Radio says they’re expecting 10,000 to 15,000 people here — here being Livermore, a town of 80,000 known to Bike World as Stage 4 start line in this year’s Tour of California. I’d been birding around Modesto, decided to break, make the 50-mile honk over Altamont Pass, and watch the lads go off.
Cycling is set to begin at 11:45; it’s 10:30 now with heavy, dark clouds and drizzly rain. The start is downtown on First Street, and fans are beginning to take positions curbside. The crowd is one deep, but five blocks long, and lines both sides of the boulevard.
I decide to promenade around downtown wanting to see more guts and gears of the race. On the corner of Second Street and L there are a dozen BMW motorcycles, some with stickers that read, “Photo 1,” “Photo 2,” “Photo 3,” “Photo 4.” “Media.” “Video.” There are race referees, race support people, and race communications people. Uniformed cops stand in line with civilians, everyone waiting to use portable toilets.
Positioned alongside a Chevy van are four men and a woman wearing red vests. I want to know what they do. A rooster-faced man says, “We have the most important job in this entire race.”
“You get the coffee.”
The man smiles. “We’re marshals. We make sure everyone stays on course, make sure everyone is safe.”
“Are you in the back of the peloton, in front of the peloton...?”
Roosterface points to a nearby clutch of BMW motorcycles, “Those guys are with the pack. They’re motor marshals. We’re on foot. We’re dropped off at certain points in the race. Say, the riders are going to do an intersection, make a right-hand turn. We’re there to make sure they know they’re taking a right-hand turn.”
Parked around the corner is another van. Its back doors are open, and two men are picking up and examining two-way radios. On the ground are two big cardboard boxes — one has “Two Bars” scrawled on it, the other, “Three Bars.”
“What’s the three bars, two bars?”
The smaller guy says, “Battery levels. If you got three bars, it will get you through the day. If it’s two bars or below, we put them back on charge.”
“How many radios do you have?”
Still chilly and wet, but the morning’s dark clouds have whitened over the past 15 minutes. I return to First Street heading toward L. Here’s the First Treat Yogurt shop. Next door is Not Too Naughty Adult Superstore, featuring “DVD rentals, sales, and bedroom toys.”
First Street is blocked off by portable fences. Race support cars are lining up in front of the start shoot. I spy a Subaru wagon with a “Regulator” sticker posted on its passenger door.
There is a portly, middle-aged man standing in front of the car. He’s a retired state trooper from Missouri, has worked the Tour of Missouri, been working this race for the last three years. I ask him what a regulator is.
“He’s the guy that’s right in front of the bike riders. He’s letting everybody know what’s going on so they can prepare for what’s ahead. If two riders have a breakaway, try to get a lead, the regulator manages race personnel, makes sure they don’t get in the way.”
“I talked to a race referee earlier. By the way, I didn’t realize there were so many referees.”
The man says, “Oh, sure. I’m driving a car for one of the commissars, which is a race official, an umpire. There are four umpires in cars and four more on motorcycles.”
“You don’t see that on TV.”
“What surprised me was the ref said he threw seven red flags yesterday and seven red flags the day before.”
The man nods, “Yeah.”
“You don’t see that on TV.”
“Yeah, yeah. There’s all kinds of stuff that goes on that you don’t see on Versus.”
I say, “The referee throws the red flag — I assume he’s talking to his boss on the radio...”
“They mark all of this stuff down. If there’s a violation, either the rider or the team is fined at the end of the race.”
“He said the fine was $1000.”
“It could be; there are varying amounts, depending on what the violation is.”
“And the most common infraction is drafting...”
“Hanging onto a car.”
“You mean, actually hanging onto a car?”
“You never see that on TV.”