It's a bunch of Euro dudes with shaved legs riding around in funny looking outfits.
That's the uneducated view of professional cycling, which makes a colorful splash in Clovis today with the Stage 4 finish of the Amgen Tour of California.
Take a closer look though, and you'll discover a sport that combines incredible stamina, complicated tactics, gorgeous scenery and the constant threat of danger. When you hit pavement at 40 mph wearing nothing but a thin layer of Lycra, the results aren't pleasant.
Some thoughts and ideas as America's biggest bike race wheels into town:
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Best place to watch
For today's expected sprint finish, anywhere in downtown Clovis will do fine. With four right-hand turns in the last 1.5 miles, it's a fairly technical finale. If you can't be near the finish line on Pollasky Avenue between Bullard and 7th, head to the final corner at Pollasky and Sierra. At one kilometer (0.6 miles) to the finish, positioning will be critical. There's almost certain to be some chaos.
It takes a team
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) has dominated the race by winning all three stages, and today could well be No. 4. No slighting Sagan's incredible talent, but the 22-year-old Slovak isn't doing it alone. In the sprints, Sagan relies on his lead-out man, Daniel Oss, to position him at the front of the peloton inside the last half-mile. Sagan then uses Oss' draft as a slingshot on his final surge. Oss is easy to spot on television replays. He's the guy with his arms in the air celebrating another Sagan triumph.
What about the climbs?
Today's 130.2-mile stage from Sonora to Clovis features six categorized climbs, all of which award points that count toward the red polka-dot jersey. The first five are on Highway 49 through the foothills of Mariposa. Once at Oakhurst, the route heads uphill as the field tackles the final climb up Crane Valley Road to Teaford Saddle. It's more than 40 miles to the finish, ample distance to absorb any breakaways.
See the carnival
The AToC is more than a bike race. It's a traveling festival. Downtown Clovis will be packed with more than 60 vendor booths stuffed with things like with cycling gear, health and fitness aids, bike safety info, family activities, food and beer. There's a parade of Breakaway From Cancer walkers, a bagpipe band, and a horse troupe, and Save Mart is bringing out the world's largest shopping cart. To avoid road closures, park at the Sierra Vista Mall and take the free shuttle. It runs every 15 minutes from noon until an hour after the race.
Spectacle of cycling
Bike racing wouldn't be possible without support from cars and motorcycles. The AToC brings over the same camera crews the Tour de France uses. It takes amazing skill for a motorcycle driver to avoid hitting a bike across all types of terrain while staying close enough for the cameraman (who rides on the back) to capture the action. Without these guys, there would be no race footage to televise in more than 200 countries. Trailing the peloton is a endless procession of race officials, team cars and support vehicles. What's that whirr up above? Oh, a helicopter. For a bike race, it adds up to a lot of gasoline.