Guest post by Ted King: The only two Tours of California over the past ten years I missed were spent racing the Giro d’Italia. In some sort of poetic symmetry, late last week I rode 100 miles across Tuscany to watch Andre Greipel blaze by in the stage seven victory, then just two days later I drove across the state of California to follow along the Tour of California live. Even in retirement, I can’t escape these races.
The month of July has all eyes in the cycling world locked onto France, whereas May has long featured the Giro d’Italia and only recently began hosting the Tour of California. Naysayers complain that California interferes with Italy’s Grand Tour, but even in its short lifespan, California has earned its place amid the best on the global cycling calendar.
Accustomed as I am to the rigors of racing California this time of year, it’s relaxing to start the day on the west coast checking how things are unfolding in Italy. The peloton itself is equally apprised with what’s going on overseas. Day in and day out, the towns change and hotels are swapped, but the morning scene is the same the entire week of California. To duck your head into the breakfast hall at each race hotel, just as often as you’ll hear, “Please pass the maple syrup,” you’re equally likely to hear “What’s happening now?” Assuredly, there’s at least one rider per team with the Giro streaming live on his phone, then in the final moments of the race the entire team will hurriedly huddle around to watch the choppy stream from across the globe.
One of the biggest hurdles to bridge the gap from professional cycling’s traditional European home base to America is of course the Atlantic Ocean. Well, that in addition to the entire United States. A twelve-hour flight is something considerable with which to contend, so most teams set up shop stateside a week or more in advance to acclimatize to the time difference.
During my five year tenure racing for Cannondale and Liquigas, we spent this time reaping the benefits of altitude at Lake Tahoe. Eat, ride, sleep is about as detailed as our monkish schedule becomes for a successful time at altitude. I discovered Italians love two things when making the trip to America: Starbucks and all you can eat pasta. Like a duck to water, Starbucks is a guaranteed destination throughout the week. To my ceaseless entertainment, given Italy’s exquisite coffee culture, my teammates would always complain about the watered-down quality. Hours later when dinnertime rolls around, we’d happily go to any restaurant… as long as it’s Italian. One’s morale can only stand so much monotony, however, and it was during one of these camps that I snuck Peter (Sagan) out for an American breakfast at IHOP. I heard, “Please pass the maple syrup,” another half dozen times and that was arguably his most successful Tour of California. He still thanks me to this day.
Throughout Tour of California’s young existence, the world’s foremost teams fill their rosters with their best riders. It’ll be a long time before someone unseats Peter as the most successful racer in California as he’s firmly stamped his name in the record books. Bradley, Fabian, Jens, Tom, George, Levi, Tejay, Mark — it’s an esteemed group of riders who’ve found success at the race when you know exactly who I’m referring to by their first names.
There’s an intangible cool factor to California that offers an undeniable appeal to riders wanting to make the start roster.
Heavy competition for the best young rider jersey, Daniel Eaton deserves some kudos for snagging it on Monday.
Iconic host cities and landmarks — San Francisco and Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe and Mount Diablo — are all magnets drawing the interest of riders. This is America, after all, the nation that generated SuperSize. The big breakfast spread and festive morning pre-race start are all undeniably appealing to racers as compared to the rote racing in Europe. Our enormous roads and wide lanes make for a noticeably less stressful race than fighting white-knuckled for space on a European cow path. Our hotels are palatial and beds are more comfortable than any race hotel found in Europe. Two teammates per room is the global standard and when it comes to European hotels, the French carry the title of tiniest. It’s comical how petite their rooms are, so that there’s guaranteed to be a collection of random furniture — desks and chairs — forced into the hallway to accommodate just the two roommates and their suitcases. There’s nothing quite like trying to get a big night of sleep before Paris-Roubaix in a room smaller than some people’s closet. Bigger is better is certainly a draw for California.
That all said, most riders come to America with a shopping list where on rest days they can check off iPhones, Nikes, and Levis. Sure, those things are available worldwide, but the American consumer is graced with the best prices.
There are more California-based cycling companies than any other state, and certainly sponsors have at least a minor say in the selection of rosters. Sponsor events bookend the race itself and end up as a draw too. Hospitality is often a foreign concept to riders so tunnel visioned on racing so they’re floored with the roll out of support. Group rides, shop visits with gregarious fans, massive meals (after the race), again only echo the case for California as a unique race on a busy calendar.
While many of Europe’s biggest races are eclipsing their centennial year, American racing is an anomaly on the World Tour calendar given just how young it is. Regardless of age, the quality is there. The prestige is there. The organization, the appeal, the draw, the purpose, the fun are all there. Tour of California’s spot on the global calendar is well earned, deserving of the attention it receives. From the fans perspective, the racers, the teams, across the board, Tour of California is a highpoint on the year. Approaching it’s dozenth year, here’s to one hundred more.