Critical Section


at the tour: Palomar Mountain!

Sunday,  02/22/09  10:35 PM

Today I visited the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California, which started in Rancho Bernardo and finished in Escondido, passing over mighty Mount Palomar in the process.  In all my time watching professional cycling races this might have been the best, even including the Vuelta stages in Spain.

My day began early as I drove all the way around the back way to Lake Henshaw, parked, rode up the South Grade of Mount Palomar (took me an hour), stationed myself at the top, watched the riders come up the hill (took them 30 minutes), cheered as Jens Voigt and Levi crested the climb in first with a break of eight, then watched the peloton come through (over the course of about ten minutes), then rode down the East Grade of Palomar following the peloton back to Lake Henshaw, then got in my car and drove around the back way to Escondido, then parked just in time to run to the finish area and watch the race finish as Franck Schleck won.  And then hung around for the podium ceremony etc (watched on a jumbotron) and oogled the cool bikes and pretty girls.

I took a bunch of pictures, please find them here:

2009 Amgen Tour of California, stage 8, Palomar mountain

And following are some selected ones, for your viewing pleasure...  (click each to enbiggen)

approaching Palomar from the back - because 76 will be closed
approaching Palomar from the back - because 76 will be closed

my base - Lake Henshaw Resort
my base - Lake Henshaw Resort

the South Grade is closed!...
the South Grade is closed!...

South Grade - open for bikes!
... but not for bikes - up we go!

crowds line the route all the way
crowds line the entire route
the higher we go, the thicker the crowds

at 4,000' - just 1,200 left :)
at 4,000' - just 1,200 left :)

stunning views of the valley below
the views of the valley below are stunning

a Livestrong snowman
snow - yikes!
and even a snowman in a Livestrong jersey

the KOM summit
the KOM summit (not the top however)
massive crowds - an amazing scene

Ole at the KOM summit
yay me! - at the KOM line

the real top of Palomar
and here's the real top of Palomar...

plenty of snow at the top
plenty of snow at the top - and it is cold

amazing panorama from San Diego to Oceanside
an amazing panorama from San Diego to Oceanside
the Coronados, San Clemente Island, and Catalina are all visible
(this one you really have to click to enbiggen)

the peloton comes up the valley floor
the peloton rides up the valley floor!

there's a breakaway with eight riders
there's a breakaway with eight riders
they are charging up the hill at amazing speed

the break reaches the top
the break reaches the summit
four Saxo riders have Levi Leipheimer isolated, but he's right there

the break goes up and over
up and over - four Saxos, Levi, a Liquigas rider, George Hincapie, and two Garmins

Christian VandeVelde leads chase group
Christian Vandevelde leads a chase group which includes Lance Armstrong
the peloton is shattered and dribbles over the top

Floyd Landis' group
Mr. Floyd Landis' group
I was hoping he'd attached on his mountain, but he didn't have it

descending with the peloton...
I'm descending with the peloton!
they soon drop me, but it was cool
(and watch out for that snow runoff)

the finishing corner in Escondido
descend to Lake Henshaw, hop in the car, take the back way to Escondido
and here I am at the finishing corner!

the finish line is a zoo
the finish line is a zoo!

the finishing order flashes on the jumbotron
the stage results flash up on the jumbotron
congratulations to Frank Schleck and Vincenzo Nibali almost won another

Lance and Levi celebrate
Lance and Levi celebrate
Levi wins his third consecutive Amgen Tour of California, pretty impressive
and Lance is baack!

And so Franck Schleck wins the stage, and Levi wins the GC overall for the third consecutive year.  This was by all accounts the most difficult, strongest, best attended Amgen Tour of the four, with strong momentum carrying it into next year.  What will we see?  Who knows.  I've even heard talk of making it two weeks - now that would be cool.

One thing I really want to go back and mention is Floyd Landis.  Yeah, it was cool to see him back in the peloton, and yeah, he hasn't ridden competitively for two+ years and was a bit off form, and yeah, he definitely didn't have the strongest team.  But don't forget for one minute he is riding on an artificial hip!  I mean, how cool is that?  For a professional athlete to be in competition at the top of his sport with an artificial hip is amazing.

All in all it was an amazing experience.  I've spent the last three days in full-on "cycling mode", I need to go back to normal now :)

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