Yep, the Amgen Tour of California (TOC) has come and gone from Santa Rosa. Professional bike racing is comparable to the other racing event that is awash in advertising sponsorship, namely NASCAR’s annual visit to Sonoma County in June. The TOC has grown exponentially, arguably the third most popular bike race in the world, behind the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. Some riders may disagree on that assumption, but the Amgen has become a big time event, swooping in and out of each city in a matter of hours. With it comes the logistical nightmare of coordinating each section of the race, right down to the expected time the peloton would be through a certain area.
For example, Occidental Road was the scene early in the race where breakaway riders on their way out to west county would possibly meet-up with the peloton coming in from the Windsor loop. That would have been quite hazardous. As it was the two groups missed each other by just minutes, but the coast so to speak, was clear.
The sheer number of people to clear roads and support personnel to drive with the race to make sure everything runs smoothly is a spectacle within itself.
To photographically cover the race, the Press Democrat used nine photographers. Director of Photography Chad Surmick was cloistered in a helicopter during the first part of the race while Christopher Chung shot at the Laguna de Santa Rosa, Windsor and SR’s finish line. Beth Schlanker hung out in Occidental; John Burgess on Graton and Coleman Valley Roads. Crista Jeremiason and Jeff Kan Lee prowled the downtown finish area as did freelancer Erik Castro. Our last freelancer Scott Manchester, cliff dwelled on Sonoma County coast’s own Dramamine Drive south of Meyers Grade.
I was picked to ride a motorcycle from start to the very end. Let’s get this straight, I think motorcycles are very cool and used to ride when I was a teen. But that was a long, long time ago. Motos are not my favorite form of transportation but absolutely essential when covering the TOC.
It was simple really, the first part of the race was pretty flat. The backside of the course however, resembled the last three letters of the alphabet. Those letters ended up being vertical y, z’s and w’s all strung together . Riding backseat on a motor with two cameras hanging off your body and attempting to photograph riders is laughable at best. I likened barreling down Fort Ross Road, Meyers Grade and Coleman Valley to Disneyland’s Matterhorn attraction. Even though the driver was excellent, I had to quash a feeling of doom and an imagined stretcher ride back to Santa Rosa. By the end of the race, I was more than happy to hop off the bike and regain feeling in several areas of my body.
Photographing on a moto is not as simple as it may seem. Oh sure, depressing the shutter is easy, but bike race hierarchy is involved. As the pros advance on the course the peloton and breakaway riders have their own set of course officials who travel behind in a small car. Photographing the leaders requires a wave or a thumbs-up from one of those officials to move along side and make some frames of the action. It’s fleeting though, riders tend to want to draft behind the moto, so a person takes some pictures quickly and then moves forward. On it goes during the entire race. Move forward, fall behind. Stop here stop there.
Just for grins, a few obstacles are thrown your way:
-Riders urinate while riding, they don’t stop. Do not get stuck behind those riders while on a motorcycle. What happens if the need do go #2?
-Empty water bottles are launched and discarded to fans looking for a race souvenir. Some fans tend to dart out in front of a motorcycle. This is unacceptable etiquette and quite hazardous to the poor driver who must have cat like reflexes to avoid bottle poaching fans.
-Team support vehicle drivers. These people quite literally will take an inch if they have it, even though your moto is on the outside of the fogline with a three foot deep ditch on the left. If their rider needs help, be sure to move out of the way. I’m not saying they are crazy but if they drove this way in normal traffic, a ton of road rage incidents would arise. Trust me on this one.
-Gravel, the scariest part about riding a moto around a turn.
-Being limber is not overrated. I stretched in places that I’d forgotten were there. I will be taking yoga classes in the near future.
Glamorous? Yea, I guess it’s pretty cool to shoot these events. Till next year.