Support car offers unique view of Tour

Sunday, 10:46 a.m. — I slide into the passenger front seat of a 2011 Mini Cooper Sunday. It belongs to Team Exergy, a renewable energy company based in Boise, Idaho. It is one of two team cars that will follow and support the eight Team Exergy riders throughout Stage One of the Amgen Tour of California. All 16 cycling teams have two team cars. To those 32 cars add vehicles with race officials, law enforcement, medical personnel and a bunch of motorcycles. The caravan will number about 100 vehicles snaking its way to Sonoma County. Feels more like an invasion than a bike race.

10:54 a.m. — "Someone once paid $500 to get in a team car and do one lap of a 13-mile circuit in Philly," said Ken Mills, the driver and Exergy's assistant director. It's easy to see why: You never stop for a red light or a stop sign. You rarely go the speed limit. People do crazy things (See: 1:07 p.m. for further details).

11:02 a.m. — A blind draw determines the order in which the team cars follow each other. Exergy is No. 15. It will slip in and out if its slot to find a rider and his needs, which could be food, bike parts, instruction. It's a 115.9 miles of cars constantly moving up or back, never trailing the car in front of you by more than two cars' length. "It helps (to drive a car in a bike race) if you've raced before," said Mills, who raced in America and abroad for 10 years.

Tour Of California Prep


11:12 a.m. — We pass seven CHP cars as we near Graton. Did I say this was fun or what?

11:21 a.m. — Exergy's Sammy Johnson has been in the eight-man break from the beginning. "Sometimes we need to keep a leash on him," Mills said. "We don't want him to drive (lead) the break. We don't want him to kill himself."

11:32 a.m. — A rider in the break relieves himself while staying with the lead group. "No one in a break," Mills said, "takes the time to stop for a pee."

11:40 a.m. — The eight-man break is 7:05 minutes ahead of the peloton. "The rule of thumb." Mills said, "is this: For every 10 kilometers, it takes a minute to bring the break back to the group."

12:01 p.m. — There is no salary cap in the upper echelons of pro cycling. A Pro Tour team can spend as much as they want. "BMC will spent probably around $10-15 million a year," Mills said. A Continental team, Exergy will spend between $600,000 and $1 million annually. Unlimited spending? My, how Major League Baseball teams would love to have no salary ceiling.

12:30 p.m. — Mills speeds past all the team cars and official cars to remind Johnson not to burn himself out. "We say that every rider has three to four bullets in his gun in every race," said Mills, 43. "He only has three or four times in which he can red-line it."

12:31 p.m. — Johnson responds by saying, "I'm a little scared. These guys are going to smoke me on the KOM." Johnson is not a climber.

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