Amgen cyclists dash into Paso Robles

Slovakian wins Stage 5 in a sprint down Spring Street; hundreds turn out to cheer tour’s return to SLO County

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comMay 19, 2011 

Hundreds of spectators cheered and rang cowbells in sunny downtown Paso Robles on Thursday as they waited for the professional cyclists competing in the Amgen Tour of California to dash through downtown.

Peter Sagan of Slovakia took the win in the fifth stage of the seven-day race, a Tour de France-style cycling race. It began Monday in Nevada City and will end in Thousand Oaks on Sunday.

Sagan sped from fifth place to first in the last 100 yards on Spring Street as he crossed the finish line at 11th Street, his hands reaching toward the sky. He won two stages in last year’s Tour of California.

Colorful helmets dotted the crowd, as did smiling youngsters waving souvenirs from parents’ shoulders. Families sprawled across the patches of sunny and shaded grass on blankets or camping chairs.

“I’m glad there’s a big crowd here,” said Los Osos resident Darlene Toal, 47. “It’s great for Paso.”

Local business people agreed, many saying the favorable weather and added people in Downtown City Park helped boost business.

“For me, it’s significant because I’m just a little lunch shop,” Red Scooter Deli owner Stephanie Johnston said from the front counter on Pine Street. Located on the opposite side of the racecourse, she wasn’t sure what to expect. But the shop’s sales tripled compared to a regular Thursday, Johnston said as she punched numbers into a calculator and smiled.

The tasting room at Albeno Munari Winery on 12th Street also saw more foot traffic, staff said. They even scored a “large sale” from a vendor working a booth outside.

At Marv’s Original Pizza Co., a flurry of pizza and soda sales kept staff busy, owner Terry Syracuse said.

“Sales were definitely up 60 percent,” she added.

At the historic Carnegie Library in Downtown City Park, the Paso Robles Historical Society’s guestbook showed visitors from Laguna Nigel, Santa Clarita, Walnut Creek and even London. Kevin Shriver, 55, of Minneapolis said he follows European cycling races and was delighted that the Amgen Tour is so accessible.

“To be able to walk down the street a mile from the finish and be right here, it’s just amazing,” he said as he watched the award show from the finish line stage.

Shriver plans to travel to the tour’s time-trial event in Solvang today and then return to Paso Robles for its 29th annual Wine Festival on Saturday.

The city appealed to tourists to come for the race and stay for the wine.

People were also encouraged to bicycle Thursday. The San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Coalition’s free bike valet had about 105 bikes checked by midafternoon. Staff there noticed a number of people from the Central Valley.

“All kinds of folks are here, and it’s great,” outreach manager Leslie Bloom said.

Nearby, big screens at the Tour’s Lifestyle Festival showed video of the cyclists as they traveled down Nacimiento Lake Drive, cutting through curving hillsides and sprawling oak tree landscapes. Students at Cappy Culver Elementary School were seen cheering and waving balloons. Residents at Heritage Oaks Ranch also celebrated from the sidelines in rural Paso Robles.

“It’s nice to see where they’re going because sometimes you’ve been there,” said Lee White, 71, of Paso Robles. Decked out in a yellow “Live Strong” shirt for cycling celebrity Lance Armstrong, the cancer survivor said he’s a big fan of cycling races.

Thursday was the second time Paso Robles was included on the Tour’s route. The first came in 2009. The Tour skipped San Luis Obispo County in 2010 but came through San Luis Obispo in prior years.

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