A few folks may know that I (frequent lurker, infrequent poster) rode L'Etape due California a few weeks ago, an amateur sportive that traced the full route of the Tour of California Stage 7, the infamous Baldy summit at the ski lifts. It was ridiculously hard for me, but I finished this year (almost half of the 1000 registered riders didn't finish). So, when the pros finally hit the slopes of Mt. Baldy, I wanted to see if they hurt anything like I did.
They hurt too, I'm pleased to report.
And I mean that in most respectful, share-the-masochism kind of way.
I rode up essentially the 2nd half of the race yesterday and watched the first KoM point, where Horner and friends sped through with the break cresting the KoM at very high speed. Massive crowds, great energy, everything I think race organizers would want from a Queen Stage.
Later I rode to the 1 km banner just below the ski lifts, picked out a shady spot across from a trio of guys in various states of afro wigs, capes, lucha va voom mexican wrestler masks, and a strange baby outfit. The road to Mt. Baldy Village is a good stiff climb, but beyond the village to the ski lifts is about 4 miles (~6.5 km) that average about 10% with many pitches at 15% and a series of soul-sucking / fun switchbacks so steep on the inside corner that motorcycles regularly stall out on the turns (cyclists too...). At 1 km, the road straightens out and it's pretty much a straight ramp to the top ski lift parking lot -- it's straight but deceiving -- as steep if not more than any of the switchbacks, and the straightaway shot wreaks havoc on your mental state because it doesn't look like it should be so hard.
This is where Gesink caught Atapuma, then they did some swerving on the relatively flat but horribly pot-hole ridden twists into the parking lot at the base of the ski lifts.
As we cheered the racers heading under the 1 km flamme rouge, Atapuma looked like he was chugging away, but with no energy. Gesink was just behind him struggling to catch and putting out full force. Horner looked spent, he knew his effort wasn't going to pay off for anything. Zabriskie looked like he knew it was over. Tejay looked cooked. Hincapie looked good, actually. One Columbia rider had to start switchbacking up the road. Many riders had a glazed, far off stare, as they say in Italian, "lo sguardo di sette mille". Just let it be over with... As the grupetto rolled past bringing up the rear 25 minutes after the leaders, I caught the eye of a young Rabobank rider and yelled out "It's hard, isn't it?" He just dropped his head and shook it, and muttered " F*#&!"
And so now, I didn't feel so bad about my own struggles up the mountain, and yet also felt inspired by how fast those pros can do it, and know I can do a bit better next time -- all the while appreciating even more the pro riders from the first across the line to the lanterne rouge.