What's Cool In Road Cycling

California’08: The Warm-Up Ride!

Greetings from sunny California, PEZ fans! The start of the 3rd Amgen Tour of California is still a couple of days away, but PEZ is on the ground bringing you the ramp up to this great race. I’m in Palo Alto, where I attended a Look Cycles event, and rode around the surrounding hills with guys like Paolo, Tom, and one saviour/saint named Mark. And of course, bringing you the kind of big bike race coverage you can ONLY find at PEZ! Read on!

The morning came too soon after the 11 hour drive down from Portland the day before. An early morning California chill settled over my hotel as I dressed for the day, adorning myself in the garb of the PEZ reporter-at-large.

A short drive down to University Ave. in Palo Alto took me to one fine bike shop, Palo Alto Bicycles, where Ming Tan of Look Cycles was preparing a customer appreciation ride with the exquisite ladies of the Tibco cycling team, and the men of Credit Agricole. Lots of local customers milled around in the back lot a large group of us – maybe about 30 or 40 – finally shoved off, with the promise that we’d hook up with Credit Agricole on the road.

The jumping off point for the day: Palo Alto Bicycles.

Well, some wires got crossed somewhere, and our group splintered into a gazillion pieces. Myself and 4 or 5 others decided to wait at a hilltop for Credit Agricole. Rabobank and Quick Step rolled by, but no sign of the men in green. Some phone calls are made, and we’re told they changed their route and they’re somewhere up Old Lajonda road. So, off we go in search of green…

Tick tock tick tock…waiting.

Hey look, there goes Paolo and his friends.

Now, any of you fine readers who may have perused my peculiar brand of wordage from a few Tours de Georgia, etc, know that I am vertically challenged. Vertically challenged not in a size sense, and I am six-foot-four, but in the sense that I do NOT go uphill well. Get some tissues ready, this gets funny.

I thought this was supposed to be fun?

We rocket over a few rollers out of Palo Alto, and finally get to the mouth of Old Lajonda, a local, famous climb. A right turn and about 300 meters and my legs check in: “Sir? Yeah, legs here. Ain’t happenin’.” I’ve been traveling non-stop for the weeks leading up to this race, aside from the fact that I am not aging in what we’d call a graceful way. In short, I’m too big, and too slow, and I live in an airplane. I slowly began to implode as the remnants of the PowerBar I managed to woof down before the call to arms threatens to reappear, and my small group of 5 rolls up and away in the distance. A local fast man named Jay. Another local who was quick. Two USA developmental guys who had raced in Belgium. Kids. Teenagers. Aw hell, I’m dropped.

Thank you, Mark Jongsma. Thank you.

But Mark Jongsma, a local cycling enthusiast, knows what it’s like to be shelled and unable to breathe normally, rolls back to come and get me. He puts me on his 6 and pulls me up the hill. I yo-yo constantly. I try to stay on. Breathing shot. Legs right behind. A glance over my shoulder shows me the Jelly Belly team is pulling up. They pass with ease, laughing and joking amongst themselves. “Hell lads!” I manage, “Got a tow rope? Tractor Beam? How about a gun?” This brings a few laughs, and one of the nice guys reaches in his pocket to give me some Jelly Belly Sport Beans, which I graciously accept. Too shot to make small talk, I see them off with some drool and babble, fumbling with the package to pour the red beans down my gullet.

Hi…ok…bye…see you in a bit.

Finally, I make the top. The WHOLE group is up there. The Jelly Belly guys, the Tibco ladies, most of the group we left Palo Alto Bicycles with are there too. Thank the stars, I’m at the top.

We begin the descent on the other side of Old Lajonda, and your favorite PEZ reporter is proud to report that, due to a massive and steady influx of beer, I can keep up with ANYBODY going downhill. No sweat! The scenery is gorgeous all around as the twists and turns bring our group to the foot on the other side.

The group decides to go to the coast and back. Myself, so far in the hurt locker you had to send dogs to find me and running a bit short on fluid and food, take Mark’s offer of circling back on 84 to see if we might run into the Credit Agricole team on their amended, longer circuits. But first, a parting pic of the Jelly Belly boys, and I thank them for the Beans. Nick Reistad of Jelly Belly, a fellow Midwesterner, says that if I see him struggling up a climb, I should give him a push. You got it Nick, I know the feeling brother. Off we go, just the two of us now.

I heard this guy is fast.

This climb treats me better as it is far more gradual, and I hold Mark’s wheel. He tells me about the real estate in the area (he’s a real estate agent) points out some peaks on the horizon where the race will be in a few days, tells stories and lore of horses and old outposts we roll by.

One such “corner store” we arrived at just as the Quick Step team rolled up. Well, why not stop, I thought, seeing the opportunity for some great photos. I see Tom Boonen, and we renew acquaintances from the 2003 Worlds in Hamilton. Paolo Bettini drinks a Coke and gets his route info.

Coke, so hot right now. Coke.

We wait a good 20 minutes with the Quick Step boys as saddles are adjusted, Cokes are guzzled, pics snapped, and finally a route out is decided upon. Mark and I press on for Palo Alto, as we both have places to be. A nice easy spin home yields many great sights, although the Credit Agricole team was never one of them.

Back to Palo Alto cycles along tree lined beauty near the Stanford University campus, and after a quick bike adjustment, I am on my way after giving heaps of thanks to Mark Jongsma, for saving my bacon back on the climbs. Waiting for me was ultra classy, thanks Mark, I owe you one. Make that ten.

• See the good guys at PaloAltoBicycles.com

– And keep it dialed to PEZ for what’s cool at the Tour of California!

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