California's Victory When the Tour of California was rescheduled for May, many thought it might lose big-name riders to the Giro d'Italia, a Grand Tour event taking place simultaneously May 8&–30. But when deciding between the races, most of cycling's legends opted for the Golden State. The Giro has some great cycling talent, but it doesn't have Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Mark Cavendish, George Hincapie, Fabian Cancellara, Chris Horner, Andy Schleck or Tom Boonen—because we do.
The Stage Two Route Rather than coming through Marin County and up Highway 1 to Coleman Valley Road, as in years past, the tour this year arrives from its morning start in Davis through Napa County. After crossing Monticello Dam, the route goes up through Spanish Flat on the west side of Lake Berryessa, through Pope Valley and Angwin and into the outskirts of St. Helena on the Silverado Trail. A right turn over the Oakville Grade put riders on Trinity Road into downtown Glen Ellen, then down Warm Springs and Bennett Valley road, rushing into downtown Santa Rosa at approximately 3pm to 3:40pm.
Where to Watch The peloton will only complete one lap through downtown Santa Rosa, so there's bound to be a lot of aggressive action. Getting a good spot to watch is more important than ever. Courthouse Square itself is an action spot with opportunities to jump from Fourth Street to Third Street, though crowds are thick around the finish line. The mall parking structure on Seventh and B provides good bird's-eye viewing, and to witness the circuit's sharpest, scariest left turn, there's the corner of Ninth and Wilson. Just past the race's end, the Third Street garage always fills up, but it's obviously a great spot to watch a thrilling finish if you get there early.
Outside of Town Many diehard fans will be out at the Oakville Grade and Trinity Grade between Napa and Sonoma counties. Racers will pass much more slowly, and key separations are sure to occur on these two back-to-back King of the Mountain climbs. Other key KOM climbs in Napa County occur just west of the Monticello Dam and on Howell Mountain Road between Pope Valley and Angwin. For an authentic backroad experience, with cold beer and hot egg rolls while the race goes by, the Turtle Rock bar at Sage Canyon and Pope Valley Roads is a good choice.
Shake Hands with Lance Team vehicles will be parked in the parking lot at Third and E streets, across from the library. After the race, head there to catch a glimpse of the riders at their team's trailers. After last year's finish, hometown hero Levi Leipheimer talked to fans and reporters while team director Johan Bruyneel chatted nearby. Lance Armstrong stayed inside the trailer, but before hopping into a black SUV with Leipheimer, he graced one lucky young kid with a handshake. For bike nerds, this is also the spot to get up close to the best gear in the world as the rider's cycles are being loaded onto the team trucks. Last year, a group of people crowded around just to touch and take photos of Armstrong's bike.
The Afterparties Oodles of racers, announcers and bike-world celebs trickle into local restaurants and bars once the podium kissing is over. Downtown watering holes like the Russian River Brewing Co., Ausiello's and Third Street Aleworks are usually shoulder-to-shoulder, while some of the smaller bars, like Stout Bros., are taken over by official race parties. After the obstacle bike race with elected officials in Courthouse Square, Bike Monkey's Lagunitas-fueled bracket racing contest kicks into fixed gear at Fourth and D until 8pm.
Stalking Bobke Race announcers Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are guests at a $175 Bicycles for Humanity charity dinner at Jack and Tony's on May 16, but Bob Roll, the wacky commentator whose wild hand gestures and surreal analogies have earned him Yogi Berra status in the cycling world, will be on the street in Santa Rosa interviewing cyclists for the Versus network. Roll is a cutup, a card and a crowd favorite; last year he shaved his head for charity and left a thin stripe of fur for the rest of his on-air day. He's the reason any cycling fan's wife actually watches the Tour de France, so expect a fan gallery following his gapped teeth, bald head and weird witticisms in Santa Rosa. Then, later that evening, on May 17 from 7-9pm, catch him in person for a free Q&A at the Trek Bicycle Store at 512 Mendocino Avenue.
The Granfondo Effect Last year, local pro and three-time Amgen winner Levi Leipheimer knew that budget woes were forcing the city of Santa Rosa to consider dropping out as a host city for the Tour, which costs the city upwards of $175,000 annually in services to host. Leipheimer's solution was the King Ridge GranFondo, a highly successful 103-mile fundraising ride on King Ridge Road which raised $60,000 to keep the Tour in Santa Rosa. The 2010 GranFondo ride is already sold-out, but the shorter 65-mile MedioFondo and 30-mile PiccoloFondo rides still have a scant few spaces. Register for the Oct. 9 fundraiser at www.levisgranfondo.com.