Throwback Thursday: 2009 Amgen Tour of California


Along with the Big Guy, I was a roadside spectator for all but a couple of editions of the annual bike race known as the Amgen Tour of California between in the first edition in February 2006 and its final run in May 2019. I first shared these images from February 2009 soon after the event; Stage 1 took the riders from Davis to Lake Berryessa, then across the Vaca Mountains to Napa County, eventually crossing the finish line in Santa Rosa — a total of 115.9 miles.

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 of two King of the Mountains checkpoints, near the Monticello Dam at Lake Berryessa.


After accidentally taking the wrong road, we passed through Angwin and came over Howell Mountain, the location of the second KOM, driving in the opposite direction of the race route, then down into Pope Valley.


We didn’t drive the race 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.

100_1129Narrow bridge near Pope Valley

100_1134 Somerston Vineyards

100_1131 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. There were lots of umbrellas and rain jackets to be seen — but 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.


The Big Guy walking the right shoulder in his green rain suit

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. In 2009, I was clever enough 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 (like George Hincapie and Freddie Rodriguez). The trouble is, even crawling up a Category 2 climb, the riders’ faces flash by so fast it can be difficult to identify them.

I chose to stick to video when the riders came through and stills for the rest of the time. I’m happy with the results, but I do miss having still shots of some of the pros. In rewatching my video, I’m still amazed at how long it takes for all the riders to pass! After the larger groups go by, the caravan of cars seems endless; and yet every now and then you’ll spot a lone cyclest struggling along, far behind the main contenders but just as determined to survive to the finish line.

We chose to stay put and keep watching (and filming) because there really wasn’t any choice but to let every one of the team cars, the service vehicles, and the police escorts get down the road before we could depart. I always kept my eyes open for the “broom wagon” as the signal that the seemingly neverending parade was nearly over.

100_1197 Wet but happy at the Tour

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