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2009 Tour of California Course: Now, with Transfers!

This is the first of a few posts on the Tour of California course. These posts deal more with the travel and planning involved in following the race than with the sporting considerations. All things in their time. This first post focuses on the new, exciting addition to the course: Transfers! The next two posts will offer Gav's recommendations for how to see some bike racing. I know at least a few people out there are trying to plan visits to the race. The goal of these posts is to help you plan your way around the course. No doubt other Cali locals will have feedback and suggestions, too. More is better.

Installment one, on the flip.

2009-map_medium Anyone who has ever been a bike racer in California, or simply spent time driving around the state, has learned the First Law of California Road Trips, which is only slightly less well known than the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

The First Law of California Road Trips:
Objects on this map are almost certainly farther apart than they appear.

The previous editions of the Tour of California had one distinguishing characteristic: No transfers. Or, at least, very limited transfers. The stages went from town to town, with teams in many cases riding to their hotel rooms from the finish, then waking up the next day to roll out to the start right there in the very same town. So easy.

But the tifosi were not happy. They complained that the race did not cover enough of California. And right they were, since the race focused its energies on the Bay Area and Central Coast, reaching the outskirts of Southern California only at the very end. The tifosi also wanted more climbing. The race is too flat, with too many sprint finishes, they said. We want mountains!

Looking at this year's Tour of California course, it appears that the race organizers have listened. No longer confined to the Central Coast, the race heads east into the Central Valley, touches the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, revisits its traditional Solvang crono, then heads south into uncharted territory for a mountainous finale. If you didn't already know that agriculture contributes substantially to the GDP of California, you will after this year's race.

And the racing should be exciting. The new stage between Merced and Clovis, for example, should break the release and catch cycle of sprint finishes and allow a hardman break to survive. Though the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada are the gentler side of the mountains, the climbs in the foothills are steep and difficult. Foothills, my ass. To ride across the grain of the mountains is to read their history with your legs, the deep canyons and valleys formed by millions of winter snowfalls creating the contours of your suffering. Geology is destiny. Should the weather turn wintery, this stage could look remarkably Belgian. But that's a story for another day. The climb up Mount Palomar outside San Diego, though far from the finish, will give us at least a smidge of final day drama, and possibly some wintery conditions. But it's early days yet to be talking about course details and race tactics.

The price for all this innovation and variety is transfers. Increasingly long transfers. Follow this race its whole length and along with your lesson in economics, you will also learn just how big California actually is. The most direct driving route from the start in Sacramento to the finish in Escondido covers nearly 500 miles and requires almost an 8 hour commitment (unless you drive really, really fast). Objects on this map are very far apart.

The northern end of the race remains compact. Sacramento to Davis, a mere jaunt around the block, albeit a 15 mile block. The trips from Santa Rosa to Sausalito and Santa Cruz to San Jose (that's a whole lot of saintliness right there) are equally short. Modesto to Merced? Getting a little longer at 40 miles, but still not especially painful. Clovis to Visalia stretches out to an hour. Paso Robles to Solvang, around 1 1/2 hrs. Hit shuffle on the ipod, it's getting a little longer now. Solvang to Santa Clarita, climb in kids, we're going for a ride. You'll need 2 hours to make that transfer. And last, but certainly not least, Pasadena to Escondido will run you about 2 hours, assuming traffic smiles upon you. Since Pasadena places you within the Los Angeles force field of traffic hell, expect delays.

What's all this mean to you, the bike racing loving tifosi? It means this race will be considerably more challenging to follow than previous editions, which followed a largely linear path down the coast with few, if any, transfers. Following this year's race is going to require some car time, some quality tunes, and some planning. So you think you want to be a Californian? Welcome to the drive.

Up next, Four Gav Travel Plans. Or, how to enjoy the race, without really trying.