Amgen cowbells ring and Auburn shines at Stage 3 start

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The cacophony of cowbells and the cheers of thousands of boisterous Amgen Tour of California spectators sent cyclists through Downtown Auburn on Tuesday amid a carnival atmosphere under threatening skies. While a few raindrops fell on Auburn’s day for some international fame as host for the internationally followed Amgen tour’s Stage 3, the downpour that would last through much of the afternoon held off as the cyclists took five passes in front of throngs massed five-deep or more in the Central Square area. Cycling enthusiasts converged on Auburn from not only the immediate region but from across the United States and several foreign nations to see the start. Belgium’s Jim Vandelaer’s word for Tuesday’s Auburn spectacle was “goed” – Flemish for “great.” Vandelaer said he follows the Tour de France as well, where he and other cycling fans have grown up with events similar to the Tour of California. Jim Wendlick of Minneapolis, Minn. was wearing a Livestrong hat and shirt, a tribute to cycling superstar Lance Armstrong, but also a remembrance of his late wife, who died of breast cancer. “I’ve been watching the Tour de France since the start of the Lance era in 1999 and this is my chance to catch up with all his old U.S. Postal service team members,” Wendlick said. “I’m also catching up with all the up-and-coming European racers.” Kirsten Gardner, of San Antonio, Texas, watched the race start at Central Square and then scooted over to the Clocktower vantage point to catch the peloton round a sharp uphill turn onto Downtown Auburn’s Lincoln Way. Then, despite some blustery weather, she stayed to check out the Lifestyle Festival and local shops. “Nevada City had a fabulous start but because they replaced the mountain start Monday they had no booths,” Gardner said. “You can spend a morning here and have a good time. And I got here an hour early and had no problems finding parking. Kudos to the organizers.” Missoula, Montana’s Anthony Purviance said he was following the tour and getting in some long rides of his own. “It’s my first time in California and I thought it was going to be warmer,” he said. “But I can’t really complain.” South Lake Tahoe’s Nancy Barclay came away from the “pit area,” where teams arrive in motor homes and bicycles are unloaded, with her flag of Spain autographed by one of that nation’s top racers, Haimar Zubeldia. A Spanish teacher at Lake Tahoe Community College, Barclay stressed that she had gained permission to take the day off away from classes. Some students couldn’t resist the lure of seeing world-class cyclists participating in one of the top international biking races. Derek Pell, UC Davis student and cycling team member, said he skipped classes because of the rare opportunity he had in Auburn. “It’s not something that happens every year,” Pell said. Lindsey Tellman, 8, of Harvest Ridge Cooperative Charter School in Newcastle, was taken out of school by her parents for the Auburn start and enthused about a photo of the Jelly Belly cycling team autographed for her by several cyclists. “I’m super, super, super excited,” Tellman said. And as the locals mingled elbow-to-elbow with strangers from other states and nations, they found a common bond under the storm clouds – the joy of a start in a Gold Rush town that had seen nothing like the flurry of wheels, pumping legs and helmets on its streets before. Weimar’s Martin Maeding said the Amgen Tour of California can only bring positive results in the future for the city. “It’s fantastic,” Maeding said. “Having an international event in a wonderful and scenic place like Auburn is going to bring us status, tourism and basically shows the world the quality of lifestyle we have here.”