Stage 8 – Finale

We stayed overnight in Rancho Bernardo, and the race actually starts here too, so we didn’t really have to get up too early. However, the transfer ride from Pasadena to Rancho Bernardo was really long. It wore out a lot of us, due in part to the traffic getting out of LA County, but in another sense, because, as Christian VandeVelde put it, “It was a very very hard day”.

Xavier rounded up the troops for one final speech to all the Traveling Course Marshalls. It was really more of what to do when we wrap it up today after the race, and how we are to get home.

Today’s day was even harder than yesterday on the riders. It featured 4 KOM climbs, of which we worked on two of them. The first climb was on Hihgland Valley Road, which was a Cat 4 climb. My drop off was actually after the KOM climb, and down in the farm fields, by the orange trees. I was dropped off at Bandy Canyon and Academy, and when I first got there, there was no one. I thought, great … I’m going to have no one at my station. However, people started coming in at the last minute, and instead of having a lonely desolate intersection, I was surrounded by around 30 fans ( most of which didn’t know anything about cycling). There was a school nearby, and that’s where all the kids came from. The only person they knew was Lance, and no matter how many times I tried to explain the sport of cycling to them, they had no clue.

I came by with a stash of cowbells, and started handing them out, one kid after another, until I just decided to put the whole bag out in the open, and let them have at it. In retrospect, I should have saved a few for my next drop, which I thought would be even bigger, and it was.

At this intersection, there were some really angry locals. Apparently, they claim there were no signs posted warning them that this street would be closed and that access would be limited. I talked to the organizer for the LOC’s here, and she did mention they did not do a very good job at giving ample warnings, so this is definitely something they’ll want to address for next year.

We followed the course until we could find a short cut, and eliminate the entire Palomar Mountain climb. We then proceeded to our next drop off, which was at the last KOM, at Cole Grade. The Technical Guide lists this as only a Cat 4 … but that’s the hardest Cat 4 anyone has ever climbed. This hill was steep … really steep … and it was hard. The only saving grace was that it wasn’t too long.

When we got there, there were already a lot of people waiting there. Roads were full of chalk already, fans were lined up on both sides of the street … The big challenge here was to get everyone to clear the course when the riders came up. This climb immediately reminded me of Balcolm, but something tells me this is even tougher, even though I never climbed Cole Grade. I would get all the usual questions … how long … where are they … how far … but at least this was definitely more of a cycling crowd, who knew how road cycling works. There was this young couple that kept taking pictures of each other, standing in the middle of the street, with the Cole Grade descent, or ascent, floating in the background. Once or twice is great, but they must have done this 10 times … enough already!

When the pelaton finally came through, everybody kept want to lean over, and everyone was inching their way onto the course. I don’t know how many times I asked them “Please stay behind the white line”. What is it about this phrase that people don’t understand. “Can’t you hear the words that are coming out of my mouth”? Thankfully, there was no issues, and the race went through smoothly. The LOC there at least was not a “Camera Club” LOC, and instructed her to make sure fans don’t go onto the course … but that was a losing battle. She wasn’t being forceful with them, but at least she wasn’t taking pictures through all of this. I almost felt like John Madden, pacing up and down the sidelines, trying to coach his way out of a mess. My voice doesn’t carry that well, and when I started yelling “Can you please get off the course”, it didn’t carry well.

The split on this climb was crazy. There was at least a 14 minute gap between the first rider and the last rider. I almost felt like this was the Alp d’Huez. The scenery was breathtaking, and the cliffs suddenly drops, similar to that in France. Although this was only a Category 4 climb, I think this ended up splitting the group more than the HC climb on Mt. Palomar. Kind of ironic, but there it is.

I tried hooking up with some friends at the finish, but things were just too crazy. I was able to snag another water bottle from Jelly Belly, which was cool.

Now, the next chore is to get back to my hotel room. Since some of the course marshalls were leaving immediately after the race, all the vans were stripped down, and we had to carry everything with us to the van that we would take to the hotel. It just happens that the van we went on had no driver. After about 15 minutes, we found out the driver hopped onto another van as a passenger. We had no driver . WTF???? We eventually found our way back, but that could have been ugly.

Anyhow, in retrospect, this was a great experience for me. I have always wanted to get the feel of what it is like to put on an elite bicycle racing tour, and you couldn’t ask for a better situation than this. I am truely honored to be able to do this, and many thanks to my friend Lynn, my contact from the inside. I want to thank Xavier, for putting up with my frequent emails, inquiring on my status as a traveling course marshall. And I especially want to thank Larry, my team captain, and the rest of my team …. Kellie, Russ, Dave, Karen, Brian, John, Pauline, and Nick. We had a really good team, and everyone got along great together. We all acted goofy while we were driving to our intended destination, but we all knew exactly what we wanted to accomplish. I could not have asked for a better set of teammates, and I really hope our paths do cross again soon.

Larry did say that I should do Tour of Missouri, and I thought that was an high endorsement. I want to thank Larry for such a huge complement, and it looks like I didn’t screw up. I think I will show interest in doing the Tour of Missouri, and hope I get invited to that, and to next year’s Tour of California.

I hope you enjoyed my daily blogs on this.

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