Stage 2: Modesto to San Jose
I arrived in Modesto about an hour before the pro teams did, so I took my bike out and rode around the downtown area for about 30 minutes on the cordoned-off streets, complete with a World-Tour-level finish line and SRAM Neutral Support cars stacked with Canyon bikes. It was unreal and ridiculously fun.
The day’s stage was going to be the first big test for those riders who would contend for the overall title as the course featured climbing beginning at mile 14 and cresting the summit of Mt. Hamilton at mile 60.3 and 5,656 feet of elevation. I’ve climbed Mt. Hamilton coming from the San Jose side several times before, so I was pretty excited to watch World Tour riders on familiar roads. After the summit was a rather harrowing descent down into San Jose, highlighted by a final few steep, technical hairpin turns down Quimby Road where riders had crashed in 2015.
As teams began to arrive, my plan was to hang around and shoot as riders went to the stage to sign in and catch Peter Sagan and the Bora-Hansgrohe team as Tour officials usually scheduled them second-to-last or last due to Peter’s popularity.
Peter Sagan’s backup Venge ViAS with World Champion Roval Wheels
Peter Sagan’s rainbow fleck SWorks Tarmac…spectacular in person.
Robert Gesink’s climbing legs
Custom-painted Diamondback Podium Equipe bikes for Rally Cycling which would later be auctioned off for charity.
Alexander Kristoff from Katusha arrived at staging
Aussie Lachlan Morton arrived at staging
Tyler Farrar cracked up when Dave Towle asked if he’d be able to hang with the climbers on Mt. Hamilton.
It was incredibly cool to see the stage profile written out with highlights of the course profile on the stem of this Trek Madone.
John Degenkolb in the house!
Custom kicks for US Road champ, Greg Daniel
Taylor Phinney cracked a few jokes for the crowd when called up to the stage.
Team Sky’s designated leader Ian Boswell rolled over to staging
Currently-reigning World Champ Peter Sagan arrived sporting the Visit California Sprint Jersey, designated for cyclists who specialize in bursts of power and speed, or consistently finish near the top of each stage.
Marcel Kittel’s custom-painted Venge ViAS.
Toms Skujins (pronounced “Squeenge”) of Cannondale Drapac playing around just before the start
As I’d mentioned before, the original plan was to get out ahead of the riders at the start and on to a point on Mount Hamilton to shoot the riders as they began climbing. This, plan, however, was foiled by the fact that I stayed around at the start a bit too long and ended up getting stuck in traffic on local roads. I could see the rolling enclosure for the riders headed up by the police off in the distance, and I tried to get ahead of them by getting to the exit at Del Puerto Canyon Road off of the 5 before the climb began.
I successfully made it with plenty of time to spare as I could see the peloton off in the distance…but the exit had been closed off to traffic and I couldn’t exit the freeway. Thus, instead of driving a few miles further to get up on Mt. Hamilton for a prime shooting spot, I had to drive 77 miles around Mt. Hamilton to get to the descent on Quimby Road.
Once I arrived at the base of Quimby, I discovered the road had been closed off to cars as well, so my spirits sank. I quickly parked the car, put my two cameras and gear into a backpack, and rode over to the base of the climb. The police officer there directing traffic explained that the road was closed and no one would be permitted to climb up as the riders would soon be summiting Mt. Hamilton and beginning their descent. I then asked if the media credential permitted me to climb and he said he wasn’t sure and contacted his supervisor. He then told me I’d be allowed to climb and my heart leapt. This credential…straight-up magic.
With my pack full of 30+ lbs of camera gear, the police escort descending Quimby ahead of the riders told me I had to pull off to the side and stop a sweaty 2.3 miles and 1,370ft later. I probably could’ve climbed a little higher as the riders didn’t end up coming through for another half hour or so, but I positioned myself at a hairpin turn and waited. I don’t plan on climbing Quimby with gear again as that climb is brutally steep and relentless with an average grade of 10% over 3.1 miles.
Toms Skujins of Cannondale Drapac had crashed on this descent back in 2015 on a solo break and got up to win the stage. He unfortunately crashed hard again about 45 seconds after he blew by me and sustained a serious concussion and broke his collarbone. He ended up getting back onto his bike and riding for a few more miles before ultimately getting stopped by his team director.
Here’s some screen shots of race footage showing a blurry figure in red standing between the two yellow signs (hey, that’s me!) and taking pictures of the race! All I was smelled at the corner was brake pads…I also took some video below to give you a sense of how pros take a hairpin corner like this at race speeds.
I was too close to the finish to make it there after the riders had gone by me, so once I finished shooting on Quimby, I had to decide if I wanted to head on down to Pismo Beach, around 200 miles away. I decided this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity worth continuing, so I reached out on Facebook to see if I could find a place to stay near there. Stay tuned for the recap of stage 3!