California Cycling Vacation - Day 8 - AToC Mt Diablo : Climb & Cowbell

Day 7 - AToC TT : Women & Jens

Even after a full day at the Tour of California Time Trial and too much driving, I thought I might have to convince Terry to get up and do it all over again for Stage 7 up Mt Diablo but he was hooked.  I knew that would be the case once we went to the 1st race but was stoked when he started asking about Saturday's logistics on the way home.

I did a quick recon of the stage and surrounding area and figured out when to leave, where to park, and hopefully the best way to ride to Mt Diablo while I downloaded our day's activities from the Garmins, camera, and phones.  I assumed that once we started pedaling in the general direction, we would just join the herd.  The crowds were anticipated to be huge considering the weather and weekend.
Mt Diablo countryside

We were on our way to a mountain top finish!  In my opinion, this is the best way to watch a bicycling race.  You get a great workout while experiencing the same pitches and environment the racers do, then get to hang out with like-minded spectators before and during the race.   Then the party continues as you descend among all the chaos and post-race energy and make your way back to the car.  I was excited, but exhausted, so off to bed.

We tried to sleep in since it was Saturday and the route was closer to our cottage, but we were amped and got going relatively early.  We filled up the hydration packs with sandals, food, sunscreen, an extra camera, and as much water as possible.  I couldn't fit in the cowbell, so I strapped it to the outside, which ended up being a highlight of my climb and a memorable moment for others on the climb with me.  
Can't go to a bike race without a cowbell

The drive was easy and I was able to direct Terry right to the Walnut Creek Civic Park.  We found a free parking spot, but the signs were confusing so we pseudo-confirmed with a maintenance man that we wouldn't be ticketed, and did our parking lot preparation ritual.

We clicked in and headed south.  Within 15 minutes we ran into a parking lot full of riders getting their backpacks ready and heading down the wide bicycle lane.  We hooked up with a local couple and they navigated us to Mt Diablo via the safest cycling route, which we probably wouldn't have figured out without several stops.  The atmosphere was already electric and the race hadn't even rolled out from Livermore let alone started up the climb.
Matching kits for the Stage 7 on Mt Diablo

We took a photo and I told Terry to go since I knew he would try to climb it as fast as possible.  I had the cowbell clanging off my back whenever I stood out of the saddle, my camera handy, and planned to enjoy the journey.  I had no idea I would experience gelato bar hand-ups, helicopter take-offs, cowbell photo-ops, and a special cheer from the Colombian fan club!
Had to stop and get a photo before the helicopter took off to cover the race!

After doing short steep climbs all week, the climb up Mt Diablo was more like home.  Not as steep, but it kept going and going.  The roads were closed to everyone but official tour vehicles and we all had a blast encouraging each other on and experiencing the moment.  I would hit a steep section, stand up, and my cowbell would fall to one side and start clanging until I sat back down and reached back to rearrange it.  If spectators were ringing theirs, I'd reach back and ring mine as I passed yelling "More Cowbell". 
My favorite type of Official Tour Vehicle - a Course Marshal Van!

As I neared the top, Terry came back down.  They were cutting off all riders with 2km to go and only allowing officials and walkers up to the finish.  We talked about doing bike valet and rode to the closure together so Terry could experience the cowbell background noise, but after seeing the volume of people continuing to the top, we opted to ride back down and secure a spot on the climb.
Our spot at 2.5km to go with great views down the mountain

We picked a great spot with a fun group and nestled in.  I put my sandals on, tore into my eggplant sandwich, and watched as 10 guys around me worked on finding the best signal in order to watch Tour Tracker.  It was hilarious and informative as we quickly learned the status of the race.  We cheered on the rest of the spectators as they climbed past, giving extra cowbell to parents hauling up their children in chariots, tag-a-longs, and on rear seats.  There were also some great costumes now and then which produced large cheers from the crowd.
Just one of many super parents climbing and showing their children what bike races are all about

After what seemed like hours, we spotted the helicopter at the base of Mt Diablo as it followed the racers up the climb.  We all kept watch until we could finally see the leaders several switchbacks below us and were all so focused someone could have stolen all the bikes on the berm behind us and we wouldn't have noticed.  
All eyes focused down on the lower switchbacks

The next 30 minutes were a blur as we rang the cowbell, screamed for our favorites, and then cheered our loudest for the grupetto as they labored up the climb.  Some still had enough energy to grab dollar bills and beers from the crowd, which brought the biggest cheers of all.  
More Cowbell for the Gruppeto!

We got word from one of the Tour Tracker followers that Leopold Kรถnig had won and Tejay van Garderen had kept yellow, which meant more great news for our friends with BMC.  We packed up and headed downhill with thousands of others in a somewhat orderly fashion considered we were all sun-baked and some had been drinking.  
Spectator Shadows

We had climbed the same route as the racers, but planned to descend to the north entrance.  Again, the roads were closed and it was a bicycle freeway.  We hadn't realized, but team parking was at the same entrance so as we descended relatively fast in the right lane, the pros would come flying by us on the left taking the uphill lane.  It never failed that 2 “wannabes” would be trying their hardest to hold onto a pro wheel, then realize they were out of their league and back it off.  I was surprised to not see someone go over the edge.  I can't wait to return and do the Mt Diablo climb and descent on both routes several more times, it was beautiful.
One last view of the switchbacks before heading back to the car

We had spent enough time at team bus parking on Friday, so opted to keep riding back to the car.  We were pleased when it was still there and there wasn't a ticket, our parking luck had certainly changed over the past 8 days.  We changed and walked a few blocks to the Pyramid Brewery.  What another wonderful day.  When we retire, I think we’ll just follow bike races around the world.
Another day of awesome memories!

After we fueled up, we drove back to the cottage excited about the day and tomorrow’s final stage, but also sad that we only had one day left on our California Cycling Vacation.

Day 9 - AToC Finish : Santa Rosa - coming soon