the Astana Team Bus, right across from the library, where a crowd of people gathered to try and catch a glimpse of the man of the hour, Lance Armstrong. Behind me, a team worker loaded up the bikes, and Armstrong’s yellow-and-black bike stuck out from the rest. Staring at it was a little like staring at Doug Martch’s Stratocaster up close; not in awe if the thing itself but of what one person can do with it. I’ve worked on a lot of bikes in my life, developing an intimate knowledge of derailers and brake cables and freewheels and hubs, and it was exciting to see the same equipment on a bike that’d just been ridden by a seven-time Tour de France winner.
Eventually, both Armstrong and Leipheimer came out, with Johan Bruyneel, and talked to reporters for a few minutes. Umbrellas blocked my view, but I could hear hordes of autograph-seeking kids emitting pleading peeps of “please. . . please. . . please. . .” It only lasted for a few minutes, and then it was all over, as I heard a collective sigh of disappointment. In the distance, Armstrong and Leipheimer hopped into a black town car with tinted windows, and rode off down Third Street.