Tour of California, Stage 4, Merced, Ca. to Clovis, Ca.

I'm a big cycling fan! I've been cycling for years and my wife & I can both remember the day that Greg LeMond was the first American to win the Tour de France! (For instance, my wife remembers being in a cafeteria eating breakfast at the University of Oregon for a Summer Architecture Academy.) Of course we watched as Lance Armstrong won every single one of his seven Tour de France titles. So, needless to say, we were very excited when we heard that the 2009 Tour of California was going to be coming to Clovis! Right here in our own backyard (so to speak)! I signed up to be a volunteer and was assigned to be a Course Marshal. (My mom did too.) I would have loved to be on the course as motorcycle support, but you have to have done it for a while and be "invited", so maybe another time in the future.

My office is a block from where the race was taking place. I kept calling my wife periodically throughout the day with progress reports. First it was that everything was being set up all around Old Town Clovis, and then it was that there were helicopters flying overhead all over the place, then it was updates as I watched the live feed of the race on the internet. Saying I was excited was an understatement. The largest stage race in the United States was happening right outside my window!

My wife got our girls out of school early and drove into Clovis. They parked at my office and came inside just in time to see a crash on the live feed. One of the victims of the crash was Floyd Landis. He is on the Ouch Team and we thought it was ironic to see Floyd Landis walking around with road rash all over his arms and legs with the word OUCH emblazened all over his clothing!

We walked out to Clovis Avenue between Seventh and Eighth and sat on some grass. It would be another hour and a half before the cyclists would arrive in Clovis. My Mom & I checked in with the volunteer supervisor and then took our stations on opposite sides of Clovis Avenue. My wife & Kids walked around and saw the race progress on the Jumbotron and then the girls hung out on the curb. Speaking of Clovis Avenue, it was pretty cool that the City of Clovis changed the signs on Clovis Avenue to read The Tour of California.

Just before 3:30pm the traffic on Clovis Avenue thinned as they closed off the street. There were official cars, photo motorcycles, a fire truck, and lots of California Highway Patrol driving up and down the street. There were people running out into the road to write things on the ground in yellow chalk. Then we could see the helicopters. We knew that when we saw the helicopters that the riders were very close.

It was almost 4:00pm when the peloton came into view. It was an amazing sight to see all those riders, so close together and moving so fast, as they screamed down Clovis Avenue, pushing 30 miles an hour. There was no way that we could even remotely pick out any specific riders, so my wife just held down the button on the camera and took as many photos as she could! In fifteen seconds it was over, they were gone around the corner. (My boss described seeing the peloton speed by as the most exciting fifteen seconds he has ever experienced!)

I had to stay at my station on Clovis Avenue, but the spectators, including my wife & Kids, ran to the next block west where the finish line was on Pollasky Avenue. There was no way they were going to be able to see anything with all the people, so my wife threw the girls up on the wall of a nearby house so they could see over everyone's heads. My wife had the big camera and held it up to get some shots, and my oldest took photos from the wall.

When it was over, they walked back to where I was, and as it turns out, they should have stayed with me. We didn't know it, but the racers, after crossing the finish line, turned and rode through the parking lot past the spot where I was stationed and where my family had been standing to watch the race. Since my wife took both cameras, I could only take photos with my phone. As Lance Armstrong went by him, I said to my Mom, "It's Lance Armstrong!" and Lance looked over at us. (Of course, he could have just been checking both ways before he went out into the street.) Cool! Floyd Landis went by as well.

After the racers had all gone by, and I was done marshaling, we all went over to where the racers trailers were to see if we could get any photos. I talked to one of the motorcycle marshals and the girls went over to see the Jelly Belly car. We could tell where Lance Armstrong's trailer was, as there were a ton of people crowded around with their cameras up in the air. My wife was too short to get a photo of anything other than the backs of people's heads, so I took the camera to try to get some photos of Lance Armstrong. In the meantime my wife helped the girls to get up to the barricade to get an autograph from Lance. Right as they got the barricade, Lance turned and got in his car and was driven away. Bummer!

We went over to Floyd Landis' trailer, but he had already left. We asked how he was, seeing as he had crashed earlier, and they said it was really nice of us to ask and said that he was alright. We went around to the Quick Step team trailer and my oldest daughter got an autograph from Tom Boonen, a Belgian who won the World Championship title in 2005. We also got a signed poster from Tom Fowler, with the Canadian Cervelo team.

While we were in line to get that poster, we saw a commotion down at the end of the parking lot, at the drug testing trailer. I went down to see that it was Levi Leipheimer, the captain of the Astana team! He has been in the Tour de France (on Lance Armstrong's team), and he has won the Tour of California twice and he is in the lead this year as well. The girls got an autograph and then they got a photo with him! My oldest was jumping up and down with excitement to have the autographs!

Mark Cavendish of the Columbia Team won the stage by the way. Tom Boonen placed second. Levi Leipheimer is still in first place over all. Lance is in fourth. It was so cool to be there and see all these great cyclists! It was a blast and I'm looking forward to next year.

See all the Tour of California - Stage 4 pics HERE.