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We are not professionals. We were reminded of this daily, sometimes hourly, thanks to the contrasts and disparities which were inescapable. Some were even painful, like the occasion when Jeremy’s IT-band (a recurring leg injury) forced him into the van where he sat, unattended, for hours. Others were inconvenient, like the time Hahn’s bike catastrophically failed him and no spare bike was available. Our constant race against the sun, a six-man, self-navigating breakaway exposed to the wind 100 miles at a time, was a frustrating and incessant reminder of the differences between us and the professional peloton. But never was our amateur status more depressing, more unceremonious, than on the day we chose to ride the Prologue.
Our mandatory team-meeting breakfast at 6:00am comes too early. It’s still dark as each semi-kitted rider files into the room. Jeremy, Hahn, Dan, Cole, Ben, Ryan—each grabs a plastic bowl and fills it with yogurt and granola, followed by a mug of ‘sink coffee’ made with a giant French press and the local tap water. When the scooping turns to scraping, we get down to the business of discussing the day.
We need to be at the start of the prologue by 7:30am – that’s in less than an hour. Those riders who still don’t have a cue sheet check-in with Carey. We’re not coming back to the hotel after the Prologue; we’ll load up the van from the finish and drive straight to Davis for the start of Stage One.
Despite an uninspiring start, sixty minutes later the riders roll up to the sidewalk at the end of a long mall and stop. It’s quiet, cold and practically dark in the shadow of Sacramento’s Capitol Building. This is it, the start of the Prologue and the Tour of California. On February 14th , the next 2.5 miles will determine ranking and place, for a select few it will discharge cash, points and a favorable classification and for one buoyant competitor, a colored jersey.
But for us, right now, it’s just empty. There’s no ramp under a tent and the course isn’t thronged with fans. In fact, there is no course at all. It’s not that we expected anything different but here we are, ready to embark on an epic adventure, a once in a lifetime experience, more miles in one sitting than any of us have ever done or may ever undertake again. And on this Sunday morning, the city is deserted. Sacramento, it seems, is indifferent to our launch for the suburbs of San Diego, one week, eight stages, and more than 750 miles away.
With the van engine running, the riders line up and, in a seamless series of gestures, straddle their bikes, straighten their backs and smile for a photograph. The Capitol building behind us looks like the White House while Tower Bridge is a golden shimmer in the early morning light.
Without the noise of the crowd and pitiless gaze of the stopwatch, our Prologue is a slow parade of lefts and rights. We barely notice.