Cycle: 5 Local(ish) Climbs Comparable to the Tour de France
3) Mt. Graham. Southern Arizona's third big climb is generally considered the hardest road in the state. About an hour east of Tucson just outside of Stafford, this road has Mt. Lemmon's distance and Kitt Peak's steepness. From a distance, Mt. Graham lays on the horizon like a long, slumbering giant; more of a mound than a mountain. But there's no mistaking the 6,000 feet of up as you mash those big gears.
For 33 years it has been the home to the Arizona State Championship Mt. Graham Hill Climb, inviting riders to battle its slopes in effort to be awarded the hallowed red polka dot jersey and bragging rights for a year. While the climb unwinds for what seems like forever, remember that some of those tight turns can be very tricky on the way back down. And don't forget some sleeves of a jacket for that descent because it can get downright chilly.
4) Palomar Mountain. In many ways, Palomar Mountain is southern California's version of France's fabled Alpe d'Huez. Bending up from Carlsbad, the roadway - known either as Palomar Mountain Road or Grade Road - snakes back and forth to the summit point of almost 5,100 feet. That's from near sea level, depending on where the ride starts from.
The 2009 Tour of California rode over this mountain with Frank Schleck winning the stage over current Tour de France contender Vincenzo Nibali. Local pro Chris Horner is known for making Palomar his bitch, regularly sprinting up the 12-mile climb in a hair over 30 minutes. The road is a favorite for local motorcyclists who like to take the turns with their kneecaps scraping the ground, so be wary. But also remember that a sandy beach awaits at the bottom.
5) Mt. Baldy. Tucked in the San Bernardino Mountains just to the northwest of Los Angeles, Baldy is home to a small ski slope for those East L.A.'ers to get in some quick and easy boarding. But once the snow melts, this 13-mile road to the heavens is SoCal's prime ascent for cyclists. The roadway cuts up from the town of Claremont, out of the smog and traffic and up into chaparral and pines that line ridges and bluffs that look down on the idiots still sucking the pollution.
Baldy has been the big mountain top finish and deciding stage for the past two editions of the Tour of California, with Robert Gesink taking this prize this past May. The mountain mirrors Mt. Graham for the first seven miles with a long, gradual pitch up to the village before heading up to the ski lift and the 20 percent ramps to the tippy top. Remember, that's good pain.
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