Words - Brian Co
Images - Lauren Diaz
For one single week, each year, thousands of cyclists descend upon the West Coast for the Tour of California. It is the only time in the season that cyclists can test themselves on Californian soil. The same soil that many before them, from senior citizens rollin on recumbents, to the highest of professionals, have ridden, and attempted to make the cut for the ATOC.
It’s a unique cycling event that draws the deepest talent as they search for glory and prep for the Tour De France. Once a year, the streets are lined with true fans, spectators, and media. Which is quite a change from the inner circle, IE- friends and family, that the smaller local races typically attract. The riders at ATOC are larger than life, they carry themselves with purpose and confidence and remind us, mere mortals, that they know exactly what they are doing.
It's an odd feeling, to approach people that until this point, you've only followed via race results, and attempt to bring humanity into their commentary. They give multiple interviews daily and are used to regurgitating the same canned responses. However after some prodding, it was refreshing to hear people such as Evan Huffman talk about simple pleasures, like looking forward to eating his wife's cookies after the race.
Riders are surprisingly relaxed before some of the biggest racing of their careers. Kiel Reijnen has ridden this race before. He now rides on Trek Segafredo, a World Tour level team that can propel his career as far as his legs and heart will take him.
The Amgen Tour of California is also a chance for the industry to show off the latest and greatest equipment. Brands get to display their products on an international stage, both in person and via media. Many brands have invested a great deal into their sponsored teams/riders and use this race as a platform to unveil the new possibilities of their equipment.
Cyclists such as Mathias Frank, from AG2R, represent the top European riders. They come to California with a wealth of knowledge and experience that will test their skills. AG2R sends a squad to the race that could be considered stronger than their Giro D' Italia counterparts. Prior to stage 1, Frank is extremely optimistic about his ability and chances.
The process of representing the highest level of the sport involves the ability to thrive in high pressure on and off the bike.
For some athletes, off the bike activity, such as interviews, can be agonizing even when they recognize that it’s part of the job. Texan Lawson Craddock was graciously willing to chat about his perspective of the race. He was ‘discovered’ at the Amgen Tour of California, years back, and now is a fan favorite.
Once racing is underway, the riders can finally be alone in the peloton. They are able to get in the game-day mindset with a relatively short first day ahead of them, but a long week looms in the distance. The eventual winner of ATOC; Fernando Gaviria, took the 1st day win, in a stacked field of the world’s best sprinters. However the next day would be a day for the climbers.
After the initial stage, ATOC can be a bit chaotic. Riders are exhausted, team staff is helping them to replenish, race officials run tight security, fans are going for unapologetic selfies, and of course, media is trying to get any semblance of a quote from the cyclists, who are still gasping for air. Being a cyclist/media/fan hybrid, I can empathize with all of these plights.
2016 Paris Roubaix winner Australian Mathew Hayman talks about beer and where to get an In N Out Burger when the race is done.