Monday, February 23, 2009

Mountain Madness on Palomar!

Sunday was the best riding day of my life.

This weekend, I joined some good friends for back-to-back days following the Tour of California cycing stage race right in our backyards. The race just happened to cover some of our usual training grounds (Mt. Wilson, Mt. Palomar...), so the chance to ride the course just before the peloton, combined with the opportunity to see Lance, Levi, and the peloton in action was too good to pass up.

A day after riding from the Rose Bowl up to the top of Mt. Wilson (the top 5 miles through slush and ice!), a ride that packed 6,000' of gain in under 60 miles,
Kurt, Cyril and I set out once again for another big climbing day following the tour. Sunday's ride would have closer to 8,000' of gain in only 75 miles. We rode from Escondido along the course (backwards) to the base of Palomar, ascended the south grade. Thousands of spectators had already lined the climb.

Although we were maybe 2 hours ahead of the peloton, the crowd had already chalked the road, (which was closed to non-race traffic by now), and everyone was cheering us on. Cowbells blaring, screaming, taking photos, asking for wheelies... just like we were in the race. Of course we climbed Palomar a few minutes faster than our planned "steady" (yeah, right) pace. I have done some races known for enthusiastic crowds lining steep hilly sections such as Ironman Wisconsin, Vineman 70.3(chalk hill), those crowds were nothing compared to the utter pandemonium we witnessed on Mt. Palomar.

After topping out at Mother's Market atop the mountain, we slammed some $5.00 breakfast burritos and descended the East Grade. We rode back around to South Grade, ascended up to the 4th or 5th switchback and dismounted to wait for the peloton. After about 15 minutes the helicoptors showed up, giving us a bit of warning to finish our Vitargo drinks and get the digital cameras ready.

The lead vehicle conveniently had a PA system, so anyone within a mile could hear the continuously repeated live updates. That was cool. Minutes later the break emerged, and only a minute behind the peloton followed, lead by the Astana boys. Kurt, Cyril and I ran alongside Lance & Levi, shouting "encouragement"...we made the Versus coverage! And we didn't have to wear speedos, lucha libre masks, capes, or Borat man-kinis!

After the peloton passed, we jammed back down to the finish line area in Escondido in about an hour, and just managed to catch the finish. The jumbotrons set up for fans showed the race following the same roads we had just taken. It felt like we were hammering on the way back, but watching Schleck risk it all at 50mph on the curvy descents was humbling. The crowd of over 50,000 made it difficult to actually see the finish line, so the jumbotrons were a nice touch.

Overall the best cycling day of my life. Just FUN, and motivating. And, combined with Saturday's ride up Mt. Wilson we fit in a respectable 15,000' of climbing for the weekend!

I highly recommend a day like this to anyone passionate about cycling.

Now every time I ride Palomar for the rest of my life I will have that extra edge, remembering this day, from the perspective of the athlete and the fan.

This experience definitely has given me some extra HOO YAH to achieve my 2009 goals.

In Adventure,


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