Sandi Heller never misses a chance to check out the world’s best cyclists when they come to California.
The San Luis Obispo County resident made sure she was in Pismo Beach on Tuesday morning for the start of the third stage of the 12th annual Amgen Tour of California as it made its return to the county for the second consecutive year.
When cyclists took off from the Pismo Pier for the nearly 120-mile course and headed south for a sweeping loop through the hills of northern Santa Barbara County, Heller made her way to downtown San Luis Obispo to join thousands of fans lining the streets. She was joined by her friends dressed, fittingly, in cycling tights, all members of the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club, a group of local riders that is 600 members strong.
“We come every year,” said Sharon Sutliff, one of the club’s members. “We have been to races in Solvang, Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, Avila, wherever it is.”
As police cleared the streets for a sprint through downtown and past Mission San Luis Obispo, another group of fans gathered by a flat-screen TV on the corner of Higuera and Chorro streets. They watched the wide aerial shots of the riders, who were averaging around 30 mph, and tried to guess how long it would be before they flew past.
Then in a flash — a five-rider break made the 90-degree turn onto Chorro led by Federico Zurlo. About a minute later, the other 126 riders followed as the crowd cheered and rang cow bells.
San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon, wearing a shirt imitating a vintage cycling jersey, was in the large group.
“An event like this is great. It really gives people a platform to come out and see their neighbors and really come together over something positive,” Harmon said. “Being healthy, being outside, being on your bike, these are all really strong values of the city in general, so it’s exciting to be able to host this.
“It gives us an opportunity to really highlight what a great city this is to a national television audience and gives people a chance who might not have even heard to San Luis Obispo to see what it’s like.”
Back on the course, riders grouped together in the face of a strong wind out of the west as they navigated O’Connor Way, through the Cuesta College campus and up Highway 1 toward the finish line in Morro Bay.
As the peloton whizzed through Main Street, down the Embarcadero and then up the final hill on Harbor Street, world champion Peter Sagan made his move. Sagan outsprinted Rick Zabel and Simone Consonni to win the stage.
Sagan took advantage of a field dealing with two sweeping turns in the last couple of miles and navigated 6,401-foot elevation gain to win his 16th stage in North America’s premier cycling race, extending his own record. Sagan won the event in 2015.
Sagan’s teammate on Bora-Hansgrohe, Rafal Majka, finished safely in the peloton to keep his overall race lead. The winner of Stage 2, Majka has two seconds on George Bennett and 14 seconds on Ian Boswell, while top overall contenders Brent Bookwalter and Andrew Talansky are 48 seconds adrift.
The fourth of seven total stages is set for Wednesday and takes riders 99 miles from Santa Barbara inland to Santa Clarita.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.