After seeing the Tour de France this summer for the first time, I was pretty excited about the inaugural Tour of Missouri, especially after Team Discovery Channel announced they would be bring their “A Team” for what would be their last US race before disbanding at the end of the year. George Hincapie was an obvious favorite, and with a supporting cast of Levi Leipheimer, Alberto Contador, Yaroslav Popovych, etc. and a strong roster of domestic pro squads it looked like the race had the potential to attract a lot of attention. I was thinking of signing up as a volunteer for at least one of the stages, but Mike Weiss told me about these “Traveling Course Marshals” that traveled together in teams to secure the course each day. It was a volunteer position but required a commitment for all six stages. However, all travel and hotels arrangments were provided, as were lunches and a per diem for dinners. I figured there was no better way to watch the race then from several points along the course each day – especially with all my travel provided – so I jumped on the opportunity! What followed was one of the funnest experiences I’ve ever had. I got to see all six stages (usually from at least two spots along the course), including the finish of stages 5 and 6, and had front row position behind the media for each of the awards ceremonies. Even more fun was my team of marshals! There were eight of us that traveled together for the week. Chris, Kimberley, Mark, Scott, David, Herman, and Donna – if any of you ever read this, you guys were the greatest – I had such a blast traveling with you all!
Stage 1 – Kansas City. Our normal routine for the week would be to arrive at the start a couple hours ahead of time to stock up on food and water, then drive together in the van to a section of the course where we would be dropped off to marshal turns and intersections. Police would be responsible for controlling traffic at these points, while marshals were responsible for directing the race caravan and riders. Seven teams of marshals would leapfrog each other to cover the entire course, and eventually we would all end up at the finish. I got my first marshaling experience just after the 1st sprint in Parkville. Three of us marshaled the city, and since the race looped around and came back same way we stayed put and marshaled again when the race came back through the city on its way to the finish. It was exciting standing on the course as the race came by, and I ended up in this photo that was posted on CyclingNews.com (that’s me with the orange vest and flag pointed to the left):
After the awards ceremony, George came walking right by me, and while I was content to stand there and watch him, this lady handed him her cap and a marker for an autograph. He signed the cap and scooted off, but it occurred to me I should be trying to get some autographs over the remaining three stages.
Stage 3 – Branson Individual Time Trial. I love time trials! Our team was covering a longish stretch of climb early in the course. I ‘volunteered’ for a drop about halfway up the climb and was looking forward to seeing each rider as they began to think, “WTF? I thought Missouri was supposed to be flat!” Before the start I milled around the team buses and vans as they started rolling in so I could gawk at the TT bikes. This one by BMC had me lusting big time:
I had good conversation with a couple of spectators and a Branson police officer as we watched all 114 riders go by. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a copy of the G.C. with me, so I had to guess when key riders would be coming by, and many times I just didn’t know who I saw. But I rang my cowbell in each one of their ears – I’m sure they appreciated my encouragement. Also, I forgot to charge my camera battery the night before and had to conserve my precious juice for a few key riders. I got this nice one of Hincapie, resplendent in his newly earned ‘Missouri Tourism’ race leader’s skin suit:
During the awards ceremony my camera finally died after I got a shot of Levi as the stage winner, so I decided it would be a good opportunity to try to get some autographs. I went over to the tent where the podium riders huddled, and I could see right away this would not be easy – the place was mobbed by people all wanting George’s and Levi’s autograph. I scootched up to the fence to take a chance but no dice, they never even glanced my way – and after all the adoration I’ve given them!
Stage 4 – Lebanon to Columbia. We saw this just outside of Lebanon as we made our way to our first drop zone.
My first drop was again out in the middle of nowhere, but I expected it would be exciting. We had come over this rise in the road and down a steep little drop into a blind corner – the riders would surely need someone pointing a flag to keep them on the road there. So I took up my position and waited for my chance to be of great service. In the meantime, I started kicking around the roadside and collected a few cool tiger beetles – I put them in an empty Mountain Dew bottle that some thoughtless person had thrown on the roadside. When the race caravan started coming by, I dutifully pointed the flag left at the bottom of the drop. Soon the riders came barreling over the rise – there were several off the front trying to make a break. They were looking around and behind them as they swooped around the corner, not even paying me any heed. The peloton followed closely. I guess those guys know how to make their way over twisting rural roads. I was so busy holding the flag that I never got a chance to take a picture.
The van picked me up and we covered a second stretch of the course as it entered Columbia. There were lots of people at this spot, and we had a nice view a long ways out so we could see them coming. There were no corners here, just crowd control, so I had the chance to take some pictures of the peloton coming through. In this picture the peloton is chasing down the last two guys in the day’s break just off the front:
We didn’t get into Columbia in time to see the finish, but I was able to take my usual spot up against the fence for the awards ceremony. Afterwards I saw the day’s most aggressive jersey winner (Darren Lill, Navigators) coming out, so I handed him my cap for an autograph – he signed it and almost seemed embarrassed about it. Then I saw stage winner Luciano Pagliarini (Saunier-Duval) giving an interview, so when he was done I got his autograph, too. Not exactly Hincapie level stuff, but it was a start.
Stage 5 – Jefferson City to St. Charles. Our first drop was on the early part of the course along Hwy 94. It was in a tiny little town heading into one of the hilly sections, so there were a few people around. I gave my cowbell and whistle to a couple of kids across the road and instructed them to make as much noise as they could when the riders went by. When they did, there was already a break, so we had to hustle to get to Washington for our second drop. I got some nice pictures of the riders at this spot, including this one of race leader Hincapie and his teammate, US national champion Levi Leipheimer:
After the race passed through Washington, we hustled on to St. Charles. We were covering the finishing stretch, so I would finally get to see a stage finish! It was pretty wild driving the course through Augusta and up the Schleursburg – what amazing crowds. I saw so many people I knew on the Schleursburg – I bet none of them even suspected I was sitting in the van as we went by. When we got into St. Charles we diverted off the course and again drove like maniacs to get to the finish! We got there in time, and I took up a position on the course in front of the barricade about 150 m before finish line. Danny Pate (Slipstream-Chipotle) sat up and pumped his fists right as he was passing me. I got this nice picture of him being congratulated by his teammate Steven Cozza, wearing the ‘Build-A-Bear’ best young rider’s jersey:
Stage 6 – St. Louis Circuit. I got a really nice vantage point to watch this stage. The circuit was a closed course, but there were a few spots that St. Louis police were letting traffic cross the course while the caravan was out of sight. One of these was just a few blocks from the start/finish at Jefferson and Market. I took this picture from that spot, with a nice view of the arch behind the start/finish area:
I could NOT, however, take any pictures during the race – it was a busy spot. There were 6 police officers manning the intersection, and I still ended up having to help them keep cars from turning onto the course. Some drivers didn’t have a clue, and others were downright beligerent about it. One guy pulled onto the course as the peleton was coming through the start/finish and started arguing with me that he needed to turn right because he only needed to go a few blocks. I started yelling at him to get off the course. The cop next to me said, “you know you’re doing a good job when you get a lot of dirty looks!” I just chuckled. Despite a few drivers, it was still a lot of fun. There were lots of spectators around this part of the course, and everytime a kid walked by I tossed a pack of Jelly Beans. Some of the parents freaked out at first, then saw me standing there smiling and chilled. I guess I looked trustworthy.
After the last pass of the riders I started walking down to the finish area. With my orange vest and all I was able to stay on the course in front of the barricades and took up a position about 50 m past the finish line. I saw Ivan charge around on the right and through the middle. I saw Huff’s truly spectacular crash. Soon afterwards, George and his teammates all gathered around near where I was standing, so I took this picture:
A few minutes later, stage winner Ivan Dominguez (Toyota-United) rolls up to a nearby media person and starts giving an interview, so I took some pictures of him, too:
Then I started making my way to my front row spot for the awards ceremony and watched all the pomp and circumstance. Afterwards I started walking around and ran into Disco boys Benjamin Noval and Tony Cruz, so I got them to autograph my cap. Then I turned around and here comes Alberto Contador – the the ‘Big C’ himself! There’s nobody around him, so I have no trouble getting the reigning TdF champ to autograph my cap. As soon as I got my cap back I looked up and saw Danny Pate giving an interview, so I got his autograph to top it all off. Still no sigs from Hincapie or Leipheimer, but I’m satisfied with the ones I did get.
I’m thinking traveling course marshal would be a great way to see the Tour of California next year!