Tour of Amgen – February 17, 2008

amgen_rider2Today’s diatribe starts with a bike ride and ends with the Amgen Tour of California prologue in Palo Alto. With the suddenly popular Tour of California taking place in Palo Alto at 1 p.m., a lot of riders got inspired and headed into the hills for a ride.  (Rider shown: John Murphy (?), Health Net Pro team)

About every other rider was wearing a Webcor/Alto Velo green-and-white team jersey. Webcor, a general contractor, gets a lot of mileage out of the racing team. I wonder if the team members get paid by the mile? Not a bad idea.

Today was one of those February days that remind you spring is just around the corner, and thankful you don’t live in Moose Head, Canada. I headed up Page Mill Road and down Alpine Road, then out to San Gregorio on 84. Heading up Tunitas Creek Road the Webcor team of 10 came riding by. On the way down Kings Mountain Road we nearly tangled. As I passed two riders, one of them Webcor, another Webcor rider behind me came flying by. Fortunately we all made it. Just your average close encounter.

Later, another Webcor rider passed to the pleasant ping of a bike bell. I have one of those but I never used it. Today I heard how well it can work.

As proper planning would have it, I arrived a few minutes before the start of the prologue. A prologue is a short time trial, today a 2.1 mile jaunt through downtown Palo Alto on University Avenue and over to Palm Drive in Stanford. The irony of racing on University Avenue free of cars was not lost on local cyclists, who avoid this road like the plague.

What’s a prologue? When we were kids we used to challenge each other to races all the time on our bikes. “Race you to the corner.” That’s a prologue. It’s also an excuse to have a party. Bike races, like running events, have become the modern-day circus act. I enjoyed the rock band, company displays, and the girl pedaling a bike that ran a blender to make a fruit smoothie.

All this excitement would not be possible without the sponsor. Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, California, has hosted all three Tour of California events. The $14 billion company has deep pockets and a passion for bicycle racing. Amgen is at the forefront of biotechnology, the brave new frontier in science and medicine. It makes….err, well…drugs, the kind of drugs being abused by bike racers.

One of these drugs is Darbepoetin alfa, which increases red blood cell levels. Of course, the drugs Amgen manufactures have helped save countless lives. Nobody questions their value. Bike racers who abuse these drugs do not get them from Amgen, rest assured.

As bike racing crashes from one drug PR disaster to the next, Amgen does not let this negative publicity affect its support for bike racing, and that’s a good thing. Finally, in what may or may not be a coincidence, Greg LeMond is also in town. Why the three-time Tour de France champion is here on this exact date, I don’t know. His topic of discussion at Santa Clara University tonight is: “Ethics, Doping, and the Future of Cycling.”

I live only two miles from the university, so I’ll pedal over and let you know what he says about this controversial subject.

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