A time trial? In downtown L.A.? Really?
The Tour of California will cap off National Ride to Work Week with the cyclist's ultimate fantasy: the streets of America's most driving-obsessed city set aside for bicycles. The only way Saturday's Stage 7 time trial through downtown Los Angeles could be more satisfying to cyclists is if the Tour of California riders give the finger to SUV drivers stuck along the side of the road.
Last year's time-trial route went through Solvang, the quiet Danish town of just over 5,000 residents north of Santa Barbara. This year, the route is two laps around a 10.5-mile circuit in downtown L.A. Essentially paralleling the 110 freeway, the route passes the USC campus, the Coliseum, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Staples Center.
Miles of temporary fencing will be set up overnight and two temporary pedestrian bridges set up over Figueroa and Flower streets to allow fans to cross the course. Speed bumps had to be removed from the Southern Cal campus.
"This isn't Solvang," said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, which owns the Tour of California.
"It's hard to organize a bike race in the best of circumstances. You have a lot of moving parts to manage," Messick said. "You need to make sure the athletes are safe, that the roads are closed. There are public safety issues. Police, fire and emergency services must be organized. Residents must be notified. Businesses must be notified. And you introduce all that into a dense urban environment, and what you get is an exponentially more complicated set of circumstances."
For instance, Messick said that at one point, the Tour wanted to have the course pass by Dodger Stadium. But when they obtained a preliminary schedule of the 2010 baseball season, they saw that the Dodgers had a home game on the date of the time trial. It was scheduled to be a night game, but because there was a chance the Dodgers could be good, there also was a chance Fox could move the game to a noon start.
"So Dodger Stadium is out, and you can't go anywhere near Dodger Stadium," Messick said. "That whole part of the city is completely off limits because you can't have a time trial at the same time you're bringing 30,000 cars to Dodger Stadium."
Over the course of many months and untold community meetings -- "You want to do what? Shut our street down on a Saturday? Then how the heck are we going to drive down the block to Starbucks?" -- other areas were explored and abandoned for various practical and political reasons.
"As we said, 'Let's do this [route],' you would go and meet with a city councilman," Messick said. "You bring your maps and you talk about it and he brings his staff and you say, 'This is what we want to do,' and he says, 'That's good. That's great. That's impossible. And you go back to square one and try again."
Eventually, the Tour settled on the current route.
"Clearly there are many easier places to do. I don't know if there are many better places to do it," Messick said. "I think a downtown L.A. time trial, when we pull it off, will be an extraordinary achievement."
Asked how planning this compared to routing last year's Tour over the Golden Gate Bridge, Messick replied, "Dozens of times harder, dozens of times harder. And the Golden Gate Bridge wasn't easy, by the way."
U.S. national time trial champion David Zabriskie of Garmin-Transitions said he got up early on Mother's Day to ride the course, and got a bit of a feel for what it will be like when the streets are closed off Saturday. "People in L.A. don't like to leave their house on a Sunday if they don't have to, so it was quiet."
While discussing all the logistical work involved in organizing the route and dealing with the traffic disruption, Messick joked, "What we need is a guy with a megaphone to say to traffic, 'Just be patient. We'll open the roads in five or six hours.'"
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His website is at jimcaple.net.
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