Tour of California 2014 – Big Sur, Mountain High and the Man in Black

Was I alone here in the UK to find that the TV highlights of the first week of the Giro d’Italia 2014 were something of a moving target, apparently in thrall to whatever tennis match was currently taking place on some clay court in southern Europe.

Because of this, I ended up watching a bit more of the Tour of California 2014 than I’d intended to. I don’t know about you, but when I watch cycling on  TV, sometimes my thoughts begin to wander…

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I developed a theory about how Bradley Wiggins was able to so comprehensively beat the field against the clock in the individual time trial on Stage 2, a theory which dawned on me as the cameraman focused on the famous Folsom Prison during a lull in proceedings.

The Team Sky boffins obviously spotted the extra performance gains to be had from using Johnny Cash as a pacemaker; simply stick it in a big gear, ensure that ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ is running on repeat through race radio earphones, and get Wiggins to rattle the pedals around at the same bpm as the ‘man in black’s’ intricate finger picking.

…stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps dragging on”.

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As the race wound down Highway 1 on Stage 4, through Big Sur and taking in the rugged scenery of the iconic Pacific coast, I was quite pleased to hear that afterwards Mark Cavendish echoed my thoughts:

Today I can say I’m extremely fortunate to be a pro cyclist. Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) closed to traffic for us to ride.”

If you’ve never seen Highway 1, imagine the Cornish coast here in the UK, on steroids, with a lovely wide, smooth highway clinging to the cliffs. It’s the kind of demonstration of man’s mastery over nature that the American’s go in for, and it looks a great spot to ride a bike.

Bixby Creek Bridge Big Sur
Bixby Creek Bridge – Big Sur
(Photo: David Illif – Wikimedia Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

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When I think of the way Americans use language to name a lot of their towns and mountains, I always think of a kind of raw and rugged poetry. Some of the Californian mountains have great names; Red Slate Mountain, Mammoth Mountain or Eagle peak, for example, so I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed that Stage 6 of the race was a summit finish on top of Mountain High…

…Mountain High?! Is that the best they could do?

I presume the surrounding areas were known as ‘Valley Deep’, just to keep things simple.

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So, all in all the Tour of California was a good watch; one of those races that from 5,000 miles away here in the north of England seems to be taking place on a different planet.

As the riders rattle by it’s impossible not to pick up on that good old American enthusiasm right through the TV screen; the whooping and hollering and ‘ALRIGHT!’ that you hear from the roadside.

Compare and contrast that with the Tour of Britain when it passed through my neck of the woods last year; under slate grey sky and accompanied by gruff shouts of ‘dig in lads, it’s only a spot of rain’, in the face of tempest–like conditions.

Of course the fact that our man Wiggins won this year’s Tour of California in imperious style helped (as a friend of mine noted, he’s got some serious ‘souplesse’), but with the scenery, the weather, the iconic places and the poetic (and not so poetic) place names, I found myself hardly missing the Giro d’Italia at all.

Much as I enjoy riding through the rain in northern England, I wouldn’t mind having a crack at Big Sur and Mountain High under deep blue Californian skies.

 

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10 comments

  1. I jotted this down last week whilst watching Sky do their thing near Folsom: “I hear the Skytrain coming, It’s rolling round the bend. And they haven’t let a break go since I don’t know when.. I’m stuck in Peloton prison and they haven’t let a break go since I don’t know when.”

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  2. Alas Sky was on Sky so couldn’t watch either Tour. But, having done a road trip around California & Nevada it looks an amazing place for cycling. Plus the American enthusiasm for all things is Sky high!

    Love the lyrics as well JerseyP!

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  3. I do want to ride on your side of the pond one day soon. Oh! I so Dream of riding the famous climbs of France and Italy myself. I do get to ride the roads of California and climbs like Mt Diablo, Mt Hamilton and enjoy the sun every week, but to see the guys that idolize riding my roads and climb it so humbling.
    I do agree the TOC is one of the better week long races out there.

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    • I’ve never ridden in Italy but have ticked off a number of big cols in France; it’s an obvious thing to say, but the thought of all those famous names who have ridden the roads before really adds to the experience. Things like Mont Ventoux are very atmospheric – perhaps you’ll make it to Europe one day.

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  4. i was lucky enough to see them start in pismo beach right on the pier, which is about 20 min from my house, quite an experience! I’ve driven along the route in big sur its probably one of the most breath taking roads in california and its about 90 minutes from where i live, i consider my self quite lucky to live where i live

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  5. I watched the time trial in Folsom from the finish line and saw bits of the Tour of California on the internet (Thanks Bicycling.com). Just in case you think there wasn’t enough suffering: it was really hot. Not that you’d notice on the coast road through Big Sur (so jealous!). The heat was felt on the climbs though. I found it inspiring and I am a native Californian. And like a native, I cheered myself hoarse at the Time Trial. Can’t wait to see how it’s done in Yorkshire. Hoping to take a miss on the rain though.

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    • Sounds like you had a great time – I have to say that the high temperatures definitely came across on the TV coverage. Yorkshire will be great; what it lacks in weather and altitude will be more than made up for by what promise to be huge crowds. The race passes within about 40 miles of where I live so I will be watching with pride!

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