On Monday, May 17, the Amgen Tour of California will take the cyclists through perhaps what is the most stunning and spectacular portion of the entire eight-day tour. Too bad these world-class professional cyclists will have little chance to enjoy the view of wine country. Up Howell Mountain and the Oakville Grade, cyclists will use every ounce of energy to make their way to the summit of these steep grades. Down these two mountains, the cyclists’ skills will be put to the test as they maneuver not only hairpin turns but also attempt to avoid numerous potholes that seem to be around each corner.
For spectators, the news is much better. There are plenty of places to take in the tour in the Valley. This past week we used our car to scout some of the better locations for viewing the cyclists. Ideally, you want a spot where you can sit higher than the cyclists. The view should be unobstructed as there will be parked cars on both sides of the road. A view of a long stretch of road in both directions is also a plus. If you can’t get to higher ground, try and avoid crowded areas. Each person leans in to catch a glimpse of the riders as they approach and that has the same affect as it does in a stadium when the fan in front stands up at a key play.
Best bet is to park your car on a side road and bicycle or hike to the ideal spot. Best background for photos would include a great shot of the vineyards. Set your shutter speed high and pan and shoot as the cyclists roar by. Shoot out of your sunroof if you want to get above the cyclists. If things go right, there should be at least three groups to watch and photograph. There should be a lead pack of a few cyclists, the Peloton (main group), and then the riders that have lost contact and are out of contention; they are still awesome riders.
You will need to get to your spot early, at least an hour before to be safe. The Highway Patrol will be setting up progressive roadblocks as the cyclists move along the route. If you are there too late you won’t be able to drive to your spot.
Our Picks for Best Spots in the Napa Valley
We scouted the tour route from Howell Mountain and Chiles Valley Road through the Napa Valley and over the Oakville Grade and to Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley. Here are our suggestions for where to get great views and photo shots of the cyclists.
Howell Mountain: At the turn at Howell Mountain and Chiles Pope Valley Road, cyclists will make a slight left turn to head down Howell Mountain. There is ample room to park and set up camp. Earliest arrival time is 1:17 pm. Another good vantage point is the last half-mile stretch of Howell Mountain to the Silverado Trail. It will be fun to watch them maneuver the left turn onto the Silverado Trail. Arrival time is 1:38 pm.
Once on the Silverado Trail, any spot will be good but the two best spots are opposite Quintessa Winery and ZD Winery. Arrival time is 1:45 pm.
The cyclists will turn right onto Oakville Cross Road and just down about half a mile you should find other great spots to watch them all the way to Highway 29. Arrival at HWY 29 is 2:01 pm.
On Highway 29, the cyclists will turn left and ride only about a half-mile before turning right to go up the Oakville Grade. There are few spots to park on the Oakville Grade other than the first half-mile. Once they hit the Grade, there are few turnouts for cars, but if you find one you will be able view the cyclists close up and catch their grimaced faces at they climb this torturous mountain road.
Once the cyclists get over the grade they have a fast and furious descent into the Sonoma Valley. Any stretch along Highway 12 should be a great viewing spot with great photo opportunities.
Check out the tour route and arrival times that are detailed at the Amgen Website. Pack your lunch and camera and a blanket and chair. Bring your bikes if you can. If you don’t get there early enough, you won’t be allowed on the roadway. Enjoy!