Isaac Lopez had 90 pages to read for his nursing major studies Sunday at Pacific Union College. But when he heard that Lance Armstrong was headed to Angwin as part of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, Lopez took a break and left the library to see what all the excitement was about on a rainy afternoon, made all the more dreary by winds and chilly temperatures that dropped into the high 30s.
“I’m really not that interested in cycling, but because Lance Armstrong is coming here, it’s a big deal — just because you have big names like that,” said Lopez.
Michelle Reimann, another nursing student, had a quiz to prepare for later in the day and a research paper to work on. But she also put down the books to get some fresh air and take in the best collection of talent to compete in a U.S. professional cycling stage race.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all the fans coming out here and cheering for all the people,” she said. “This is definitely worth it to come and see.”
The field of 17 teams and 136 riders from 24 countries finally arrived in Angwin at close to 3 p.m., with spectators lining both sides of Howell Mountain Road and welcoming them with cheers, screams and bells. A procession of CHP motorcycle riders and official race cars with flashing blue and red lights was followed by the cyclists, who were making their way from Davis to Santa Rosa, a distance of 107 miles during stage 1 of the internationally sanctioned road race presented by AEG.
The riders then followed the route into Deer Park and onto Calistoga.
The fourth annual race brings the top cycling talent in the world to compete across more than 750 miles down the state of California from Sacramento to San Diego County. Attracting an unprecedented field of riders from around the world, cyclists hail from countries as far away as Belgium, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden.
The field includes cyclists from well-known teams such as Astana, Team Columbia-Highroad, Quick Step, Saxo Bank and Garmin-Slipstream, which returns to defend the title as the winner of the overall team competition. Armstrong is a seven-time Tour de France champion.
There are also world champions, Olympic medalists, national champions, and American race champions. Last year’s race drew 1.6 million spectators.
“I think a lot of the students didn’t realize what a major event this was, and once they found out, they we were pretty thrilled that it was coming right in front of their school,” said Lisa Paulson, who is in charge of student services at PUC.
The school sign at the entrance to PUC was adorned with yellow and green balloons. PUC had to cancel a barbecue that it had planned as part of the festivities due the rainy weather.
“I just wish the weather could be better,” said Richard Osborn, PUC’s president. “But when they’re in the Alps and Europe and everywhere, they’re dealing with even worse conditions than this.
“We’re very excited about them coming through here. The fact that Lance Armstrong is going to be roaring through here with some other really great cyclists is really inspiring to us. It’s obviously the biggest race in the country.”
Many spectators waited patiently with umbrellas and cameras along the route as the rain continued to fall just so they could get a first-hand look at a world-class event in their own backyard. Stage 1, starting in Davis, took the riders up to Monticello Dam and along Lake Berryessa, followed by a fast descent into the Napa Valley.
“For us, we just thought it would be fun to enjoy it with our children and see some great athletes come through our quiet town,” said Steve Otterbeck, an Angwin resident. “Rains add another level of interest and excitement and challenge for the athletes, I’m sure. It would be nice if it was a beautiful sunny day. This goes to show you what professional athletes go through to compete, rain or shine.”
Scheduled over nine consecutive days, the race will visit 16 host cities for official stage starts and finishes, with communities along the route getting the chance to see, firsthand, a lineup of some of the most elite, recognizable teams and athletes in the world.
“It’s nice to have them coming through this little isolated community up here,” said Tammy McGuire, who works at PUC as a communications professor. “These are famous people that you see in the Olympics and things like that. To have them fly by personally, it’s a privilege to see. You know it has to be special if it’s raining and cold and windy, and this many people are out here. It is something special.”
Three PUC students — Kirsten Nixon, Kelsey Drake and Paco Ramos — didn’t seem to mind the weather as they looked forward to seeing the cyclists converge on Angwin.
“It was incredible to see them go by with all this rain and the cold — I can’t imagine doing it. I worry about the hill down here, all the twists and turns on Howell Mountain Road. I would really be concerned,” said Nixon.
“I thought it was pretty amazing,” said Drake. “I remember following the Tour de France when Lance was in it, and it’s really inspiring to think that a man who had gone through that much could come back. Then to see him here today is kind of like a dream come true.”
Armstrong is making a comeback after a three-year retirement. It’s Armstrong’s first Amgen Tour of California.