Here we are at the end of 2009 and boy what a year it’s been – so many races, so many stories. Instead of trying to figure best of categories, I’ve decided to be a bit more personal and pick three to five photos per month that bring back the memories and the emotions felt that day.
Lets start with February 2009 and the Amgen Tour of California.
At the end of the 8 days of racing there was no question as to who the strongest rider was; Levi Leipheimer made it quite clear when he took matters into his own hands on stage 2 in horrible weather conditions. In a matter of minutes, on the final difficult Bonny Doon climb, he had dropped the field, caught and passed all the riders but one from the early break. I was sitting in a team car at that point and he just flew by us as we watched in silence – well except for a few chosen words. While he did not win the stage that day, he did grab the yellow jersey and made it clear that he came ready to win the overall once again. He then went on to defend it to the end, blitzing the time trial and chasing down riders by himself on the final stage. With that, Leipheimer is a three-time winner of the Tour of California.
Unfortunately the talks of a women’s three-day stage race came down to a one-hour criterium. But neither that nor the pouring rain, gusty winds nor the cold stopped the women from racing hard in front of a small but appreciative crowd. In what would be the first of many victories this year, the Columbia-High Road team placed two riders in the break, the youngster Emilia Fahlin along with veteran Kimberly Anderson. The experienced Anderson pulled back move after move while Fahlin bidded her time unless the final lap, the final corner where she sprinted for the win.
On stage 4, the sun finally came out after days of wet weather and the morale was lifted. By the time I made my way to the finish line in Clovis after spending the day in the feedzone, the overflowing photographer pen sent me looking for something different.
After some walking around and some sweet talking, a prime spot was found – right in front of the TV camera platform at the 100 meters to go marker. The only rule to remember: do not move until the whole peloton has gone by. Sweet.
For hours while the crowd waited for the finish, fans had been chalking up the road with drawings which caused the creation of a massive yellow cloud by the cars and motorcycles at the front of the caravan. By the time the first riders made their way around the last corner to the final straightaway, it was hard to see who was in the front until they emerged like sharks really. Amazing sight.
Mark Cavendish (Columbia-High Road) took the win, his first of two at the race.
This photo always brings back the roller coaster of stage 2. With the stage finishing in Santa Cruz, like many I knew that one or both of the Jacques-Maynes brothers would try for the win in their hometown. With this knowledge, the only place to be was in the BISSELL team car.
So there I was in the caravan as we left Sausalito under pouring rain ruining the photo op as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. Bummer that. The early break did go with Ben Jacques-Maynes making in into the 10-rider group. For the next three hours, the riders suffered as the weather kept getting worse and worse with howling winds, horizontal rain, hail and more hail. All in all horrendous conditions which could be seen in their swollen faces and hands. It was so bad that the TV plane was grounded and no coverage was provided. Even given all that, the mood in the car was good as the plan seemed to be working.
Then the dreaded call ‘crash in the field’ was heard over race radio. After some scrambling the information comes through in bits and pieces that Andy Jacques-Maynes was down but conscious. The info was relayed to his twin brother over the radio and when he dropped back to the car to double check… twice.
The tough stage continued as the riders slogged on with encouragements coming in from teammates and family. After the low from the crash, the morale was back up as one final climb remained for the break but one by one the riders cracked going up Bonny Doon as Leipheimer flew by. And that was it.
Like I said a roller coaster of emotions. That’s racing.
Oh and dibs on the BISSELL car this year again for the stage that ends in Santa Cruz.