Not even a crash coming down Trinity Grade could dampen Steven Cozza's delight in returning to Sonoma County for another rain-soaked Tour of California.
"The Tour of California is always great," said the pro from Petaluma. "It's like it wants to rain or something, but it adds more excitement, I guess. It sucks when you crash, but at least there were no broken bones."
Cozza has endured more painful crashes in his six years of professional racing. The worst was in February when he opened the racing season by breaking his collarbone on the first day of the Tour of Qatar and missed a month of racing following surgery.
Back in racing shape for the Tour of California, Cozza was feeling strong after rolling into Santa Rosa at the end of the 110-mile second stage that began in Davis.
"It's been a challenging year, but I'm getting back up to fitness," he said. "I feel like this is the start of my season. It's really awesome."
In his role as a so-called Domestique, Cozza's job is to help team Garmin-Transitions' top riders get to the front. Cozza and the five other support riders break the wind and otherwise protect David Zabriskie and Thomas Danielson.
Monday's toughest stretch was up Oakville Grade leaving Napa County. Riders couldn't get off their seats to push up the steep ascent because their rear wheels would wobble on the slick road.
Steep and winding Trinity Grade was next.
A handful of riders crashed on the downhill side. Cozza and several others couldn't avoid the pileup and also went down.
Cozza's bike, with a broken frame, suffered more than he did. The rain actually helped soften the fall.
"Crashing's just a part of the sport," Cozza said. "When it's wet, you slide better."
Cheering sections of Cozza fans — wearing imitations of his trademark moustache — also gave Cozza a lift.
"It was really cool," he said. "There were a lot of fans out. It's nice to get some encouragement. It probably makes you go faster."
As he rolled into Santa Rosa, Cozza's parents, Scott and Jeanette, were there at the finish line.
After warming up inside the team motorhome and eating a plate of rice, eggs and beef, Cozza went to the team hotel for a massage and shower.
"For the team, it was an excellent day," he said.
Competing in his fourth Tour of California, all with Garmin, Cozza has enjoyed success in the event. Garmin won last year's team title, with Cozza finishing 44th. While he has finished higher each year, Cozza said how the team and its top riders do is what matters most.
"I'm here to help my teammates," he said. "We just have to keep them out of trouble. We get paid to do it."
In his fourth year with Garmin, based in Boulder, Colo., Cozza now lives most of the year in Gerona, Spain. The area is great for training and is centrally located for the many European races. He returns to Petaluma in November and December.
Throughout the year, Cozza raises money worldwide for children in poverty, with disabilities, victims of war or natural disasters, and other needs.
Cozza wants to help others because he has been fortunate enough to go from racing BMX bikes as a boy to earning a living on the ProTour circuit. Cozza continues to find joy on two wheels with his prime racing years still ahead.