Today the Tour started out in Davis California, bike city USA. This city is bike crazy, and lot of folks turned out for the start, despite the cloudy weather and the unseasonable threat of rain. I took the picture above during the ceremonial start of the stage. That's Mark Cavendish in the race leaders gold jersey and J.J. Haedo in the green sprint leaders jersey. The riders are all smiles, for now.
Cycling is pretty unique among high-profile professional sports in the level of access that fans have to the athletes. Unlike other sports that you sit in the stands and the athletes are hundreds of feet away, pro cyclists compete within feet of hundreds and sometimes thousands of screaming fans. My favorite part of the Tour so far has been the pre-race time, when the cyclists are getting ready for the day. The teams roll up in big RVs and the riders get ready inside, then come out and sign a few autographs (like Cavendish above), chat with friends (like the American champion George Hincapie is doing in the photo below), tend to any final details with their bike, and head to the start line.
Some riders have a pretty big following and the crowds can be pretty thick when they first come out of the RV. Mark Cavendish is a very popular rider so he often has folks seeking autographs or wanting to pose with him for a picture. For most of the guys though, particularly here in the US, things are a bit more mellow for them, and by and large the fans are very polite when asking for a bit of the riders time.
I like this shot of Mark Cavendish in the leaders jersey. He seems genuinely excited to be wearing it for the stage, although he knows he will not keep it for too long.