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The Tour of California rivals the Tour de France

2012 Tour de France winner succeeds at Amgen Tour of Caliofornia
2012 Tour de France winner succeeds at Amgen Tour of Caliofornia
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

God Bless America

Having worked in countries all over the world through more than eight decades of life, I have come to appreciate what America means even more with every passing day.

During World War II, as a kid, I did not understand why so many returning soldiers when they debarked from a troop ship, bent down and kissed the ground, thankful to be back on U.S. soil.

I do that today.

As we look around the ravaged world, we still feel comfortable in our homes. Maybe not as much as we use to, but enough to still be thankful that we still enjoy that right.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put it best when he said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”’. He proposed that people everywhere ought to be able to enjoy Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from fear.

The late great American artist Norman Rockwell articulated these Freedoms on classic covers published by the now defunct magazine Saturday Evening Post.

About now you are probably shaking your head and asking yourself what does the above have to do with sports? It is simply this, sports and its various games still give us an outlet to relax and if not actively, but vicariously we can escape the pressures that are compounded everyday.

For brief moments, we can put bigots, political intrusions, and the stupidity of always being politically correct, politics and even health issues out of our minds.

This past week, especially last Sunday did just that for me.

I was privileged to watch, on-site, the final of “America’s Greatest Race”… The Amgen Tour of California. I must admit that even though I have worked in over 52 countries around the world and as my readers know, on some of the most outstanding sports events of the ’60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, to me, there is nothing more exciting than a Bicycle race that covers almost 800 miles over 8 stages. The Tour featured 16 of the world’s finest pro cycling teams… 128 superbly conditioned athletes.

They came from 28 different countries to vie for the Yellow Jersey in the foremost race precedent to the “Tour de France.” But of course, I have to admit I am prejudice since along with my dear friend David Salzman and others, we created the event.

Along the route, the riders overcame severe heat… 14 suffered heat stroke and had to drop out. They traversed rugged mountains, sweltering deserts and the ever-present blistering sun.

But most importantly, the sport had to overcome the stigma foisted on it by Lance Armstrong… and it did.

In fact, this year’s champion, Britain’s Sir Bradley Wiggins,was himself the winner of the 2012 Tour de France. The 2014 Amgen Tour included a who’s who of Bicycle Racing… such as the U.K.s Mark Cavendish, long considered the fastest sprinter in the world.

Over the course of the 8 days, he proved this to still be true. However, he was constantly being pushed by 24 year old Slovakian Peter Sagan. Peter, at his young age, has already won four stages at the Tour de France.

To me, this wonderful sporting event is more than just a race… It is America! The people making it happen are a melting pot. More important, the Executive Director Kristen Bachochin is a young lady still in her early forties… a truly powerful person.

Realizing how mammoth the Tour has become since its infancy 9 years ago, it seemed almost impossible that one person could assume the mantel and coordinate all the cities starting from Sacramento in Northern California and ending in Thousand Oaks in Southern California.

I wanted to interview her and make her the major part of my story. However, as the outstanding Executive that she is, she immediately insisting on giving all the credit to her team… especially saluting the work of Kelly Staley, Ryan Ung and Adam Duvendeck.

The race went through countless towns and hamlets as it wended its way from North to South. Not only was security an issue, but also traffic and crowd control requiring all available municipal and metro police staffs, the State Highway Patrol and various Sheriff’s department had to be unified without a hitch… and it was.

How big was this task? Well, early State Highway Patrol Statistics indicating that over 3 million people watched the race along the route. At the finish line, Thousand Oaks, where I was, it was estimated that over 300,000 lined up along the route to catch the riders as they rode by at speeds reaching 48 MPH.

Allow me to get a little personal at this point. Five years ago while exercising on a treadmill, the man next to me, a stranger, realized I was struggling. I did not know at the time that he was the head of Cardiology at Los Robles Hospital. He saved my life and within two hours, I had four stents around my heart.

On this past Sunday, now my friend, Dr. Vishva Dev was my guest at the finish line. When 23 year old Moreno Hofland of the Belkin Pro Cycling team had a vicious crash as he negotiated a treacherous mountain turn, he was rushed to Los Robles Hospital. Fearing he had a heart Attack, Dr. Dev was called and responded immediately. Fortunately, it was not a Heart Attack, but three severely fractured ribs. As Kristen said, “Life puts us where they want us at the time it wants us”.

Unlike other major sporting events, Philanthropy plays a major role. The organization “Breakaway for Cancer”, the tour’s major benefactor has realized millions of dollars from the tour for its battle against the disease.

In concluding, I think it is appropriate to cite a few statistics about cycling: According to the 2012 National Survey, there are 9 million Bike trips in America everyday… I guess that translates into almost 33 billion each year. Yet, America unlike the rest of the world has not taken this sport to its heart. ALAS!

It has earned the right!

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