Today was exciting! We left our campground around 10 o’clock this morning and drove towards Brasstown Bald. Parking on the shoulder of 180 we had a 15 minute walk up to the spur that leads up the mountain. We paid $5 each to take a shuttle van to the lower parking lot that is 0.6 mile from the summit. Many people were walking and some people were riding the 3 miles to the lower parking lot. From the windows of the van we could see the effort on the faces of the riders. The higher we went the more bikes we saw being pushed than ridden. Bikes were not allowed higher than the lower parking lot.
In the lower parking lot the Health Expo was setup. It consisted of a bunch of booths for vendors and organizations. The giant OLN screen was also setup here. We walked from the parking lot up to the summit and I would have to say I was shocked at just how steep the road is… I mean words, stats, or pictures cannot convey the steepness. Very steep!
Just as we reached the observation tower on the summit the rain began. Not a downpour but it was a soaking kind of rain. Beneath a vacant tent that was setup just past the finish line we stayed out of the rain for a couple hours, which sounds like a long time to just sit around clouded in on the summit of a mountain. There were a few other couples that sought cover beneath the tent and the enjoying conversation made the time pass quickly. We heard on one guy’s scanner that McCartney was out on a break yet again.
It was around 1:30 and the rain was letting up. There was still no view due to the clouds. Along with a couple we met in the tent, we walked down the road just beyond the last switchback the riders would face. We were just past the 100m signs on the outside of the corner with a good view down the road. This was the last steep section before the run into the finish line.
The clouds began to separate as the announcers over the PA system relayed that the riders were just turning onto the spur up the mountain. I started my stopwatch. Just under 21 minutes later the leaders appeared. Prior to this, the announcers really had the crowd whipped up as they announced the attacks and action of Floyd, Tom and Popo. I haven’t exactly read how it unfolded but we were pretty fired up when we heard that Popo had attacked yet again and opened up a 100 meter gap. Moments later as the lead motorcycle came into view we saw Tom leading Floyd. Popo was a few moments behind. It was quite a while before we heard who made it to the line first so it must have been close.
For the next 45 minutes or so we watched the rest of the field labor up and out of sight around the last corner. These guys were really suffering… some looked like me (on much lesser climbs of course) fighting just to keep turning over the pedals. The crowd was cheering on every single rider. The only person that still looked cool and calm coming by our corner was Eki. He didn’t look as whipped as anyone else we saw go by.
At one point we looked down the road and saw a Kodak rider on foot. He was pushing riders, on his team or any other, as they fought the last 125m of the climb. We cheered especially hard for him.
The riders had to ride back down from the summit to the lower parking lot to get in their team vehicles. So as riders were still coming up others were zipping down just a few inches in front of us. The “big names” stayed at the top doing interviews or preparing for the podium presentation.
It was great to see these guys pushing themselves to the finish, they earned their pay today.
We watched the podium presentation and then walked back down to the lower lot. After waiting for the shuttle for over 30 minutes we gave up and walked down the mountain. Unfortunately there had been a wreck involving a cyclist (fan) going down hill, a pedestrian, and a car. They shut down the road and took several people away in ambulances.
Walking the lower portion of the mountain I was once again amazed at the length and steepness of the climb. It took us just over 50 minutes to walk down the mountain and back to our car.
So that was our day at the Tour de Georgia. Tomorrow we drive 10+ hours to get back home. A worthwhile experience, I think we will be doing this again next year. It was our first pro race and was really exciting!