My Tour of California VIP Experience

I tried not to fly out the window of the Garmin-Cervelo Kia Mini-Van as we skipped around corners with the wheels chirping and barely sticking to the pavement in an attempt to keep pace with the rider in front of us. Two thoughts simultaneously entered my head at that moment. 1) I REALLY should put my seatbelt on in case we flip, and 2) this is one of the coolest things I have ever done!

As a cycling fan from California, no other race is more captivating to watch for me than the Amgen Tour of California. There’s just something about watching the world’s best cyclists race in my backyard on the very roads I train on – it makes this particular race resonate with me more than any other. I was lucky enough to attend two stages this year – Stage 5 from Seaside to Paso Robles and the Stage 6 Time Trial in Solvang. My viewing experiences were incredible thanks to some fortuitous turns of fate that landed me backstage in Paso Robles interviewing riders for ESPN radio in addition to sitting shotgun in the Garmin-Cevelo team car at the Solvang time trial.

Thursday morning I raced in the Tour of California Fantasy Ride put on by the city of Paso Robles. This 28-mile ride/race went through the rolling hills of Paso’s renowned wine country and finished at the same spot as the Big Boy’s race. I crossed the line first, although there wasn’t much competition to get there.

After winning the Fantasy Ride, I was interviewed by KCOY.

I was interviewed by KCOY after winning the fantasy ride.

After the podium ceremony, I met up with Dave Alles and Mike Wozniak of ESPN Radio who were on site to broadcast the conclusion of stage 5 live. I had been asked to do a quick interview on-air to talk about my race and maybe plug Art’s Cyclery a little bit. I thought I would be on air for five minutes, tops.

I ended up spending an hour on air as a “guest expert” on the race. Mike and Dave fired question after question and I kept providing answers, surprising myself with how much I had to say. This was my first time on live radio and I must have done well because they had the confidence to keep asking questions. It was a total trip and a blast to be a part of.

My media pass got me right next to the riders, so I was chatting it up with Chris Horner, Ben Swift, Tejay Van Garderen and Leigh Howard. We also got an interview out of Bob Roll, who provided additional insights into the race. Going into the day, I thought I would spend five minutes on the radio and be done with it. I wound up talking so much I lost my voice and getting up close and personal with a handful of riders.

Podium time.

Podium time after the Fantasy Ride.

That was all on Thursday. Believe it or not, Friday was even better. Thanks to our connections with Garmin, I scored a VIP pass and a ride in the Garmin-Cervelo team car behind Andrew Talansky, a young American with huge potential who specializes in time trials.

I hopped in the team car about 15 minutes before Talansky’s departure time. Driving the car was his personal coach Todd. We were also joined by Talansky’s girlfriend Kate and a photographer.

The first thing Todd said to me when I sat down was “I drive cars the same way I rode bikes…fast.”

I should have taken him more seriously. Instead, I laughed and pulled out my GoPro camera to film as much of the action as possible. Todd said the goal on the day was a podium finish and to reclaim the white jersey as the best young rider, so the pressure was definitely on.

If Talanksy had any kind of mechanical problem, my job was to hop out of the van and open the door as fast as possible to pull out his spare bike. I was dreading this scenario, but knew that if anything did happen, I was capable of getting that bike to him faster than anyone else in the van.

I was so pumped up with nerves and anticipation I had to remind myself that I wasn’t actually racing, as much as I would have liked to. Once we were out on course, the energy continued to build. I was totally in awe of the speed and power  Talansky rode with. He took the corners on rails, powered over the small rollers and settled in on the flats at 30 mph.

Standing next the the team car after the race, thankful to have my feet back on solid ground.

Standing next to the team car after the race, thankful to have my feet back on solid ground.

Todd shouted encouragement if he sensed his rider slowing down even a fraction. Kate shouted “come on babe, you got it” from the back seat. I just tried to hang on as we sped through the corners. It’s a lot like being on a roller coaster because you are petrified with fear but also overcome with euphoria.

Talansky wound up finishing 11th, 1:10 behind winner Dave Zabriskie. It was a successful Tour for Andrew and I’m excited to watch his career unfold over the next few years. I have no doubt he will be a force to be reckoned with.

So that’s my story. I made memories that will last a lifetime and was way more involved with the race than I expected. Next year is going to be tough to beat.