The Amgen Tour of California's sprint through the East Bay on Tuesday provided much more than just a bike race -- it offered a chance for the cycling community to come together in celebration.
Like pilgrims headed for their special mecca, thousands of amateur riders pedaled up Mount Diablo, the region's premier riding destination. Conquer the devil's mountain, and you can call yourself a serious cyclist.
They came not only to watch the race but to be with their people, to show off their bikes and colorful jerseys from clubs near and far, like peacocks spreading their feathers. For the serious cyclist, this is not just a form of exercise -- it's a lifestyle.
For hours before the early-afternoon arrival of the professional riders, the serious amateurs ascended the mountain, staking out prime locations with views of the twisting road below so they could watch across the ravines as the pro competitors headed their way.
At the junction, halfway up Mount Diablo where the two roads in the state park converge, the community partied. On a typical weekend, this is where cyclists stop for water and a snack before continuing their climb to the top. On Tuesday, it was the premier congregation point, with riders abuzz in anticipation of an international event that would recognize the majestic beauty of their mountain.
At the bottom of the hill, residents of the posh community of Diablo cheered when the Amgen tour finally passed
Each group swept by in a matter of seconds. Some of the world's best cyclists rode up Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard (it may be many things, but it's not a boulevard), over the new blacktop, oblivious to the street's horrendous condition just a few months ago, unaware of the political machinations in Contra Costa and Sacramento that led to the repairs in anticipation of their arrival.
Thanks to the new pavement, the focus was on the mountain, on the views far into the distance and the stunning hillsides, rather than the crumbling roadway that likely would have been the source of an accident watched around the world. This was a cycling celebration rather than an international embarrassment.
After the tour had come and gone, the riders began their descent. One pack after another after another, rolling through Diablo, descending slowly because of the swarm of riders. It was a caution that, frankly, is often lacking on the mountain.
Just last weekend, at least two riders crashed on descents. One was taken out by ambulance. The other walked away, dizzy and dazed. Both left behind cracked helmets.
As an avid rider, this is the part of cycling that concerns me the most. I'm a slow descender. I don't trust myself, and I know there are many factors I can't control. I watch friends blaze downhill. I know how little it takes to send them flying off their bikes: a patch of gravel, a crack in the pavement or a flat tire. I worry about the day I'll have to watch one of them carried away. I hope it's not me.
And then there are the car drivers on the mountain, oblivious to the dangers they create when they pass climbing cyclists by crossing the center line with a curve approaching, indifferent to the bike riders they force to squeeze toward the shoulder.
On this day, however, most drivers and cyclists were behaving cautiously and responsibly. No one wanted to spoil the moment. The energy of the event, the beauty of the mountain, the clarity of the sky -- it all made for a special celebration.
Sure, the Amgen tour was great. But the sense of community was so much more than that.