Race to See the Amgen Tour


An event we’d looked forward to like two kids waiting for Christmas—the Amgen Tour of California—zipped through our neck of the woods this weekend, and Clay and I were proud of our own “race to the finish” to get to the corner to see it. We’re longtime fans of pro cycling. We stay up late to watch the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia on TV, and we used to set up on Highway 1—which was just a half-block from our old house in Moss Beach—to see the blur of the Amgen Tour go by. When we found the tour route would bring the cyclists less than two miles from our home here in Sonoma, it felt like one more blessing of our life here.

The eight-day Amgen Tour of California is the most important cycling event in the U.S. for pro cyclists, and waiting on the side of a road for the race to go by is an event. Fans chat and a checkpoint person with a flag and walkie-talkie keeps anticipation high with regular updates of how far out the cyclists are. A single highway patrol car really ramps up the excitement, sending up a whoop-whoop with a siren and letting people know the riders are five minutes out. Finally, you see the vanguard of the tour: more highway patrol, police motorcycles, the lead van. A helicopter flies overhead to get aerial shots. The team vans, with coaches and drivers and the occasional celebrity, drive by next. Then, at long last, it’s cyclists, led by the breakaway group of riders who have successfully opened a gap between themselves and the rest of the riders. They’re gone in a flash. And seconds—or sometimes minutes—after them, your head fills with the buzz of over 200 spinning wheels as the main group, called a peloton, races past you, jockeying for position on a little, windy, country road.

The actual witnessing of the cyclists last about 15 seconds. This year, we almost missed it.

We’d had a morning of aggravation. The tractor wouldn’t start for mowing we had to get done in the east vineyard block. Finally, ten minutes before the race was due at a corner about a mile-and-a-half from our house, we decided "to heck with it!"--the lawn mower wouldn’t start for mowing we had to get done--and finally, ten minutes before the race was due at a corner about a mile-and-a-half from our house, we decided to heck with it. We got Jake on his leash and started walking, thinking the walk was shorter, and less steep, than it actually was. When we heard people cheering three-quarters of the way there, we thought we’d missed it. Then we heard the whap-whap of the helicopter and realized we could still make it. So we started running. In work boots. On a steep country downhill road leading to a steep country uphill road.

We got about halfway up the hill before we had to slow down. But our wild run had been worth it: we made it to the top of the hill in time to see the cyclists race by.

“Did you park close?” one of the other fans asked us. “No, we live in a place around the corner,” I said. “We just left the field and came up here.”

What sweet words. I’m so glad we made it.