I’m sitting here waiting for my flight back to San Jose, so that gives me some time to reflect on the past week with the Tour of California. What a week this has been. Last year, when I was a spectator, I followed the tour all the way into Pasadena. Even though the weather was miserable, wet and cold, I still said this was the best vacation ever. Well, let me revise that statement. This year, being a traveling course marshall, this became my best vacation ever, even though I saw less of the race than last year.
The first thing about being a traveling course marshall is that I wouldn’t see as much of the race as other spectators. Being on the road all the time, and in most cases, without access to Versus, I am only able to see maybe 5 minutes of the tour, if that. This is the sacrifice we make by working the tour. In case you want to work the tour, let me warn you this is not for everybody. If you want to experience what it takes behind the scenes to deliver this, then this is for you.
The first priority of any course marshall is keeping the course safe, not only for the riders, but also for the spectators. This meant making sure the course is free of debris (almost an impossible job, especially in the mountains after a snow drop), keeping fans off of the race course, and making sure their toes don’t get run over by racers, or worse yet, their support vehicles. One of the constant tasks that I had was telling everyone “Please stay behind the white line” or “Please clear the course. Riders are still on the course”. This was a real challenge, especially on near the KOM summit. Stage 8 was madness, with crowds that closely resembles Alp d’Huez. The crowds lean over, and the line of crowd spills onto the course. It’s not as bad as in the Tour de France, but it could get dangerous.
When we get dropped off, obviously we have to be picked up. That is where the adrenaline is. The pick ups need to be fast and efficient, so getting onto the van, we need to time the entry, and get in and seated as fast as we can. Once that is done, if you have a good driver, you weave through the maze of other car traffic, and foot traffic, with fans not knowing that the convoy of vehicles following the race is not over. So for this one week period, I was in a van, honking at everything in its way, and speeding through as fast as legally possible, in order to get to our next drop off point. The biggest challenge as a traveling course marshall team is to get in front of the pelaton, and dropping off the course marshall, in time to do the usual crowd control. This is the adrenaline rush. As you can imagine, this can be hairy rides at times, and drammamine is standard issue every day.
A big pet peeve we have is dealing with the local course marshalls, also known as LOC or Local Organizing Committee. Course Marshall are supposed to ensure the safety of riders and spectators, but what do we see most of the time??? LOC’s taking pictures of the race. In fact, at one of my drops, the LOC was video taping the Solvang Time Trial. WTF???? We could easily spot an LOC with the bright orange T-Shirt, with the words Volunteer on the back of the shirt. We passed by the course, and blatantly saw LOC’s on their bikes, and with a huge friggin camera in their hand. What useless nonsense!
This year, since Lance is on his comeback, the Livestrong VAN gave out free chalk for everyone to write messages on the street, cheering on their favorite racers. The unfortunate after effect of this is once cars or bikes pass through, it kicks up the chalk, and leaves the air a little “chalky”. Not sure if there is much that can be done about this.
One huge bit of irony … each hotel is proud to welcome the Amgen Tour of California, but most of them did not have Versus … in fact, only one of them did (Paso Robles).
The crew I worked with was terrific. We all worked like a well oiled machine. We could count on everyone to perform the duties they needed to do, without fearing or questioning competency. Most of the crew was from either Missouri, Georgia, or Florida. The veterans had experience working the Tour of Georgia, Missouri, and California. We called ourselves Team Gamoca (Georgia, Missouri, California). The crew did have an accent, so it felt like I was in the Tour of Georgia, and not Tour of California. We all had a kick out of this.
Now, would I do this again??? Definitely, in a heartbeat. Despite the drawback of not riding at all during this time, and not being able to see a lot of the action, the adrenaline of the drop offs and pick ups is exciting and fun. We do get to see more of the country we normally don’t get to see.