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Chasing California: Planning a Trip to the Tour, Part 1

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2009-map_medium I love maps. And I love California. The next two posts are all about the love. There are an infinite number of ways to follow the Tour of California this year. In this post, and the next one, I've put together a couple suggested itineraries to get the conversation going.

A few notes before we get started:
Starts and Finishes. If chasing the race from starting town to finishing town is your goal, in nearly every case, Mapquest can put you on the freeway and get you to the finish ahead of the race. The only stage that I see where this is complicated is Visalia-Paso Robles. There, I'd go: 99 south, 166 west (2 lane highway), 101 north. You should make it in time, but it may be a close one.

Drive time. I hate driving. Which is totally un-Californian of me, but there you have it. So, in thinking about stage combos, I tried to come up with ways to see cool parts of the race without spending your whole life in the car. No doubt some of the locals will have suggestions for various stages and viewing points.

Base camp. For ease of planning, I've minimized hotel transfers, picking a base camp, from which you can travel to see stages. In many cases, you won't be able to find hotel rooms close to the race start and finish. Some of these places just aren't all that big. Hotel rooms in Solvang, for example, are nearly sold out already. For the southern portion of the race, you'll need to transfer around more. Same for seeing portions of the whole race, natch. More on that in the next post, when we head into SoCali.

Below the flip, two possible Tour of Cali Adventures, to get you started:

NorCali Pro Bike Race Gawk Fest:
Description: The nice thing about the northern stages of this year's course is that they are relatively close together. Hitting the nothern end of the race allows the devout cycling fan to see lots of bike racing. Bike racing is good. The disadvantages are two: no Solvang crono and no finale. Maybe next year. For me, the chance to see the prologue and the eye candy of the coastline north of Santa Cruz more than make up for any disadvantages to these stages.

Stages Covered: Prologue; Stage 1, Davis-Santa Rosa; Stage 2, Sausalito-Santa Cruz; Stage 3, San Jose-Modesto.

Getting there: Fly into San Jose. Alternatively, fly into SFO.

Home Base: San Jose. Pretty much anywhere in the Bay would work, but San Jose puts you nice and close to an airport and to two stages. It should also cost a bit less than the city or somewhere like Santa Cruz. Bene. Of course, if it's me, I stay in Santa Cruz. Then a swell comes... well, anyway...

Schedule: Arrive Friday, 13 February. Gah, do you really want to fly on Friday the 13th?

Saturday, drive from San Jose to Sacramento for the Prologue. Note that this is two hours or so each way. But it does give you a crono to watch - and those thingies are oodles of fun. In my view, well worth the drive.

Sunday, Stage 1. Drive from SJ to Napa and watch the riders come over the climbs. Or, drive to Santa Rosa for the stage finish.

Edited: (because Gav=Dufus.) The Pro Women's Crit starts at 1.00 pm in Santa Rosa. Prize money? $15,000. Forget Napa. Go there. Watch the women. Cheer loudly. Take photos. Party. Watch the men's finish. Later, write to AEG and tell them what a great time you had and how much you want to see more women's racing next year.

Monday, Stage 2. Drive to Santa Cruz for the stage finish. Or, drive out to the climbs at Tunitas Creek or Boony Doon Road climbs. As these are both relatively gradual climbs, the finish might be more fun for this stage. You can always get your climbing fix the following day... If you have time to spare, drive the Highway 1, between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Pretty country, there. This'll be closed for the race, natch.

Tuesday, Stage 3. You have some options. You could watch the stage start in San Jose.
Or, you could go to Sierra Road and watch the race climb up the back side. It comes early in the race, but it should still slow the bunch down a bit, so that you may be able to pick out a few of your favorite riders. Key, that.
A third option is to head out to the Patterson Pass area, which is about 40 minutes to an hour drive time from San Jose. Either get off the 580 just past Livermore on Patterson Pass road, or you can head out farther to Tracy and backtrack from Midway road (note this is the descending side). You may remember the photos of the windfarms from last year.
Me, I'd hit Sierra Road, even though it's early in the stage. Or, if you missed the prologue, go party at the start.

Wednesday, go home!

Bonus Road Trip: Stage 4 from Merced to Clovis could involve some exciting, bordering on epic, racing. The stage start in Merced is two hours from San Jose, so you're looking at four hours of driving, round trip. Youch. But you are passionate. You are determined. And dammit, you want your bike racing. So, you drive out to the climbs around Mariposa on Highway 140 or on Highway 49. And you cheer loudly as the bunch suffers up the climbs. Then, you drive back to San Jose and go home.

The Crono Special:
Description:This plan is perfect for the cycling fan who wants to see some bike racing, but doesn't want to drive very much. It's also great for the cycling fan with a family, who might also want to join in the fun. This is also a good portion of the race to try to see, if your time is limited. It's pretty easy to show up, watch the crono, fly home.

Stages Covered: Stage 5, Visalia-Paso Robles; Stage 6, Solvang Crono; Stage 7, Santa Clarita-Pasadena.

Getting there: For the Crono Special, book your flight to Santa Barbara. Alternatively, you can fly into LAX or Burbank (see time-saving alternative 2.) If you fly into LAX, allow extra drive time in both directions. Traffic is heavy on both the 405 and 101 freeways. Burbank is the better alternative - less traffic, smaller airport, less stress, yay!

Home-base: Find a hotel room in Santa Barbara or Goleta. For a cheaper alternative, try Ventura.

Schedule:
Fly into Santa Barbara on Wednesday, 18 February. Rent Car. Find comfy bed.

Thursday, drive from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles for Stage 5 finish.

Friday, drive from Santa Barbara to Solvang for Stage 6 crono.

Saturday, drive from Santa Barbara to Pasadena for Stage 7 finish.
Or, drive from Santa Barbara to Acton, and head up the Angeles Crest Highway to see some climbing.
Or, drive from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita to see the stage start.
For me, a hard call between heading up to the Angeles Crest and partying at the Rose Bowl Circuit. Weather would probably make the call for me, but I'd probably lean toward the Rose Bowl. There are fun restaurants and good eats in Old Town Pasedena, too.

Alternative Directions, Central Coast to Pasadena: Drive South on the 101 to Ventura. From Ventura, take the 126 east to the 118 toward Moorpark. Drive straight through Moorpark to the Simi Valley Freeway, the 118. Turn up the Suicidal Tendencies. Take the 118 East to the 210. Drive south on the 210 to Pasadena. This nifty workaround spares you the pain and suffering of the 101 through the San Fernando Valley area.

Sunday, go home!

Time-saving alternatives:
Alternative 1: If you can reach Santa Barbara by around 10.00 am, on Friday 20 February, you could, if all went according to plan, catch the crono on the same day you arrive. The Solvang time trial runs from 12.00 noon to around 3.00 pm. If all did not go according to plan, you could miss the crono entirely. You buys your ticket, you takes your chance. You could probably make the Paso Robles finish same day, but note that it's a 2hr drive. Maybe more pain than it's worth.

Alternative 2: If you use Burbank as your airport of choice, you could, if all went according to plan, fly out on the evening of Saturday, 21 February. The Santa Clarita-Pasadena stage should conclude around 4.00 pm. Burbank is approximately 12 miles from Pasadena. Traffic would likely be negligible. On paper, Pasedena to LAX looks like a good idea. In practice, it might be. Or, it might be disastrous. If you attempt this option, allow for significant delays.

Next up, some Southern comfort and an attempt to see the Whole Burrito.