The inaugural San Francisco Grand Prix, the latest stage of the BMC Software Grand Prix Series, occurred this weekend amongst throngs of spectators. This was the first time that a major cycling event had occurred in San Francisco since the late eighties when the Coors Classic attacked Fisherman’s Wharf.
The day began as usual with riders signing in, teams lining up their cars, riders begging for more air and team managers and sponsors preparing their VIP’s for rides later in the day. The difference here was that hundreds of people were milling about the the start line area. Okay, we were stationed on the Embarcadero which is always full of tourists, but these people were all chatting about how they hoped to get a chance to see Lance Armstrong. Not the usual San Francisco tourist discussion.
As riders began to line up the spectators began to quickly move towards the announcing area. Lance was called to the line and the crowd went wild. Riders nervously strolled to the line and the National anthem rang out. This was followed by the gun and a quick mess as the many cars and motorcycles started jockeying for position.
Our car, Mavic Support One, was supposed to line up behind team car number 16 and we were currently sitting about halfway through the caravan. While pulling from the curb. John, my driver, quickly stomped on the brakes. It seems that someone in the 7up/Colorado Cyclist car forgot to close the rear door and a couple bags fell out.
Once on the road the number of spectators began to grow. Comments were heard comparing this to the First Union race in Philly. Within minutes everyone was convinced that the number of people on the course far outweighed that of Philly and these people were on the course earlier.
After a few miles we hit Fillmore Street for the first time. The cars all stopped due to the drop in speed and we soon lost sight of vehicles in front of us. The street got steep and steeper as we went with a flat spot between each block. These flat areas made it difficult to see what was happening above on the 21 percent grade climb. Each time we crested a block, we could see riders up out of their seats pushing to make it up the hill. For some this was steeper than anything they had ever ridden. Many teams had purchased 25 and 27 tooth cogsets in the days before for riders who feared this climb.
As we climbed the hill we saw the crowd had already grown to the size of that on the famed Maniunk Wall in Philly and it was still prior to 10am. The other thing we noticed was that the motorcycles were having trouble rolling after stopping on the climbs. At one point we watched Bart (the moto mechanic) run a whole block up the hill to meet Chuck (the driver) as they couldn’t get the bike to start up the hill with both of them on it.
As the event rolled on and riders began to fall off the back, the mechanics began their work for the day. Some were pushing riders up the hill. Others were fixing radios. On a couple occasions we actually saw mechanics change wheels, though not often. I even had a chance to jump out of the car to do some work.
As we climbed up Fillmore early in the race a call came from one of the Mavic motors in the back of the caravan. John quickly pulled into the left lane and began passing other cars. Right about the time we noticed Mike Creed standing on the right side of the road his Prime Alliance car stopped and we were given the okay nod from the car. As we passed we noticed that Mike’s chain had broken from the stress of the climb. Within a couple seconds his mechanic was banging on our window asking for a bike. We quickly jumped out, pulled one from the car and gave it to the mechanic.
John and I were climbing in the car when Mike came by still trying to get in the toe clips on the pedals and was having difficulty making it up the hill. I quickly jumped out and gave Mike a push while he got his feet in and stood up to accelerate.
As I got back into the car Mike had made it to the top of one flat area and began to climb the last section. It was here that he shifted the wrong way putting the bike in a harder gear. I jumped out and tried to push him but Mike had had enough. We grabbed the bike and he climbed into his team car.
We were now miles behind the race and John fried our horn in an attempt to get back to the caravan. There were so many people along the course that he had to continue honking to let the course marshals know we were coming and clear the road. Within a short amount of time the horn would blare no more and we had to slow our approach. Eventually we made it back to the group and took our place in line.
It was a short time later that two riders went down in a corner and Greg (the other moto mechanic) did a front wheel change. The riders were fine and got back into the group fairly quickly.
These were the only two mechanic services Mavic did the whole day. Based on the conversations on the radio and what we saw I think the total amount of services included seven wheels, one bike and numerous pushes. This was probably the easiest professional race we have ever experienced as far as tech support was concerned.
As the day went on, attrition set in and many riders dropped out. In the last few laps, Mavic had a moto on the front following the break, a car following the chase, another motor following a group of three and then our car following four more. The race behind us had totally blown up with the largest group at five people.
Barely enough riders finished the event to fill each paying finish position. However those who did roll across the line were greeted with screams of joy from people on the line and quickly enveloped by the spectators. Not one rider made it past the rollout beyond the finish line without getting mobbed. Many of the spectators were already hopping the fence in order to get a closer spot to the podium while riders were still coming in.
Many things impressed me this weekend. Most of all the people of San Francisco. I don’t think there was one spot on the course without at least one person watching. We even saw people climbing on window sills in order to get a better view. These people loved the race and this was best seen atop Taylor where so many people lined the block above the race course that it looked like stadium bleachers.
The discussions in the bar that night were all positive as we chatted about the fun that day and hopes of doing this event again.
The Mavic crew this weekend was as follows:
Moto one: Chris Zigmont (Mavic Marketing) and Greg Miller (Sandpiper Bicycles)
Moto two: Chuck (South Carolina event promoter) and Bart Miller (So Cal cat 2 racer)
Car one: John Berlinger (Mavic Support) and Chris Clinton (ProMechanics.com)
Car two: Lance Camisasca (Interbike) and Neil Aldridge (past 7up team mechanic)
VIP: Desira Utzig (Team Earthlink rider)
Wheel Pit: Ric Hjertberg (Wheelsmith creator) and Patrick (past Wheelsmith employee, Local Rep.)