Monday, February 02, 2009

Tour of California - 2009 Palomar Predictions

This year is the first year (I hope not the only one) that the Tour of California goes over Palomar Mountain. When I first heard that ToCA would hit Palomar, I just assumed that they'd end the stage there. It would be a spectacular and tough finish, on par with any Grand Tour mountain top finish.

I did lament the lack of space at the top for all the finish line stuff, the various team spots, facilities, power, VIP tents, etc.

The organizers, though, decided that Palomar would be an appetizer, not the main course. I suppose this makes sense logistically as well as from a race point of view. February shouldn't be one of 20 km climbs to a tough mountaintop finish. It ought to be one where guys can work on form, not worry about losing an hour at the finish.

So I checked out the course. And, wow, what a course.

First off, there's East Grade (aka Palomar), about 12-16 miles of climbing (depending on whose map you check out). Although Palomar proper is about 7 miles, there's a lot of climbing leading up to East Grade.

A quick descent down South Grade (wide, gentle curves), a run down 76, then a left turn onto the viscious, steep (more so than Palomar) Cole Grade. Rollers leading to Lake Wohlford - the descent off Wohlford is pretty crazy, although if the road is closed I suppose it won't be too bad. Narrow, lots of Jersey barriers last year, tight blind turns.

Unless something weird happens, I think a small group will be away at the top of Palomar (small = like 20 or so). This includes the guys regrouping on the descent. The pre-climb to Palomar sees a bit more wind so the climbers will want to stay sheltered. This means the field will want to stay together, with the strong teams and lone climbers near or at the front. Then Palomar and the tree protected climb... attack attack.

I just read that Floyd flies up Palomar.

Okay, now I have to rethink things. If it takes Floyd 29 minutes (!!) to climb Palomar, I can't see more than a 1 to 5 minute gap to much of the field at the top of Palomar. Many of those riders should be able to close that down before Cole.

The descent off Palomar is not super steep so it encourages chasing as a group. If I were a Jens Voight type domestique (climbs reasonable and TTs like mad) then I'd fit a big ring on - 55 or so, to chase harder and to be able to chase down a 30 minute descent without spinning myself out. The roads back to Cole are reasonable too, good for chasing. Then it'll be really sharp up Cole.

Cole will split the group a bit, but not crazy so. I think the sign on the hill says 3 miles but the ToCA map says 2 miles. If it's 2 miles, that's like two Manayunks, and Manayunk is just a bump in the road to the pros. Mind you, that's basing it on a 29 minute Palomar, or a 53x15 Manayunk kind of rider (Raul Alcala, back in the day).

Some nasty (good for attacking, not for chasing) rollers on Cole but it's mainly fast to the end, Valley is fast, both good for shutting down gaps that open up on Cole. Wohlford is reasonable but lots of twisty descending for the second half, not really a road for a chasing field. The roads after that are wide open, flat, fast, good for chasing. So it would seem that pros would be able to close down quite a gap after Cole.

Who knows, it might be a sprint finish! Imagine that - Boonen (or Cavendish) winning the mountain stage in the ToCA.

heh When I searched "Tour of California, Palomar" to get the course, this SDC post ended up third on the list (Google).

5 comments: said...

Good write up. I think, if a group of 20 climbers crest Palomar with any significant time they wont be caught. In that group the stage winner will attack on Cole. It will come down to 3 man sprint at the finish. That's my prediction. I'm so excited, and trying to figure out should I go up Palomar or stay down and watch the finish. What would you do?

GMF said...

The race actually goes up South Grade (S-6) and descends East Grade Road (S-7). SG has tight switchbacks on the way up. Just drove the course over the weekend and it's a long slog into Escondido post Palomar. And Cole Grade is a tough little climb - esp after Palomar. This is Floyd's backyard. He knows it well and has something to prove...

Anonymous said...

I live on Palomar and am offering parking spots at my house for a donation to out local school (I am the teacher). My house is .6 miles from the summit on crestline rd. Our students will also be selling drinks and baked goods! Email me if you're interested!



Anonymous said...

hey aki.

been following your blog for awhile now and i really enjoy reading it.
I thought i would just leave my two cents on the winner of the prologue. I go to university in BC, Canada, and the name svein tuft is pretty much a legend around here. I believe he will beat cancellara in the prologue. There is a really amazing article on him that I am sure you will find interesting from the New York Times:

enjoy watching the race,


Anonymous said...

just rode Palomar yesterday, Wednesday. it's going to be an exciting one to watch on the up & down. South is perfect for the up as it has a lot of switchbacks. it reminds me of climbs in the Pyrenees or as others have said Alp d Huez. the descent down E will be really really fast. I agree with GMF re the long slog to Escondido. much further than you would think & there will be opportunity to catchup for the others.