The Tour of California has been pushing hard for the credibility to call itself a premier stage race, and to be worthy enough to lure the stars of July away from the Giro d’Italia. The course has always been mountainous, but never a true uphill stage finish [unless you call last year’s finish at Big Bear a ‘climb’- ed.] . This year though, it was a different story. The inclusion of the monster 25 mile, 6550 ft finishing ascent of Mount Baldy gave the race a very different personality.
Contributed by Scott Lundy
By the time the pros reach Glendora, ready to assault the first true mountaintop finish in AtoC history, they will have 50 miles and one 3000ft climb behind them. I had the long and arduous ascent out of the car, but nonetheless felt ready for the challenge ahead:
If it’s worth going up 25 miles, it’s bound to be worth going down 25 miles…
As I was to find out, this ride began with the Dr Jekyll climb. From the shady suburb of Glendora, the riders will head straight up and out toward the snow caps towering high above (for now). This is a favorite climb for locals, as well as the San Dimas stage race, and it’s easy to understand why. Nearly 7 miles at 5.4%, coupled with a terrific road surface and stunning views make for a climb even Mario Cipollini might have enjoyed:
Big sweeping American hairpins deposit you onto the next straightaway, and each one gives a better view of the Los Angeles skyline you’re about to leave behind:
Bob Seger’s Hollywood Nights was my subconscious soundtrack, as I rode for miles and miles up those twisting turning roads, higher and higher and higher I climbed. For a tourist at least, it’s close enough…
My complacency with this wonderful piece of tarmac gave me the impression this won’t be the knockout blow for stage seven. This climb should be easy for the lightweight chrono-men. I looked around, and could envision Leipheimer, Zabriskie, Rogers, even riders like David Millar or Tony Martin staying with the bunch.
Much of the day’s route traces the LA reservoir system, making for some fantastic scenery
Even in March, snow was still abundant at elevation.
LA was soon out of sight, and the focus switches from city lying below to mountains looming above. Glendora Mountain road levels out, and crosses onto the single best piece of road ever made. Bold statement that probably is, but I would like to personally congratulate the chap at Caltrans who decided this ridgeline needed a road perfectly adapted to each and every contour of the earth’s surface. Seeing it wind into the distance should be enough to get any cyclist on the next flight to LAX.
Come on… whoever designed this was a cyclist. Or should be…
Even better is its single lane width, and better still the absolute serenity of the place. Traffic was nonexistent, and the whole package has the air of an obscure European mountain road.
Even with the omnipresent California sun however, there is a dark side to this beauty. The relentless changes in elevation are, in the words of Sean Kelly: “Leg breakers”. The pros will have already tackled well over 5000ft on the day, and if any team has enough riders left in the front group to set the pace, expect to see ejected riders scattered all along the ridge road. This could be tailor made for a “SHUT UP LEGS” moment…
As with any reference to Jekyll, there is always a Hyde to come. For all the smooth and gentle that came with the Glendora Climb, the final ascent to the Ski area of Mt Baldy is exactly the opposite.
This sign may as well say “Bring a bag for your legs.”
Climbing over 2000ft in just 4.3 miles, Baldy averages 9%. But statistics never tell the whole story. With a plateau and short descent skewing that number, double digit gradients are the order of the day, with hairpins readily approaching 20%.
School buses and I were the only disturbances in Baldy today, but expect thousands to descend on race day (and they did!). No doubt of the entire AtoC route, this is the primetime viewing station…
If not our speed of ascent, I feel the pros and I will find a common thread on this climb… the sudden realization that 20 miles of steady climbing did a lot more to our legs than previously thought. The road surface is poor, vegetation desolate, gradient relentless. The scenic vistas have all but disappeared, headwind is blasting, and it’s a 12% death march to the finish line. A sign marking 5000ft comes much sooner than we think it should, a small consolation as we press onward.
Some 200m past where my legs gave up, the road mercifully flattens out, and I’m instantly filled with anticipation of watching the stars of cycling retrace my steps.
The Col d’Izoard is one of my all time favorite climbs. It’s challenging, and rewards your hard work with views as captivating as a royal wedding, and descents as entertaining as Vegas. Glendora, I thought was another great one. Baldy is none of these things. It’s straight up nasty. Maybe it’s my early season fitness (for us Canadians, that’s actually pre-season), but this was tough. But in retrospect, a terrific accomplishment, highly accessible, and a great way to get closer to America’s biggest stage race.
Gratuitous shot of accomplishment…
Scott spends most summers desperately avoiding category upgrades, but can otherwise be found seeking the world’s best cycling routes and maintaining a family dental practice in Kingston, Canada.