By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The newly-designed final stage of the Amgen Tour of California has the potential for plenty of drama. If the GC riders are close together on overall time for the 11-mile ascent of Mt. Palomar north of San Diego, coming halfway through the stage, the climbing battle could be fierce. But on top of all that, winter weather has hit the top of the mountain hard, with snow and ice storms over the weekend cutting power to the Palomar Observatory and making the roads impassable.
Scott Kardel, public affairs co-ordinator for the observatory, wrote on the observatory's blog about the conditions. "Yesterday's snow storm was indeed impressive. At times the sleet was coming down with a fury that I have never seen before. The snow and sleet, combined with an intense wind, brought tree limbs and trees down, knocking out the power more than once."
Though southern California is often thought of as a mild climate, weather has always been an issue for the race, being so early in the year. Last year the now-infamous stage down Highway 1 was a torture test that made the freezing rain and sleet on the final stage over Mill Creek Summit pale in comparison.
For that final stage, race organisers were unsure if that pass would even be open as snow was forecasted. But an early morning decision was made to race over the pass and not use an alternative route. "We've gone over an area every year," Chuck Hodge, the race's technical director told Cyclingnews. Mill Creek was pretty bad last year going into Pasadena but it was passable. We sent a crew up there at 4:00am to make a judgment call."
He said that similar procedures are in place for Palomar this year. "We always have a back-up plan. Eric Smith has been working a lot on this stage and we just had an all-agency meeting about it and have great cooperation between everyone. We will asses the weather as it gets closer but it is still a week away, so we are hoping for a LOT of sunshine!"
Hodge said he has seen the conditions the past few days "We've had some pictures from up there. It's too bad Andy Hampsten isn't racing!"