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
my base - Lake Henshaw Resort
the South Grade is closed!...
... but not for bikes - up we go!
crowds line the entire route
the higher we go, the thicker the crowds
at 4,000' - just 1,200 left :)
the views of the valley below are stunning
snow - yikes!
and even a snowman in a Livestrong jersey
the KOM summit (not the top however)
massive crowds - an amazing scene
yay me! - at the KOM line
and here's the real top of Palomar...
plenty of snow at the top - and it is cold
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 rides up the valley floor!
there's a breakaway with eight riders
they are charging up the hill at amazing speed
the break reaches the summit
four Saxo riders have Levi Leipheimer isolated, but he's right there
up and over - four Saxos, Levi, a Liquigas rider, George Hincapie, and two Garmins
Christian Vandevelde leads a chase group which includes Lance Armstrong
the peloton is shattered and dribbles over the top
Mr. Floyd Landis' group
I was hoping he'd attached on his mountain, but he didn't have it
I'm descending with the peloton!
they soon drop me, but it was cool
(and watch out for that snow runoff)
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 stage results flash up on the jumbotron
congratulations to Frank Schleck and Vincenzo Nibali almost won another
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 :)