Tahoe roads problematic for pro bikers

By From page A2 | May 12, 2011

By Dylan Silver

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — As world-class cyclists eye stage 1 of the Amgen Tour of California, they’re seeing a variety of challenges.

Everything from gravel to potholes, wandering children, dogs and the altitude could hamper a chance at a win, but the one-and-a-half loops around Lake Tahoe will hardly be the most challenging course many of the racers have ridden.

“It seems to me that it’s really well balanced,” said Koos Moerenhout, Team Rabobank liaison and former professional cyclist. “Time trials, climbers, sprinters — I think every rider who has expertise in one of these will have a chance.”

Compared to the steady uphill jaunt and sudden downhill of the Reggio Emilia-Rapallo stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia — a 21-day, 3525-kilometer race in Italy that kicked off May 7 — Tahoe’s course has a variety of different features. And compared to the cobblestone roads of the Paris-Roubaix stage of the Tour de France, which some cyclists don’t even bother with, Tahoe’s roads — despite the bumps — are fairly smooth.

“We don’t see any problem,” said Team RadioShack spokesman Philippe Maertens. “We presume that the race committee will preview the course and see that good surfaces are on hand for the riders.”

Team RadioShack riders Chris Horner and previous overall Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer, both California residents, have already checked out the Tahoe route in person, Maertens said.

Professional cyclists are used to all types of roads, Moerenhout said. In international races, there have been dirt, gravel and cobblestone stages. The riding of such roads has even become a specialty of some, Moerenhout added, but there will be some things new to cyclists who primarily ride races in Europe.

“Everything is big compared to Europe,” Moerenhout said.

The roads and shoulders are a lot wider in the U.S., he said. This will allow riders to spread out, which might help with what Maertens sees as a bigger problem than the condition of the road.

“The biggest obstacles are other riders reacting bad or too late for something,” Maertens wrote in an e-mail. “It’s harder to escape from a crashing rider in front of you than from something on the road.”

Another test for the riders will be the altitude. The average elevation of the Lake Tahoe stage is higher than any other on the Tour of California course and higher than many stages in many races around the world.

“(A high altitude course) is really seldom,” Moerenhout said. “In Europe, you have a couple of big mountain passes but then the race will return to lower altitudes.”

For recreational cyclists, the roads are in pretty bad shape, said Sports Unlimited bike shop manager Dave Clock, who’s been riding the region’s roads for 19 years.

“They’re pretty bad,” Clock said. “Other than a few new ones, we need to have some new pavement.”

But after riding the “mile after mile of non-stop beating” of some of the international stages, the roads up here will be in fine shape for the pros, Clock added.

“This will be nothing new for them,” he said. “Professionals should be able to handle it.”

Tahoe Tribune

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