With the sun rising on the horizon, Haute Route San Francisco riders gathered on Pier 43 1/2 in San Francisco to take a private ferry across the Bay to the start line of the first stage in Oakland. The ferry ride was the perfect opportunity for riders to enjoy amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco skyline on a picturesque, crystal clear day.
The atmosphere on the ferry was a mix of excitement and anticipation, as riders prepared for the 200 miles and 20,350 feet of climbing that lie ahead over the next three days. Similar to many riders in the peloton, New Yorker Michael Gooch-Breault was about to live his first multiday experience: “I just want to finish today, have a good time, and be able to ride again tomorrow. I did some Granfondos in New York and New Jersey but nothing multistage, only single days. So this is my challenge!”
After gathering under the start arch in Jack London Square, the Haute Route peloton rolled out of downtown Oakland under blue skies escorted by 12 motorbikes from the City of Oakland Police Department to take on the 100-mile loop stage. With the traffic cleared by the police escort, the international peloton got the chance to cross the dynamic city of Oakland and stretch their legs for the first five miles before reaching the first timed section of the day. Riders took on the 3-mile climb up Claremont Avenue before crossing the Redwood Regional Park and riding the next 35 miles of rolling hills to reach the foot of the main challenge of the day, the 10-mile ascent of Mount Diablo.
Robert Kunz, the CEO of sports nutrition company First Endurance, thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the day: “This morning was fantastic; once we left the city of Oakland, all of a sudden there were no cars, we were climbing, and then we dropped down into this really cool, cold canyon with massive redwoods. It was gorgeous.”
The climb up Mount Diablo encompasses about 3400 feet of elevation gain with the first seven miles meandering at reasonable grades below 7%. Snaking out of the trees and into the sun, riders were able to look around and appreciate the views before taking on the final three tougher miles with the gradient varying between 8% and 10%. The final pitch, nicknamed “The Wall” by local riders, ramps up to 15% and left the riders breathless at the summit.
With an untimed descent off Mount Diablo, most took the time to refuel and regroup near the summit, sharing their experience of the climb. Riding his first Haute Route this weekend, Steve Nelson from Santa Barbara, California was full of praise for the beginning of the stage: “What a day, what a beautiful day! Best day in the Bay Area ever. Thank you for coming out here and putting on this event on the West Coast!”
He added: “I have friends who have done some of the European Haute Route events and they always talk about how wonderful it is, so I wanted to do it in my own backyard. I just want to have a good time, good result, a lot of fun, meet some new people and enjoy these beautiful roads in San Francisco Bay Area.”
Soren Krebs from Denmark shared Steve’s opinion about today’s stage: “This is phenomenal! I’ve never done Mount Diablo, but I knew how steep it is at the end. It was also very nice to have the police leading out to clear the traffic, we found a good group, everyone was talking a little bit - that was great! It’s been really good so far and with this weather, how can we complain!”
Former pro cyclist, three-time Amgen Tour of California winner and local resident, Levi Leipheimer, was also enjoying his first Haute Route experience: “This is my first Haute Route and I’m glad I did it. It’s a beautiful route. We get to ride in an organized event through some amazing roads in Oakland, Berkeley and on top of Diablo that you don’t usually see. It was my first time coming up Diablo and the view is awesome.”
After the descent, riders worked together in small groups to ride about 30 miles of rolling terrain through Walnut Creek before starting the final timed segment, the 5.7-mile Grizzly Peak climb. In the untimed descent, riders were greeted by a sweeping five-bridge view of San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. After crossing the finish line in Jack London Square, riders enjoyed a well-deserved meal and massage before taking the ferry back to San Francisco.
Mark Everton, the President & CEO of Visit Oakland, was thrilled to host the first stage of the Haute Route San Francisco: “It was amazing to see the community come together to support such a regional Bay Area event. It reinforces the fact that Oakland is a great destination for outdoor activities and sport.”
At the front of the race today, American Andrew Shimuzu was the fastest rider on the timed sections ahead of fellow riders Jeff Mahin and Marco Arocha. In the women’s category Breanne Nalder took the first leader’s jersey of the week.
Tomorrow, riders will set off from the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge before crossing the bridge and taking on a demanding 90-mile stage which features 8,500 feet of climbing and seven ascents in Marin Headlands.