Tour of California cyclists race through South County

“Pismo Beach, you have set the bar high,” the announcer said Thursday morning, and with that, more than 120 elite cyclists pedaled off the city’s wooden pier to start the fifth stage of the Amgen Tour of California.

The riders left Pismo Beach at 11:45 a.m. and started their 107.4-mile ride to Santa Barbara, sprinting through Arroyo Grande, passing by Nipomo and toeing the Santa Maria city limits along the way.

The late-morning event marked the first time that Pismo Beach has hosted a Tour stage. Several thousand spectators turned out, crowding into the parking lot next to the pier to take photos of cyclists stepping out of team buses, and clustering as close to the railing as possible for a view of the start.

“This is a world-class event,” said Kris Vardas, a Pismo Beach council member and chair of the Pismo’s local organizing committee. “The city is all about celebrating and rejoicing in the natural beauty of this area. We all enjoy a healthy lifestyle, and this race is directly in sync with that.”

An estimated 2,200 people attended Wednesday evening’s Party on Pomeroy to kick off the Tour festivities. It featured a wine walk, entertainment and children’s activities, said Suzen Brasile, executive director of the city’s Conference & Visitors Bureau.

The tone Thursday morning was bustling and festive, with part of Pomeroy Avenue closed to vehicles. The compact area surrounding the city’s 1,200-foot-long pier was packed with spectators as a flash mob entertained the crowd before the start.

A number of fans rode their bikes to the start. Dan Rivoire, executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Coalition, estimated about 75 people had parked bikes at a free bike valet by about 11 a.m.

“I personally love it,” said Arroyo Grande resident Ray La Frenais, who rode his bike to the pier. He planned to leave before the riders to get to a spot on Corbett Canyon Road to watch them climb the hill. “It does draw a lot of attention to the area, so hopefully that will pay off.”

Pismo Beach resident Bob Fasulkey lauded city leaders for their work to bring recognition to the area, as well as recent efforts to create a new vision for downtown.

“The city is coming into its own,” he said. “It’s becoming a destination rather than a place that people pass through.”

A few owners and employees at local shops said business was steady or slower than they expected — similar to what some business owners in Cambria had reported during Wednesday’s stage finish in that town.

“We opened at 5 a.m. to cater to people here and didn’t get our first sale until 8:30 a.m.,” said Ben Franco, sales manager at Point Break Surf & Sport on Pomeroy Avenue.

He worried that the closed street might deter potential customers who wanted to get to the beach and didn’t know about the bike race.

His co-worker, Kayla Britton, had a slightly different take.

“It’s just really nice to see the community come together,” said Britton, who just started commuting by bike to her job from Grover Beach to save money and get exercise. “It’s pretty cool to see people who ride long distances.”

Later Thursday, Kori Gomez, owner of Beach West, said most of the spectators left town as soon as the cyclists sped away. Business was slow, she said, especially since her section of Pomeroy Avenue was closed most of the day.

“It was a slow day, but so be it,” she said. “It’s great for the hotels and restaurants. It gives us that push going into the season. For Pismo to be a host city, I think it puts us on the map.”

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