Tour of CA Mt Baldy Ride Report
by Rob Verfurth
Riders: Bob P, Quoc V, Paul P, Hodges, Bill B, Peggy B, John M, Neil B and Rob
We are very fortunate to live in a vibrant cycling community that attracts world class professional races. The UCI event, Tour of California, has been running for about ten years. While it seems unlikely that Mt Palomar will be back in a stage of the race, the event always comes down to the Los Angeles area; close enough for the Descenders to plan a group ride. Stage 6 of the 2019 edition of the Tour of California happened to fall on "Bike to Work" day, so it seemed very appropriate that we all should play hooky from work and go ride.
The early meet time of 6 am at the mall did not deter the group that wanted to drive up to Glendora. We originally started with ten riders, but Don Wilson had to head back home due to a family medical issue that seemed to come out well. The nine remaining riders parked behind the middle school in the baseball parking lot and were ready to ride before 9 am.
We rolled out and covered the short flat warm-up along Sierra Madre Ave before hitting the climb of Glendora Mountain Road. The road barrier was up, so no cars were on the road as hundreds of cyclists climbed over the crossing and started the climb up towards Baldy Village. Our usual plan of descending down GMR after the first KOM marker and then back up to tackle Glendora Ridge Road had to be changed due to the addition of the UCI Women’s race scheduled just ahead of the Men’s event. The women were climbing up from their start in Ontario and expected to be at the top of GRR by about 11:30 am. Our plan was to ride all the way up to the crest of GRR to watch the ladies pass through the second KOM, on their way to Mt Baldy.
The group spread out on the climb up GMR and we regrouped at the split of GRR. Our timing still seemed good to get to the top in advance of any potential road closures as the women raced up GRR. The views and beauty of GMR and GRR are always breathtaking. It was cloudy and cool, but nice weather for climbing. We stopped at our usual spot on the crest of GRR that also allowed for viewing of the planned men’s course coming up Mt Baldy Road, riding up from San Antonio Heights.
I have worn a small pack in previous group rides watching the pro races, but I decided to keep it light today and only carry one extra water bottle. Fortunately for me, Bob P offered to be a mule and carry my flip flops and vest…both needed at the top of GRR. Bob P and Hodges were the first to the top, Neil B closely followed. We all gathered to wait for the women’s race. Hodges was staying warm in his snazzy Rapha windbreaker. I borrowed Bob’s jacket to put over my vest while draping my jersey and base layer on my bike to dry out. When the sun broke through, it was nice and warm; it stayed cloudy and cool most of the time.
The women were coming up GRR. Coryn Rivera, of Team Sunweb, led a small group of three riders over the top and sped past towards Baldy Village. Katie Hall and Anna van der Breggen, the eventual top two racers for the day, came by in the peloton soon after. The women were flying up the mountain, but still faced the tough last six miles to the top of Mt Baldy. Impressive racing for sure. After all the riders and car caravans went by we settled into a long wait for the Men’s race to climb up Mt Baldy Road. Everyone snacked, took photos and checked the race app on the status of the men.
A breakaway group of about eight men were leading the early climb. We saw the peloton snake fast up Mt Baldy Road. The leaders flew by us on their down GRR, all the way down GMR to Azusa, before making their way to the start of the GMR climb in Glendora. They would then ride the same route we took to the top of Mt Baldy. The men were early on in their race day and were flying over the top of the crest; they had lots of miles still to go. After all riders and cars went by, we got all our gear back on and prepared for the climb to the top.
It was a slow, solo effort. My legs were feeling both the early climbing and the almost two hour break period. It was cool and cloudy, getting cooler as I climbed. The road climbed up from Baldy Village and curved left at the Ice House corner. There were plenty of riders, spectators and spectacles along the curves to Mt Baldy. Traffic slowed at the Phil Gaimon Cookie Corner. I had to spin towards the center of the road to get by cars and almost stopped when a lovely lady in a Superman lycra costume offered me a cookie. I suppressed the desire and pedaled on, only about four more km to the top. Larry Tanzo was out riding that day as well. He is an old Matt Baab buddy and a great rider. Larry yelled at me at the cookie corner but I did not hear him over the din of the crowd. He spun up next to me and we chatted for a minute before he pedaled off on his second ascent of Mt Badly that day; what a stud.
My paced continued to slow but I made progress past the kilometer signs. The slight descent with about two km to go helped but I knew the final face of climbing was still ahead. The straight 400 meter "Ice Rink" face at the one km sign looked steep; it was hard. I got to the turn where things flattened out over the last half kilometer over very bumpy roads. The switchbacks to the top were all that remained of my painful climb. I saw Mike Hodges at the top and he told me Paul P and Bob P were over by the finish line. It was very cloudy and cold. I decided I could not hang at the top for an hour or more waiting for the Men’s race to finish. I told Mike I would meet them back at the car; I was heading back down.
As I speedily descended off the top, I yelled at most of the rest of the Descenders I saw finishing their climb. The spin back through Baldy Village happened fast. I climbed over the KOM at GRR and descended down. It was sunny and warming nicely as I kept looking ahead for any sign of the police vehicles leading the Men’s race. I managed to get about 20 km from the top of Mt Baldy before I had to pull to the side as the breakaway was coming around the bend. The helicopter hovered over the leaders. They sped by me with the peloton in pursuit. I snapped a few photos and waited for the later groups of riders to come through. I saw Cav and Sagan in the late group and a rider from Hagens Berman tossed me his water bottle; nice souvenir.
The road finally cleared and I sped down GRR and GMR, despite a strong headwind. Those a beautiful roads and the views of the San Gabriel Reservoir off to the west was just spectacular as the sun glistened off the water. I made good time back to the cars and finished with 55 miles and 7,800 feet of climbing. It was only 4 pm, so I knew I had a bit of a wait. I changed, stretched, relaxed and watched some of the little league baseball practices while waiting for the gang to get off the mountain. Everyone safely made it back to the cars. We loaded up and departed for home. Despite a long drive back, it was a great experience and another fun Descenders event. Lots of photos taken by several of the riders have all been placed in the photo album in the link below.