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A Fan's Eye View of San Marcos Pass
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 2/25/2006
A Fan's Eye View of San Marcos Pass
When you love cycling and a tour

When you love cycling and a tour comes to your hometown, it's a given that you're going to go and watch the stage. But when the tour actually comes right into your backyard, so to speak, it's impossible to not let your son skip school and meet up with family on the KOM of the last climb. I travel the San Marcos Pass over three hundred days a year and stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California was coming right up that same route before it descended to the ocean front of Santa Barbara.

A quick trip down Highway 101 after the start in San Luis Obispo became a game of "beat the road closures," as the California Highway Patrol were taking extra precautions and closing the roads early. But I waved my press pass and had my resident's drivers license in hand just in case I got some flack. No flack, and I was heading for the top.

The San Marcos Pass is a winding pass that goes by Lake Cachuma straight into Santa Barbara. The views over your shoulder as you ascend the grade are simply stunning. It's a view I see everyday, but as I drove to the top, I kept wondering what the cyclists would think of it. Most of the time they claim they don't view much besides the wheel in front of them, but I was still in my car and I was trying hard to view it all with fresh eyes.

There were hundreds of people that rode their bikes to the top of the climb. It isn't often that the pass is closed to through traffic, so cyclists were taking advantage of a rare opportunity to do the climb. Sometimes in winter we have big storms and rock slides occur and the road washes away....oh, wait, it is winter. I almost forgot: it's February. Who could tell?

There were bikes galore with only the most fit cyclists being able to make all the way to the top. I presume the lower slopes were filled with riders that didn't have the inclination or the stamina to make it to the KOM at 2155 feet above sea level (and you do start at sea level in Santa Barbara).

My friend Kathy rode her bike all the way up. She was so happy to meet us on the top and share the fun of a stage race KOM. We laughed about forgetting to bring some chalk so we could draw on the road. But my ever-clever husband came up with some pieces of sandstone that worked just fine for street painting, so Kathy got busy and wrote the name of one of our favorite cyclists right across the street. Sure enough, a little while later Jens came across his name in one of the leading groups. We're sure he had nothing better to do than read it.

Some cyclists worked so hard they had to plant themselves dead center in the middle of San Marcos Pass to eat a little lunch and enjoy the view. My many years of commuting have never afforded me that exact view on the pass. If they had forgotten their sandwiches, they could have had free pancakes at the Protech skin care booth, or chowed on some Clif Bars that were being passed out to the crowd. Other freebies were shirts from Clif, hats from Toyota-United Pro and cowbells from Protech and Amgen.

Waiting for a race can take a few hours since you have to go before the road closes. Finding things to pass the time and entertain oneself is somewhat of a challenge but always fun. I like to people-watch, so seeing the gal dressed up like a friendly devil was entertaining, as was the ever-present Specialized Angel. The angel was everywhere all week at the race, and liked to blow kisses to the riders from the top of the climb. My friend Tim had ridden his bike up to the top and was rewarded with meeting the angel. And it was a little ironic that this same Tim was an original designer for the Stump Jumper built by Specialized.

It gets close to race time when you see the helicopters in the sky. A little buzz starts filtering through the crowd that the riders are coming and people move closer to the middle of the road.

Police and race cars come by next, moving the crowds to the sides, but as soon as they pass the people move back in. Everyone wants to be close to the riders and everyone wants a good view. As the riders appear the crowds part and everyone rings their cowbells. It's loud and rowdy and everyone is having a good time...including this little guy who decided that if he let out a good howl he could contribute to the fun.

The riders go by in groups, and sometimes with a little difficulty we recognize who the rider is and scream out his name. They are working so hard by now, but a nice long downhill is soon to be their reward as they crest the hill and disappear from our sight as they speed for the finish line in Santa Barbara.

It was a good day of cycling and we're all happy we made our way to the King of the Mountain on San Marcos Pass. Family, friends and cycling are high on my list of the best things in life.

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