May 12, 2013 Palomar Mountain Trip: Stage 1, Tour of California

we had another EPIC day of spectating at Stage 1 of 2013 Tour of California, right in our backyard, at Mount Palomar. This was the 5th time Descenders did a ToC ride – and ToC has returned to Palomar and Greater San Diego area for the first time since 2009. 2009 has a special meaning to me personally since this is the first time I met Descenders.

We had over two dozen riders today participate in Descenders trip. The attached group photo shows 18 descenders at Mesa Grande, plus Jelger who took the photo plus Hodges and kids, John Moran, Logan, Daniel and Zach – that’s 26, not even counting Jeff’s father and friends who formed a support crew at mile 9.4. The turnout would have been even greater had it not been for Mother’s Day.

Rob and I met early in the morning to pack the support van – we left promptly at 6:45 but other cars left soon after us, in fact we saw them at Santa Ysabel when we made a brief stop. We saw a few people camping and parked on the side of the road on early slopes of East Grade but for the most part the roads were deserted. We parked at Pacheco memorial, along with Jeff and Ernst who arrived at the same time as we did.

Rob, Jeff, Ernst and I flew down the East Grade (it was chilly going through some shaded parts but I could tell it was going to be a hot day!) and saw Hodges with his kids – Sam and Francesca, followed by Jim, who all parked near Lake Henshaw. Jim turned around and joined us while the Hodges family carried on to the top. We got to Mesa Grande/76 split at the same time as most of the descenders were just arriving from Mesa Grande side (saved us the trouble of climbing it!).

Now we had a group of 19 riders: Rob, Oleg, Cresap, Len, Guido, Ernst, Geoff, Voris, Denise, Neil, Bill, Larry, Jim, Matt, Tony, Rick, Jeff L., Farkas and Jelger. John Moran, Three Hodges, as well as Daniel and Zach were already on their way to the top.

We rode together to East Grade where we broke up into smaller groups. Jim and Rick were at the front, followed by me, Neil, Matt, Farkas and Jelger. We heard a loud pop as Larry got a flat tire behind us. Soon the pace was a bit too much for Jelger, Farkas and Matt (Matt did 100 mile L’Equippe of Stage 1 just the day before, setting several notable KOMs including Full Mesa Grande from 79 to 76 and Mesa Grande descent, and so it was amazing to see him riding at all!). Neil and I stopped at mile 9.4 to get some water and chatted a bit with Jeff’s father before riding up to chase Jim and Rick. We stopped at Mothers and waited for Matt, Farkas and Jelger who were not far behind. It was only 10AM but already heating up quickly. We descended down South Grade (things got a bit dicey during descent as Matt momentarily got forced onto oncoming lane of traffic with a truck coming up around the turn – but he was quick to jump back into right lane). Matt was descending super-fast as usual, Jelger and I tried to chase him but he was too quick for us.

We turned around and started climbing South Grade – I saw many descenders zooming down, even the ones who declared they won’t be doing South Grade. I heard Voris got a flat near the top as he was descending.

For the first half of South Grade climb I was riding behind Jim and Rick (I could still see them in the distance on straightaways), and chased by Jelger. Matt decided to take it easy and he even stopped a few times in the shade to chillax. It was getting very hot! We passed a lot of riders going up, but not as many as I expected (there were less riders on Palomar than in 2009 Tour of California, even though it was held in February!) – I think Mother’s Day had something to do with it.

Near the top I was able to catch up with Jim who was obviously taking it easy. We refilled the water bottles and slowly pedaled to observatory. On the way back we ran into Guido who had a mechanical – derailleur went into the wheel resulting in a broken spoke and a flat tire. Rick quickly trued the wheel enough to get Guido riding again – and Rob and I discovered a volunteer to drive the support van back to Santa Ysabel (Guido).

When we arrived back at the support car it looked like a party town. Food and drinks, relaxing in the shade and sharing stories. Best part of the trip.
Turns out Rob blazed up South Grade, beating great climbers, such as Jelger, Larry and Farkas. I think his time was 4th out of 20+ descenders that day. I propose those peanut butter jugs of his need to be tested for doping.
We talked about how fast peloton must be riding and how Rick’s major KOMs on the course – San Pasqual Climb, Old Julian and East Grade – just to name a few major climbs, are likely to be taken over by multiple pros – in addition to Matt’s multiple Mesa Grande KOMs and Ernst’s South Grade.

We ran into many friends, including Dan and Logan, and kept ringing the cowbells for riders coming up the mountain. Some were flying up the hill, despite nearly 100F temperatures.

The race convoy cars started arriving and we got the news that breakaway with 8 minute lead was about to go through. I climbed the cliff near Pacheco Memorial (I shared my perch with professional freelance photographer, Maria, who nearly ran out of gas trying to get to Palomar). The view was breathtaking – we watched a breakaway of 3 go through, followed by another rider stuck in no-mans land, followed by rapidly closing peloton lead by BMC team. Then a few stragglers.

We quickly and efficiently folded the tents and the chairs, packed away the food, supplies and garbage and were descending (Jelger got a flat just before we left but he quickly fixed it). The descent was a bit tricky since the road was bumpy and we had a number of other riders (most slower descenders) as well as cars, but it was still fast and fun descent. We stayed together as a group through entire descent and then rode along 76, passing Hodges and kids, and picking up Zach and Daniel who left a bit before we did. On Mesa Grande climb (we just passed Bill and John Moran) I was impressed with Jelger and Tony who pushed the pace on a hot climb into the wind – Daniel and I caught up to a small group of Rick, Denise and Len, with Larry just ahead of them. We stopped at the top to regroup in the shade – Matt came charging, catching up with Jelger and Tony – despite being tired, Matt’s muscle memory kicked in. We stayed as a group through Mesa Grande, only breaking up for brief periods of time. Guido driving Rob’s van helped motorpace Zach and Daniel and provided moral support. We got back to the cars, exchanged high-fives, bought obligatory pies and were off to Poway.

After getting home and learning that Westra and Mancebo narrowly prevented Sagan from nearly inevitable victory, it was even more shocking to discover that Rick’s owned three major climbs of the day, San Pasqual, Old Julian and East Grade KOMs were NOT taken down by the pros:
Rick’s East Grade KOM survives by 45 seconds, despite the fact that this is where peloton, supported by several top teams (BMC, Cannondale) charged hard to close 8+ minute gap to the breakaway.

Matt’s Full Mesa Grande KOM was overtaken, but his Mesa Grande descent KOM (shared with Larry Tanzo) remains at the top of the leaderboard. Pros also descended faster than previously recorded strava times on South Grade (partly due to ability to take the entire road), and took down Cole Grade, Woods Valley, Wolford rollers and Lake Wohford descent KOMs, as well as many others.

That Rick’s KOMs remained unmatched by Professional Peloton containing some of the biggest stars of modern cycling (with Tour De France winner and reining World Champion) was the biggest surprise of the day for me, personally.

Photos attached (the rest are here:)

You most definitely should have come!

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