On Saturday the Julie and I piled the kids into the car for a ride out to the top of Palomar Mountain, site of the major climb of this year’s Amgen Tour of California on the last stage of the race. I think that it’s safe to assume that Palomar will be the most popular viewing spot for locals since this will be the first time the race has visited deprived San Diego cycling fans on their own turf. The problem is, there’s limited access and it’s not like there are parking spaces lining the narrow two ane access road all the way up to the top. Our plan was to see the climb from a fans point of view and get some idea of what we will need to do to watch the race from a decent spot on the climb without too much stress.
Now if you promise to save us a spot if we’re running late that morning, I’ll let you know what I found out. OK?
As a preamble to all of this, just remember that this is just friendly advice from a fan who scoped out the course. I don’t know exactly what the authorities have planned in regards to access to the mountain or what other fans are planning. From my experience riding the climbs in the Alps during the Tour de France back in 2000, many camp out on the mountain sides to reserve their spots. Will US fans do the same? The CHP seems to think so.
The first thing to note is the road closure schedule. There are big signs posted throughout the race route like the one above one stating that the roads will be closed beginning at 9:00am. I called the number and it goes to the ATOC general info line. My guess, if you’ll be trying to head up the mountain for viewing spot, plan to be heading up South Grade road before that – probably much earlier. Once you’re on the road climbing up, I can’t see the authorities making you turn around. Unless, of course, the road is already jam packed with cars and fans. An alterative is parking at the bottom and hiking up by foot or bike. Given that the signs also state that the roads will be closed until 5:00pm, you might want to look into that last option to make a quicker get away. From the summit businesses’ new blog:
- GET HERE EARLY! Estimates are that 4000+ people will line the uphill portion of the race on S-6 (South Grade Rd.)
- The CHP has stated that S-6 will be closed from 9 AM to 5 PM to vehicular traffic. S-6 will stay closed until 5 PM.
- Bicycles will be allowed to ride on S-6 after 9 AM until approximately 60 min prior to estimated arrival of the first rider.
- S-7 will be closed from 11 AM to 5 PM, but will likely open 60 min after race passes in reality. This will be the only paved road down Palomar.
- Highway 76 will be closed from 11 AM until 5 PM
- IMPORTANT: CHP has stated that there is “NO WAY IN HECK” you can get to the finish line in Escondido so don’t bother rushing back. The race course loops back onto Highway 76.
Good to see that bikes will be allowed on the roads after 9:00am up until 60 min prior to estimated race arrival, so plan on having the bike be a part of your, um, plans for that day.
The access roads (S-6 and S-7) themselves offer limited parking along the way up. It’s just a two lane road with mostly mountain wall on one side and guard rails on the other. Occasionally there is a turn out spot that might accomodate a few cars. Will any of you be planning to camp out there overnight?
So where to park on the mountain? At the summit, there is a small shopping area with a general store, Mother’s Kitchen restaurant and the post office. That’s really the only game in town (or on the mountain literally) for miles. Here’s what their new blog says (I recommend you bookmark their site for the latest info leading up to the race):
- The summit businesses (www.palomarsummit.com) will offer limited parking for a $10 fee on a first come/first serve basis.
- Remote parking will also be provided before 9 AM on a location less than a mile from the Summit just before the 5000’ elevation marker. Look for the sign on the right. Sign up on our website and we will provide bleacher seating if the demand is high and weather permits.
- Roadside parking will be limited to turn outs along the racecourse. CHP expects RVs to start lining S-6 as early as Friday night, which they will allow, but they will not let anyone inhibit the roadway and will enforce this beginning Friday night. (Both wheels must be off the road is what I heard, and less “off-road worthy” vehicles may be challenged here)
- Roadside parking will also be limited to turnouts on top of the mountain past the racecourse along State Park Road and the road to the Observatory. Bring your bikes so you can find a place to park and ride to a place to view the race. (I second the “bring your bikes part” since there’s a lot of parking available leading up to the observatory and a bike makes it much more manageable.)
I spoke with Johnny at Mother’s Kitchen about their festivities planned for that day (and for those that will be camping out that weekend). I learned that Johnny has a long history in the bike industry (mostly in the Santa Cruz, CA area) and is a great guy. Said he’d been going to Interbike “since about 1973″ (about 10 years before there was an Interbike, btw). You should check their site for details, but activities include their “mile high block party” at “KOM Race Central” at the summit. They have limited space, but they are taking reservations for up to 56 people for VIP spots at the restaurant all day. TV coverage and in-out priviliges all day and access to warm homestyle food. They’ll also have an outdoor beer garden with local micro-brews and big screen TV action and for after the race passes (looks like VS. TV coverage begins at 2:00pm that day, unfortunately). Racers are expected to start hitting the summit at 1:30pm on Sunday.
Another plan Johnny’s been working on is a bleacher viewing area. They have access to a spot about a mile from the summit down S-6 (South Grade Rd) at the 5000′ elevation that could accomodate a bleacher and parking. If they can get a minimu of 50 people to reserve spots, they will order the bleachers. It’s a great spot on a sweeping curve with a parking area. With enough interest, he may be able to get a second bleacher there as well. Would be $20 each and $10 for parking. Give them a call at 760.742.4233 to show interest. Also, if your company is interested, he’d love to hear from you about setting up a tent in their expo area at the summit.
One last tidbit from Johnny: the potential for snow on the mountain in February is good. There was still some snow lining the sides of the road leading up to the summit on Saturday that my kids loved playing in. If it snows between now and then, it could make for an epic stage.
When we got up to the summit, who was waiting for us there? Why, it was Floyd Landis and his whole Team Ouch. I pulled over, grabbed the camera and introduced myself and hammed it up a bit for a photo with them. Nice bunch of guys. The team mechanic (I think) gave me a souvenir of the occasion: a Team Ouch ball cap. Thanks, guys! Know who I’m rooting for now…
After heading back down, we drove the rest of the course to the finish in downtown Escondido which included a nasty little climb up Cole Grade Road. That’s no slouch of a climb condsidering you just climbed Palomar. Hopefully, the race overall will still be in contention on this stage as the racing could be awesome on this course if they’re still fighting it out. Long way to go after Palomar to the finish…
Here are a few more photos of our little trip:
Burned trees from the last wildfires that went through here in 2007 lined the road up Palomar.
Beware of cow signs are posted all the way up. Racers, you’ve been warned. Have to admit we didn’t see any cows.
Shopping area at the summit of Palomar with Mother’s Kitchena dn general store. “KOM Race Central” on February 22.
My 6 year old modeling the Team Ouch cap they gave me. Note the Palomar Observatory in the background. The observatory is worth the trip. The enormous telescope is impressive to see. Unfortunately, you can’t get a peek through it…
My kids playing in the snow at the summit. Snow is very common up there in February.
Sign outsiode the observatory. It’s a few miles up the mountain on S-6 past the race summit.
The very top of Palomar at 5,550 ft (1,692 meters) at the end of S-6.