What's Cool In Road Cycling

San Francisco Grand Prix: We Ride (And Eat) The Course!

– By Charles Manantan –

The San Francisco GP course and area would make a great World Championship Venue, for Cycling or Cooking! Ride along as we preview the route, and stop for a bite along the way…

9 AM on a week day is a pretty great time to roll out of bed, regardless of wear you live. But if you have no pressing work, a new bike to try out and happen to be visiting San Francisco (65 degrees) from Phoenix (1265 degrees) and staying on the course where the SFGP will be run,
it’s a damn fine time to be rolling out of bed. And it gets better!

Especially if you are staying on Columbus Street in San Francisco’s version of Little Italy known as North beach. Add to that, being just a block or two away from an old Friend who happens to own Caffe Roma (a great morning or evening spot that roasts several unbelievable blends of coffee and serves lots of other treats as well) and dishes out the best Cuppa and Croissant combo available in a city famous for its food. Now top it all off with the fact you haven’t seen the Friend in 5 years and worn out your welcome (as I am positive I would have by now) and can get a two for one for old time sake, and you have the perfect start to the day.

After taking in my treats from Caffe Roma (Thanks Tony!), I decided that I would take it upon myself to give the San Francisco GP course a run through and also stop in and see a few other places I had grown to love as a resident. Two things became painfully obvious; first, that there is not a single “favorite place” in the Entire City that is not located on a hill and second; that a little tweaking could make this place out for a super World Championship course or at the least, a calendar switch could make for a heck of a World Cup stop.

The Course takes in Scenery and Terrain that is at the same time Fan Friendly and Rider, well, Unfriendly. With so much focus is placed on the Fillmore climb that you may not realize that much of this course is a “false” flat (or in my case a “horrible and harmful lie flat”) and that depending on the weather, it can get a little windy along the Fisherman’s Warf area and even among the taller buildings in the Marina and Financial Districts and through The Presidio. But at any time you should be riding this course and feel like you need a bite to eat, there is a restaurant either right next to you or just ahead. That’s handy since it’s against the rules to back track for “support” in a race… Still, with the Worlds in mind, it wouldn’t be a stretch to find TT routes through the area suitable for the Worlds (a little more of the Marina and Warf area could see a suitable course that would be flat to rolling). And if the organizers added a few of the hills that I took on in my wayward travels (all connected to the existing course), you could have a truly selective course not seen since Olano won in Columbia.

That being said, the feature hill they have now is nothing to laugh at! The fear and loathing that I may have attributed to the Fillmore St Climb after reading articles and looking at pictures is nothing compared to the out and out horror as I round the corner at the Balboa Cafe (without a triple chain ring…) and took peek skyward. Back when I lived here, my only transportation was by Car, and they have obviously added gradient every year since I left!

The Balboa Cafe is a watering hole wear, in my misspent college youth, I had taken keen interest in abusing my body to the point where “regurgitating” those memories will do us no good. As I rounded the corner and looked up (and up, and up…), I realized that 10 (or so) years later, I would again abuse my body at the same spot, only this time I would probably be relieved of my meal somewhere near the top of this paved purgatory rather than at the bottom. This was to my great displeasure as this time, rather than loosing a 39 cent bag of top roman noodles, I had just had one of Tony’s ungodly delicious croissants (and maybe a few other sweets) and couldn’t bear the thought of losing them. But the Hill is “do-able” even for a Cat 28 racer like me, and after storming up (once) in a massive gear (39-26), I am sure that if Lance can’t cut it, I can handle setting the tempo for several laps up and over that thing, then lead George out for Victory number 2!

A side: Seriously, If you get the chance to come for the race bring the bike, but be prepared to ride a little slower and with greater care. San Francisco has several Marked Lanes and is a very Cyclist tolerant city, but special care needs to be given to the traffic and to the road features themselves. The roads are well worn by lots of different vehicle types and there are holes, cracks and rail cars tracks! And although SF is more cyclist friendly than say New York, You get all kinds of people out there… Be safe and enjoy the city if you get the chance.

For Fan hot spots, Fillmore is the place to be (and there is another nasty hill at Taylor St), but you can get a great view in and around the start finish area at the Embarcadero, and of course, the race heads up Columbus Street on two separate stretches, and you can enjoy the race there as well as the food and drink.

Remember though that the most outstanding feature, after the Hills and the Food, are the people! This race is 10 to 15 screaming maniacs deep in some spots, so you may want to get there early! And for those of you who never developed the “people skills” necessary to be a part of the herd, this race takes in a few laps of a large loop (before finishing on a smaller loop) that will offer you great views without the massive crowd. And given the fact that SF has plenty to offer in the way of entertainment away from the race, the watch then Ride option is a great one! Avoid the crowds, and get out through the presidio after the big loops are over, or just cruise around, just don’t be surprised when you find a hill as daunting (or worse) that Fillmore staring you in the face, like SF’s mini L’Alpe D’Huez known as Lombard St. Just make sure you have patience and a triple…

See a picture of Fillmore St.

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