California’s version of the Tour de France came to Morro Bay on Wednesday, giving locals and visitors a chance to brush shoulders with world-class cyclists.
The 11th Amgen Tour of California, a 782-mile cycling race that spans most of the state, staged the start of the fourth leg of its men’s competition in the shadow of Morro Rock. The eight-stage race began in San Diego on May 15 and will finish in Sacramento on Sunday.
Nearly 150 riders from 18 teams completed the third leg of the race on Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara County. The fourth leg is the longest, stretching 133.6 miles from Morro Bay to Monterey County.
Morro Bay is celebrating its first time hosting a Tour of California stage, although previous competitions have stopped in other San Luis Obispo County cities, including Avila Beach, Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo.
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Despite a stubborn marine layer that brought chilly conditions and fog, which obscured views of Morro Rock, several thousand spectators turned out to watch the start of the stage. City Manager David Buckingham was especially excited about the estimated 1.5 million viewers around the world who saw Morro Bay featured on NBC Sports Network and other outlets.
“We’re building Morro Bay as a fantastic destination for all activities,” Buckingham said.
Mayor Jamie Irons said hosting the Tour of California is about “recognizing the gem that we have.”
“It puts Morro Bay on the map,” he said.
Logan Owen, a cyclist for Hagens Berman, is riding in his second Tour of California. He’s also ridden in overseas races and said California roads are wider and more maneuverable than European ones. This year’s course is tougher than last year’s, Owen said: “There’s a lot more climbing in it.”
Paul Whitworth and Anton Abben brought their bikes down from southern Oregon to watch a few stops of the tour Wednesday. The two avid cyclists said they enjoyed getting the chance to see professionals in the flesh — Whitworth said he’d gone overseas to watch the Tour de France multiple times.
“You’ve got some of the best riders in the world,” Whitworth said of the Tour of California.
Both men said the race was more than just a speed competition — there’s a lot of strategy that teams use to help push riders into successful positions.
“It can be a very interesting chess match,” Abben said.
“People like reality TV, so how could they not like this?” Whitworth asked.