The largest bicycle race in North America is the Amgen Tour of California, and this year, stage four began in Sonora, Ca. Around 120 riders from all over the planet began a 130-mile stage on a brutal route.
Amgen Tour of California 2012 Stage Four began this morning at 10:35 am with the official starter giving the go-ahead. Katie Jenks, the Break Away from Cancer official starter and survivor of lymphoma, did the honors for the fourth stage this year. Katie's hair hasn't fully grown out again, but she and her husband Noah showed a phenomenal grasp of how to deal with a life-threatening disease since September 13, 2011 when she was diagnosed.
Courthouse Park in Sonora, Ca. comfortably holds about a thousand people, if they don't mind being friendly, very friendly that is. Today there was nothing really comfortable about the crowd for the race. Some estimate 2,000 or more people were packed into the one-square-block area and the overfill spread into blocks on both ends of that section of Highway 49 (Washington Street).
A measure of how thrilled the City Fathers were to have the fourth stage begin in Sonora, is that the highway through town was closed at 4:30 am for a race that began at 10:35 am! (The State of California had to agree also.)
The cyclists had their team buses, team vehicles and extra equipment vehicles lined up along the main street for viewing and ready access this morning. For those who enjoy really fine equipment, some of these bikes certainly fit the description.
Team BMC support vehicles lined up along Washington Street in Downtown Sonora
For those who ride bikes still, just for the fun of it, the bikes lined up on the street today would be overkill. They would, however, possibly be worth more than the entire GDP of some Third World countries.
With 27 speeds to choose from!
The complete roster of riders is here. Peter Sagan of Team Liquigas-Cannondale has taken the yellow jersey in the first three stages of the race, and today he has maintained a perfect run by taking stage four as well.
The riders were crowded together on Washington Street for the start with the pace car leading the way, along with numerous Highway Patrol, Sonora Police and Sheriff's cars. .
The race process included a couple dozen motorcycles acting as Race Marshals, medical responders, team support vehicles and photo platforms.
Support vehicles for Amgen 2012, Race Marshals, medical, team support
And yes, one of those motorcycles is the one which almost ran into me while capturing the video of the racers going by.
And from the Amgen press release site, the winner of Stage Four is...(drumroll) Peter Sagan! With this win today the 22-year-old Sagan has taken all four stages so far. This is now his seventh overall stage win in the Amgen Tour, which is a record.
"Winning today is a surprise," said Sagan. "Today was a very hard day and the weather was very hot. In the climb, I put water on my head because of the heat. I wasn't expecting another victory but after the last climb my teammate, Daniel Oss, said to me, 'Today we win another stage.' And I said, 'I don't think so.' But, after he made the suggestion, I said to myself, 'Yeah, okay. We'll try.' We did and now we are very happy. Thank you to all my teammates."
The first King of the Mountain (KOM) points went to the Optum Powered team's Sebastian Salas (USA).
Jhon Atapuma (COL), Wilco Kelderman (NED), and Alex Howes (USA) also took KOM honors today.
This race was an exciting addition to the month's activities for the Mother Lode area. Since the race organizers were very appreciative of the reception and assistance they got from the local community, it could be that Sonora will be chosen for another stage in another year. I certainly hope so.
Tomorrow's Stage 5 will be a return to Bakersfield for an 18.4 mile Individual Time Trial course. It was the site of the 2010 last stage and truly separated those who are the best in their field from the rest of the field.