Thousands of people lined Washington Street to watch the kickoff of the fourth stage of the Amgen Tour of California in downtown Sonora, while others gathered along Highway 49 in southern Tuolumne County to watch riders battle the mountains.
The stage winner was Slovakian cyclist Peter Sagan, of team Liquigas-Cannondale, who claimed a record-setting fourth consecutive victory over his German rival Heinrich Haussler of team Garmie (For more see Sports, Page C1).
The fourth stage was the longest and most difficult of the tour. Riders faced midday San Joaquin Valley temperatures as high as 93 degrees, rode 132 miles over six “king of the mountains” climbs, facing a total elevation gain of 15,740 feet.
American Sébastian Salas, with the Optum Pro Cycling team, retained the red polkadot jersey designating him king of the mountains on Wednesday. He said his team expected the day’s trial to be an especially difficult one due to the steep climb and the heat.
“It’s going to be tough out there — it’s going to be hot,” he said Wednesday morning, before the official start of the race. “Today is key and I’m going to be aggressive and do my best.”
Berkeley’s Fred Rodriguez with the Exergy team rode on the USA cycling team in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and is a contender to ride in the Olympics in London this year.
He said he frequently trains in the foothills and that he was looking forward to the daunting ride ahead.
“I ride up here a lot. It feels like home,” said Rodriguez, whose nickname is “fast Eddie.”
The riders were followed along the length of their route by a small army of support cars, motorcycle mounted camera men, team buses, motorhomes and police cars. The mass of bikes, vehicles and spectators required safety crews to close down parts of Washington and Stewart streets for much of the day.
Sonora Police Chief Mark Stinson said officers closed down cross streets for 12 hours along Washington Street and re-routed cars around the blocked areas. He said there were no major hiccups in providing a safe pathway for the cyclists to ride through town.
“From our end, we thought the detours went really well,” Stinson said. “From a safety standpoint, it was a success.”
Hundreds of people came long distances to see the riders off.
Cycling enthusiast Dave George, of Sacramento, was in Sonora early Wednesday with his bicycle and a few of his riding buddies to follow the tour along a portion of the grueling race.
“It’s an amazing trip for us to follow the tour around,” he said. “Everybody has been really nice and the hospitality was great.”
Darrell Slocum, who coordinated marketing for the tour’s Local Organizing Committee, said a precise estimate of the number of spectators won’t be ascertained until parking statistics from overflow lots are added up. The line of spectators stretched south from the Red Church, at Washington and Snell streets, to the Sonora Opera House past Church Street.
Slocum said Amgen officials were happy to see so many people gathered to watch the start of Stage 4.
“They were very pleased with the turnout and the enthusiasm from the community,” he said.
Kathren Alexander, LOC merchandising director, said the organization has raised more than $4,600 by selling souvenirs and memorabilia on race day, and that figure could be higher once credit card receipts are counted. She said the local committee booth sold more than 400 T-shirts and sold out its supply of Amgen hats on the sunny morning. The LOC also sold polo shirts, water bottles, cow bells, whistles and numerous other items.
“It was an awesome day,” she said. “We couldn’t even get things set up before people started wanting to buy.”
She said the proceeds will help pay for local costs associated with the tour, including paying for added police and emergency crew hours.
Sonora Mayor Bill Canning was glad to see so many out-of-towners milling about the starting gate before the race.
“The excitement here is just amazing,” he said. “There are people here from Florida, New York and other countries who would never have been here otherwise.”
Kristin Olsen, 25th District Assemblywoman, was key to bringing the tour to the region when organizers were planning the race route late last year.
“I’m so excited to see it finally come together,” she said.