Well, it was windy and rainy and cold — but there was nowhere else I would have rather been yesterday but at the top of Howell Mountain watching the Tour of California go by.
Two days before the race, Friday, the Big Guy and I drove from Sacramento to Napa to scope everything out and pick a good place to watch. We drove past the first King of the Mountains checkpoint, near the Monticello Dam at Lake Berryessa.
After accidentally taking the wrong road, we passed through Angwin and came over Howell Mountain in the opposite direction of the race route, then down into Pope Valley.
We didn’t follow the route along the western shore of Berryessa, but we did see some pretty sites on our way back to Route 128. On Sunday, we knew exactly where we wanted to go. And despite the crazy weather we bundled up and made the trip back over to Napa.
Narrow bridge near Pope Valley
Not part of the peloton!
Actually, on race day the wind didn’t play much of a role for us among all the trees. It was a beautiful spot, and a popular one, too. We weren’t surprised to see an eager crowd show up to cheer on the riders. Not even a steady (and sometimes heavy) rain could dampen our spirits.
We parked on a side road near the KOM sign and then walked back down the slope to find ourselves a good viewing spot. Some volunteers handed out yellow chalk, and spectators were eager to mark up the road. The rain washed away a lot of the writing, but the sentiments remained.
I managed to shoot some great video of the riders as they crawled up Howell Mountain and passed within a foot of us, standing by/on the roadside. I was clever enough this year to let my video camera do the work while I did my best to search out faces, and I did pick out a few familiar ones (George Hincapie, Fast Freddie Rodriguez, possibly Davide Frattini). The trouble is, even fighting up a Category 2 climb, the riders flash by so that if I manage to identify them as they go by, at the end of the day I’m struggling to recall them all.
I chose to stick to video when the riders came through and stills for the rest of the time. I’m happy with the video, but I do miss having still shots of some of the pros. Last year I used my Nikon for stills, but I foolishly used the wrong setting and ended up with tiny images with not enough resolution — better than nothing at all, but I wasn’t satisfied. In the early days of this race I complained that my Kodak was no good for video because it couldn’t zoom, as my analog camcorder can. But for the last two years I’ve found that zoom isn’t always necessary and it’s sometimes best to put down the video camera and focus it on one spot. Last year I did this using a tripod; but this year I didn’t want to lug the heavy tripod with me. Just as well, since there simply wasn’t room for it where we were standing.
All in all, I’m satisfied with my choices for this year. But the other issue −− wishing to be able to see ourselves on the Tour coverage −− is something else. Usually we pick a spot without regard to TV cameras; we’re much more interested in having a great view of the race itself. We tend to move away from the more congested areas where people gather such as tight corners and KOM markers, but this year I decided to get as close to the KOM as possible while still finding a spot where the road was steep enough to slow the guys down a little bit. We were still close enough to the summit that I felt positive the TV coverage would include us.
But I didn’t reckon on two things −− the fact that we were in the middle of a rainforest (trees do a real number on picture transmission) and, well, the fact that it was raining (more bad news for transmitting video). So when we sat down to watch the race highlights we discovered that no one had received any video of Mancebo until he reached the lower western slopes of the coastal range; he was something like 10 miles outside of Santa Rosa before commentators could even get a look at him. So much for an exciting KOM moment.
Wet but happy at the Tour
If I’m truly serious about getting on TV I’m going to have to remember to stay away from heavy trees and pray for dry weather, then look for a spot at least one-third of the way to the finish line.