There has been one pilgrimage in life that has kept me from being whole which has been taking part of the Mount Baldy Stage at the Tour of California.
To me, this is the most special day of racing in all of cycling.
I’ve already called this the most iconic climb in Los Angeles, but beyond the local bias, it provides for the most dynamic twenty-ish minutes leading to the race’s finale.
It’s only four and a half miles, but this section hits riders in so many ways that no GC contender can stick to a game plan.
Halfway up, the lead group sheds down to single digits and whatever watts you were planning to use gets thwarted by a number of attacks.
The Tour of California typically holds the Baldy Stage every other year and I finally put my foot down saying I’d be there come hell and high water.
Friday’s adventure began with cohorts Vic and Babak meeting me in NoHo taking the subway to Union Station where I’d join up with Brian, Mike and and unintended Austen from Pure Cycles.
Getting ready to board the Gold Line at Union Station
Our timing for making the Gold Line was perfect and by 9:15am we made it out to Azusa on our way to Glendora Mountain Road.
Sierra Madre Blvd is the typical way of making it through, but we were cognizant of cops as it turned out a few extra patrols were out and about handing out tickets.
Staring off up Glendora Mountain Road
I could see by the dozens of riders on the road that this was going to be a special turnout.
Making our way up GMR, the gate being closed may seem like a nuisance for people wanting to lift their bike over, but knowing the road would be completed closed to cars is a tradeoff anyone would take.
I’m pretty sure they opened this gate at some point
Like the recent, unexpected butterfly migration, there were so many people biking up that it was hard to comprehend.
We were out there early enough that everyone around could keep their pace and still be far ahead of the women’s race.
A lot of riders pulled over as the views opened up
I chose to bring my Niner RLT because it was the proper balance of performance, comfort and carrying enough goods comfortable up over 5k feet of climbing.
About halfway up the climb, we passed by 83 year old Robert Paganini who only gets younger in humor over the years.
Local legend Robert Paganini
This climb gets special in it’s second half as you jump over to the other side of the ridge and open up to the San Gabriel Mountains.
It’s not an extremely challenging climb, but there’s enough twist and turns near the top that you always forget how much further you need to go.
As we made it to the KOM marker and the peak of this climb, a good group was already assembled ready to wait the women’s group which was about a half hour behind us.
Spectators assembling for the women’s first QOM of the day
The next six miles is a series of rollers as the road loses its centerline transforming into Glendora Ridge Road.
This is just a fun section of road as you whip in and out of turns with incredible views of the road ribboning towards the area’s highest peaks.
Quite the ribbon
It’s a true balance of ripping it and having the urge to pull over to take it all in.
The upcoming four mile climb sneaks up on you as you slowly transition into 6% wondering for many strokes if this is the start.
Our group was a bit split apart, but it’s one of those cases where no one is going to get lost and there’s plenty of help around.
Any great spot to take in the views were always filled
GRR is blanketed by more forest the deeper you go working as a proper distraction.
A little after hitting the peak, a number of people were assembled at a prime viewing spot.
The women would be coming through in twenty minutes descending towards their climb to Baldy while the men would come up the opposite way forty minutes later for their first KOM points of the day.
Rapha set up a truck with coffee and cycling wear that had a constant line waiting to join in.
It was a tad chaotic at the top…
The vantage point wasn’t the best waiting for the women to come through because it would be flat enough that they’d be booking it without much of a chance to figure out what was happening.
After the fanfare of the lead vehicles making it through, a select group of three riders made their way past and thanks to the unique stars and stripes jersey, I knew who it was.
Local Coryn Rivera is best know for her sprinting, so to see her part of this front group was a pleasant surprise.
Coryn Rivera proudly wearing her red, white and blue
Unfortunately, the following group was plentiful and less than two minutes behind meaning odds of the breakaway sticking was small.
Just like any other race, riders kept filtering passing by not going full gas having already done their work for their team leaders for the day.
The chase wasn’t too far behind
As other spectators followed behind, I almost didn’t notice a rider from Boels – Dolmans stopped across the street.
She had some type of mechanical and had difficulty getting help on the road.
Shortly after, a Sunweb rider came up having rear wheel problems and asked if she had the right type of wheel they could swap, and then resorted to asking fans trying to find something compatible.
Don’t mind me. I’m just stranded.
While the treatment at this race is better than most, the Tour of California still has a way to go to make both fields treated fairly.
After the sweep car passed, we headed towards the other side of the KOM sign where the men would be climbing before they looped back down.
Already, there were hundreds perched along the ledge ready to welcome the group.
Fans assemblying near the top of GRR
There were plenty of friends to catch up with making the time pass quickly.
For some reason, this stretch of road seemed to catch a good amount of sunlight which was a rare, warm welcome for the day.
Before I knew it, the race procession could be seen on Mount Baldy Road below as police motorcycles cleared the way.
It was a bit abstract from this vantage point seeing the riders zip on the only downhill of this climb to see their progress almost halted by the following hill.
Like ants on Mount Baldy Road
Seeing them come into view was a bit deceiving, as it would still take another twelve minutes for the group to make it to our spot.
I thought the inside of the road would be a good spot to get pictures, but the lead group of eight went by so fast that I knew getting enough good shots of the peloton would be tough.
GRR Break Coming!!!
When the main group sped by, I had no idea who was who, but after the group passed, I reliably guessed Mark Cavendish would be somewhere way back (which he was).
With the end of the caravan passing, there was a casual urgency for everyone to move to the next vantage point as the race wouldn’t return back to this spot for a couple more hours.
Richie Porte & Peter Stetina making the Trek up GRR
Descending down GRR was a little nervous as number of people were walking in the middle of the road mixed in with cyclists who wanted to see how fast they could go.
At the bottom of the junction at Mount Baldy Road, it was a quite a mess to get through with traffic officers doing their best to keep order.
I knew the Village would be a mess and riding by with a caravan of spectators and team vans trying to get through made me wonder if the area would clear when the race came by.
Mount Baldy Village backup
The Lodge would have been a great place to eat, but figuring it would be enormously crowded, we made our way up the mountain.
Bullhorn Pub sits on the outskirts of “town” and is rarely open, but there were people sitting out on the porch and when else would I ever have the opportunity of killing a couple of hours.
Still living the high life
While a burning fireplace offered comfort, the interior is still a work in progress and other than some beer and a few spirits, the venue had little to offer other than a nice view.
Getting back on the bike felt like a slog, but this section of road always feels like a false flat.
Where’s Waldo going?
Riding with my jacket on, it became clear that while gaining elevation it was also getting colder as well.
Turning past Icehouse Canyon, the road steepens just a bit more before hitting the infamous switchbacks.
I didn’t quite remember how far up our destination of Phil Gaimon’s Cookie Corner was set up, but fortunately I could hear Jared drumming not too far past the first turn.
Jared Shavelson needs less time on the drums, more on the bike
With about fifty minutes until the lead group would make it’s way, you could already tell the party had been brewing for quite some time.
Music pumping, costumes, naked dancing and a number of tents was a bit disorienting compared to this area’s typical setting.
In all this madness, Phil picked me out riding by and called me aside to say hi.
Phil doing cookie intervals
With all his internet popularity, it seems like it hadn’t been that long since we last saw each other in person, but in reality it probably was at the last Cookie Fondo in October we last crossed paths?
A lot of friends we have in common were there too giving plenty of time to catch up, including my Strava arch-nemesis Michael Muhney.
This could be the kiss of death from Michael Muhney
We had a long nerd-like talk about this one KOM I took that has confounded us both with the variety of ways this climb punches you and how to strategically attack it.
In a way, this made me thing of action we had ahead of us, with the switchbacks providing inconsistent tests of power leading to race dynamics that cannot be planned for.
This cyclist got the biggest cheer of the day at Cookie Corner
As we awaited, my lightly-clothed group was getting colder and thinking about leaving, but with the race only ten minutes away and our train scheduled at a much later time, I convinced them that taking off early was pointless.
Slowly, the race caravan started making its way up stopping by joining in on the party.
At this point, the frenzy had heated up enough that I decided to move up the road a little bit, not knowing how much of a mosh pit the corner would be.
From my new vantage point, I could see a couple miles below the progress the race was making, but you know it’s go time when the TV helicopter arrives.
With less than four miles left, the field has been greatly reduced
I could see from below there was a sole leader, but I couldn’t make out who he was, let alone what team he was riding for.
About a minute behind was a select group of a dozen with four EF Education teammates at the front easy to make out with their glowing pink and purple kits.
It took about three minutes for the procession to pass me seeing the Bora – hansgrohe leader still in front.
Maximilian Schachmann temporarily the leader
As the lead group came by, I decided there was ample space to run by.
Even though I was able to keep pace for about twenty seconds, I had no idea what was going on in the race.
I could guess that Pogacar, Porte and Bennett were part of this group, but I couldn’t make out what was happening with EF at the time.
It was at this point that 2017 Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran realized his teammate and current race leader Tejay van Garderen had cracked and pulled up to retrieve him.
Do you notice the moment Uran realized his team was in trouble?
The next few riders weren’t looking to be entertained by my jokes as they were still trying to stay in the race to help teammates up ahead.
As I walked back to Cookie Corner, more and more riders appeared who had finished their race responsibilities looking to join in the fun.
Wheelies, cookies and even a beer or two was waiting for those ready to partake.
Nathan Peter Haas winning Best in Show
While the battle for the stage win was taking place above, about fifteen minutes later the large pack of riders wallowing in the back finally appeared.
Peter Sagan was tucked in the middle of this group with nary a smile to be found.
With all the climbing and winds this week threw at them, this might be the toughest Tour of California to date and it showed on their faces.
Sagan looked worn out just like the rest….
My daughter really wanted me to take a pic with Sagan, but me catching a couple from afar was the best that we could do.
After the sweep van made it through, we hustled out of there after making quick goodbyes to catch the 4:42 train out of Montclair.
We had forty minutes to ride thirteen miles which can be a bit of a stretch in an urban environment, but with most of it being downhill, it was easy to press above 30 mph.
Oodles of riders making it back down
While I was the only one who knew where we were headed, Mike and Babak got caught up in seeing how fast they could go getting too far ahead of me to know where the turn off was.
Vic and I rode together with Brian somewhere behind us catching every light that takes three minutes to get through.
With about a mile left, I joked about not getting a flat, which of course happened when I pulled up into the station.
Brian rolled in just as the Metrolink pulled up and we had a nice quiet ride back while the other two hustled to the Gold Line.
Even though there isn’t much action to take hold, the ride and the experience made for a very memorable day.
We’re very lucky to live in such a place where we can easily make a day of watching the greatest stage of racing in America.