Hundreds of spectators braved record-breaking heat Wednesday to watch 128 elite cyclists race into Cambria to finish the fourth stage of the Amgen Tour of California.
San Luis Obispo County officials estimated that about 4,000 to 5,000 people watched the cyclists finish their 102-mile trek from Monterey; however, some local shop owners said business was slower than they had hoped or was just on par with an average day.
The race “was exciting, but it wasn’t exciting for business,” said Gayle Chambers of Chambers Gallery. “The neat thing was it was photographed on national TV.”
At one point in the coverage, Chambers added, she was thrilled when “they panned out and showed a whale going up the coast. That kind of coverage you can’t beat.”
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The atmosphere in Cambria was mellow in the early afternoon, as locals and visitors rode around town on their bikes, grabbed lunch or checked out the Tour’s lifestyle festival. A few spectators arrived several hours ahead of the riders to grab a spot in the shade.
By the time the cyclists spun by in a flash of wheels and colorful jerseys at about 3:50 p.m. as anticipated, more people had arrived to snag a spot against the bright orange railing or line up several rows deep behind the finishing chute.
Will Routley of Canada won the 102.6-mile Stage 4, which traveled down the Big Sur coast from Monterey.
“It’s the first time we’ve been to an event like this,” said Marco Bautista, who sat in the shade outside the Pewter Plough Playhouse on Main Street with his wife, daughter and other family members. They were curious about the bike race, the Cambria resident said, and decided to come check it out.
“It looks more like a family event,” he said.
Some business owners along Main Street said they hoped the Tour would bring a late-afternoon surge of customers. Sarah and Mauricio Lopez, new owners of Caren’s Corner, opened at 10:30 a.m., a half hour earlier than usual.
“It’s been steady since we opened,” Sarah Lopez said.
Other businesses, including the Cambria General Store and Ole Cambria Marketplace — the West Village service station/mini marts that sell cold water and beer — reported being even slower than usual.
“It wasn’t as busy as we’d hoped,” said Chris Gutierrez, co-owner of the General Store. “Pinedorado is much busier.” That annual event, with a parade, games and a car show, is held over Labor Day weekend.
Nearby on Sheffield Street, Aaron Miller, owner of Ancient Earth Trading Co. with wife Rachel, said the amount of foot traffic was about average for a Wednesday. Despite the lack of crowds, the Millers were excited about the event.
“We hope that Cambria gets picked next year too because it is really positive for the community,” Rachel Miller said.
Not all business owners shared their enthusiasm. Riccardo Spizzamiglio, owner of a fine art gallery, said his business was affected on days leading up to the Tour, especially when signs were posted warning drivers not to park on the street (the designated day was difficult to see, he said).
“They threw it on us,” he said of the Tour. “They never asked us.”
The race also drew some out-of-town spectators, including Ron and Nancy Sweet of San Gabriel, in Los Angeles County.
“Well, how good is it, you’re riding from Monterey to Cambria on Highway 1,” Ron Sweet said. “That’s got to be a fun ride.”
The couple has caught Tour stages for the past four years, and plans to catch the stage finish Saturday in Pasadena. The Tour ends Sunday in Thousand Oaks.
Other out-of-town fans included Dennis Ball and Gia Parker of Clovis, who were heading to a free bike valet to park their bikes and trying to figure out the best spot to watch the finish.
“I think it’s great for the country and great for our state, because it brings awareness (of bicycling) to average folks,” said Ball, president of the Fresno Cycling Club. “It does give the riders a big opportunity to do some racing here in California, and I think California is really striving to put on a quality race.”
The Tour of California resumes Thursday with the Stage 5 start on the Pismo Beach Pier at 11:45 a.m.