Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Let's Go To Pismo Beach For The Amgen Tour of California

You have to love an event where the sports competitors are hanging out eating quiche and fruit with fans and guests in the VIP area, where it's a bit too early for beer so people are chugging water and Coca-Cola.

But there they were, three guys from Team Tinkoff Saxo at a table, carbing it up and washing it down with a Coke.

Welcome to the Amgen Tour of California, a bike race property owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the same people partnering with MGM Resorts International on the Las Vegas arena project on the Strip behind New York-New York.

You have some big guns here, like super-sprinter Mark Cavendish, who has won two of the first three stages.

Today I'm on the pier at Pismo Beach, a classic California beach town made famous by a Bugs Bunny cartoon about half-way between LA and the Bay. It's Stage 4 of the Amgen.

Sure, there were some bike race fans on hand to check out the 144 racers on the 18 teams, including six or seven that will go on to the Tour de France in July.

But there were some bicycle characters too, like this fella Mike who is biking this rig around the country -- about 8,500 miles and counting after starting in eastern Maine.

The stage event ringleader is a bubbly guy named Dave Towle, half-carnival barker/half-Michael "Let's Get Ready to Rumble" Buffer, who was on the stage introducing the racers as they signed a board to register for the stage.

Just minutes away from the start, Towle bellows, "Let's launch this field into orbit!"

Actually, orbit is 107.6 miles in central California, ending at a beach town five miles south of Pismo Beach.

After the racers took off, Towle explained to me his strategy of stoking the crowd: "Most Americans are not familiar with the sport of cycling. I want to highlight the stars in a short way. It's taking that passerby and making him a spectator and then making that spectator into a fan. These are not 144 guy on bikes. There are amazing sub-plots and sub-stories."

Here's Dave interviewing some guy named Mark Cavendish.

Dave has never missed the start or finish in any stage of the Amgen Tour de California.

I found the racers rather friendly. Especially the Smart Shop Self Storage and novo nordisk race teams. These guys won't be racing in France in July. But the novo team is interesting in that every racer has diabetes.

This guy on the Smart Shop team is Ron Britton, who chatted with fans. He's from Santa Cruz, so he knows Cali's hilly turf.

The fans were a lot of fun too. Before each stage, AEG tries to create a mini-bicycle festival where the stage host town brings out the chamber and local groups to set up tents and hand out bells and water. This guy just bought as half-price Amgen jersey and he was as happy as a five-year-old.

Pismo Beach is a wonderul beach town, with a quaint, quasi-funky downtown a few miles south of San Luis Obispo. Here's a little-known tidbit about Pismo Beach -- it's the only Cali beach town that allows cars on the beach, Daytona Beach, Fla.-style.

I met a super-cool chick Teresa Lara who came to Pismo Beach as a mere two-year-old from the Bay area and was dishing out fruit and quiche for a Pismo restaurant called Scotty's. Teresa actually worked in radio doing marketing and even on-air work besides working on the triathlon event for the city of San Luis Obispo.

There was a mix of serious and casual bicyclistr, and a bunch of locals thrown in there before the racers took off at 11:30AM.

So, it's on to Santa Barbara for Stage 5. See you there Thursday.

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