Five years ago, teammates Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer rode together for several miles in an uphill breakaway at the Amgen Tour of California. The riders’ skills, showcased high in the San Gabriel Mountains, defined cycling’s beauty but with a bizarre chunk of irony.
Confident and fit, the two riders pedaled in unison. They mastered the short, steep switchbacks to the Stage 6 finish near the 10,000-foot peak of Mount Baldy. Leipheimer, a three-time event winner, surged and won the stage. Horner finished second and the next day won the tour title.
Then, strangeness ensued. A disciple of clean living and meticulous preparation, Leipheimer called out Horner, his antithesis. Horner, the “Everyman’s Rider,” is a proud proponent of eating junk food.
Leipheimer said Horner would become a serious cyclist only after curtailing his penchant for hamburgers, soft drinks and candy bars.
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A year later, Leipheimer, a Lance Armstrong accomplice, was suspended for his admission to doping throughout much of his career. He hastily retired.
With the 11th annual Tour of California arriving in the Sacramento region this week, the odd day remains vivid. Cycling is still dirty. Top pros and former pros have in recent months confessed to a different kind of cheating. In the cycling world, it’s called “mechanical doping” — the use of hidden mini-motors.
The sport needs drastic reform. Maybe it should embrace Horner’s approach to cycling and his diet.
When the 44-year-old signed with his new team, he posted on social media an image of his training satchel prominently featuring Ding Dongs, a Snicker’s bar and a Cola-Cola.
While Sacramento has plenty of dining establishments appropriate for the appetites of cycling’s international entourage, the Tour of California could be a better race with a few more interesting eatery choices along its routes.
Let’s start in Folsom. Every area cyclist knows Karen’s Bakery and Cafe. The Tour of California men and women will compete Friday on time trial courses permeated with the bakery’s alluring aromas. Possibilities abound, but blackberry sour cream muffins, sweet potato biscuits or a sunnyside tart, the glorious mash-up of a fried egg, creme fraiche, bacon and gruyere cheese on a puff pastry, could short-circuit riders’ power meters.
East Sacramento is a robust haven of bike shops, two-wheel commuters and cruiser-bike regulars pedaling to microbreweries. It also boasts culinary decadence. A must stop is Clubhouse 56. It’s only a short detour from the route, which ends in downtown Sacramento. What’s a few extra minutes?
The blue burger reigns. One-third pound of Angus beef on ciabatta bread accompanied with crumpled blue cheese, red onion, tomatoes and romaine lettuce, it’s served with a formidable side salad or steak cut fries.
Consume a burger and fries? No worries. You’ll reel in the peloton in time for the sprint.
Pro cycling is hard. Who doesn’t need a little help? Take an extra long pull from a team car and you may or may not get caught. The better alternative is the final feed zone within 2 miles of the finish line.
Stanely’s Donuts, on 37th and J streets, has no equal to its specialty – apple fritters. The chewy mix of glazed dough, apples, sugar and fat is larger than a small frying pan. One is plenty for two connoisseurs to experience daylong sugar highs.
Competitors brave enough to consume an entire apple fritter solo should beware. Sprinters will become climbers; climbers will become sprinters. Together they could cross the finish line, continue riding into Yolo County, turn around and pedal to South Lake Tahoe.
Somewhere out there, Horner might be training. He wasn’t invited to the Tour of California this year, but he probably is pedaling in bliss.
James Raia, a Sacramento journalist, has covered every edition of the Tour of California and has reported on cycling since 1981. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.