California Dreamin'

Local racer and promoter Bill Marshall is working the Amgen Tour of California . Check out his diary with an up close and personal view of the action.

Amgen Tour of California Prologue 

“Many riders dream of racing as a professional cyclist but very few are able to take it to that  level. Same way with promoters, some of us want to put on the ‘big’ event. I am working at the Amgen Tour of California for the next 8 days to see first hand pro riders in action, learn more about the business side of race promotion and of course it doesn’t hurt that I get to hang out with some of the best cyclists in the world. 

I arrived in San Francisco on February 16th not sure what to really think. I have hosted a lot of larger events in my day but, nothing of this quality or size. The first  two days in San Francisco were very laid back, a few meetings but very minimal work. Thank goodness for a few easy days!! I knew we were going to put the hammer down 15-17 hours per day for the next solid week of work. I was very excited to get started on this project, meet great people and of course see the riders in action.

Roll call for the Start Crew was 3:00 A.M. PST.!! That is a fairly late start in this business when the event is this large. Upon arrival we set-up 5000 feet of security fencing, placed banners, a Time Trial Start Ramp and all of the usual event stuff. The set-up went very smooth.. During set-up a rumor was started that a Time Trial Starter was needed to hold the riders on the ramp. I thought to myself,  “This would be the coolest job in the world!” I went to Chuck Hodge who is the Technical Director of the Tour. Chuck was my Technical Director at the 2005 NCCA Road National Championships in Lawrence. I asked Chuck if it would be OK for me to be the starter. He said. “ No problem,  you’ve done your share of events. Take a breather and be the holder.” I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to be holding up riders (on bikes) for 3 Giro Winners, Tour De France Yellow Jersey Winners, World Time Trial Champions, Olympic Gold Medalist, National Champions etc. The start list was incredible.

As the start of the race drew near I began to get a bit nervous. What if I drop a rider? What if they fell over? I would be a dead man for sure! Especially since this was going to be broadcast on ESPN 2 for the next week. I have held bikes for Time Trials but, nothing this serious. There were cameras every where. It was crazy how many photographers were fighting for position. I knew I had to have my “A Game” on for the event.

The first riders off weren’t the stars (but definitely were the ‘real deal’). Soon the bigger names starting flowing in. In the middle of all of this was Lawrence’s own Brian Jensen, who is now racing Jelly Belly. I have raced with Brian a lot over the last two years (usually behind him) and he has never looked so serious. He was looking straight ahead, chiseled and determined to do well.. He truly deserves to based on the amount of work he has put into racing. Local Steve Tilford is a big part of Brian’s step up to the pro ranks. Brian went on to be the fastest rider on his team! Then came Huffy! Everyone knows Huffy! As USA Cycling calls him “The one man National Team”.  Brad Huff is a former Mercy Cycling Team Rider that is now racing on the TIAA CREF/Chipotle Team. Brad is a National Criterium and National Team Pursuit Champion. I bet we will see Huff in the 2008 Olympics racing on the Velodrome. Brad rolls up to the start ramp gleaming with excitement because he is “living the dream”. Huff gives me a huge hug out of excitement. He was like a little kid at Christmas. But, so was I. Then came the big guns! Hincapie, Simoni, Moniger, Eki, all of the big boys were here to play.

The noise was incredible. The crowds kept getting louder and louder as the day went on. Since we are in Northern California everyone is a huge Levi Leipheimer fan. He has become an icon in the sport. I could hardly wait to hold Levi’s bike. In 1992 & 1993 I attended a few National Team Training camps and had met Levi. We had done a few races together in the early 90’s before he became a professional. He and I have kept in touch over the years and it is incredible watching his career evolve. Levi walks up on the Start ramp with a serious but nervous look on his face. I take his bike to the start, he gets on as I hold the bike by the seat. The count is now down to 45 seconds until his start! As I am holding the bike I notice that Levi is shaking like a leaf. At 30 seconds to go Levi gets off the bike to adjust his wheel and chain. Now he is making me very nervous. I am thinking that I’m messing up. He gets on again but then goes through the same routine. At this point 45 seconds has felt like 2 hours of hell. Finally, he gets situated on the bike and he is off. After holding every rider my arms were blown. I could not believe how physically hard it was to hold the riders perfectly still. 

After the finish we started our daily routine of ripping down the event and moving to the next city. I was feeling pretty good after a 15 hour day. I think the adrenaline was still flowing after the Prologue.

I have experienced a lot of great sporting events in my life, National Cycling Championships, NASCAR Races, Indy Racing League, NBA games etc. but, NOTHING compares to this. The excitement of the crowds and the intensity of the riders was phenomenal. A few friends said they saw me on ESPN last night and stated that I looked way too serious. Way too serious? It was insane! A successful start for each rider was in my hands! No fumbles, no broken bones and everyone started successfully. I would encourage every cyclist to work an event like this. It is an experience of a lifetime. It is hard work but, what a better way to see a top notch event.

Amgen Tour of California Stage One: Sausolito to Santa Rosa.

3:00 A.M. Roll call for the Start Crew! Not much sleep but, who cares? I am at the Amgen Tour of California. The day started as another typical set-up day. Putting up fences, banners etc; nothing too exciting. We set-up an autograph alley for the riders near the rider check-in. I thought to myself, this is going to be pretty cool for the fans. At this point I didn’t care to get an autograph, I had held every riders bike, been on ESPN 2, Cycling News and Velonews. I guess if I am not fast enough to get on TV or in those publications I will have to do it through my job. The riders would ride in, check in their bike with us and then come back and get their bikes for the start. Most of the riders were great with the public, giving autographs and talking to the fans. I spoke with Brian Jensen and Brad Huff at the check-in and they both felt very confident about the race course today. They were very relaxed and ready to roll. After all of the riders had checked in it was off to the start. I proceeded to my position on the start line and Levi was standing right next to me. I leaned over and told him that he made me nervous wreck at the Prologue Start. He said, “You were nervous? I kept throwing my chain, 100,000+ people are cheering for me, I didn’t know what to think?” We both laughed a bit about the situation, then he gave me a team hat for my son Will. Levi was really pumped for today’s stage because it finishes in his home town of Santa Rosa. They did the usual call ups and then the race was off to the mountains.

Back to work! We ripped through the start and had it packed in less than two hours!! We are headed to Martinez across the Bay for the start of Stage Two. I had better get some rest because Roll Call is at 3:00 A.M. again!!!