The pro cyclists screamed into town Monday, a blur of loud colors and the soft sounds of skinny tires on wet asphalt, did more laps than expected around the state Capitol and thrilled fans lining the streets, if only for mere seconds.
For the fifth straight year, the Amgen Tour of California came to Sacramento, limping a little along the way from the unseasonably snowy weather in the Lake Tahoe area that forced the cancellation of Sunday's first stage around the picturesque lake and changed the start of Monday's stage.
With roads at Squaw Valley in no condition Monday for a bike race, organizers moved the start to Nevada City, which had hosted the Stage 1 start in 2010.
The second stage turned out to be much shorter than planned and TV crews lost the chance to broadcast the anticipated aerial footage of cyclists leaving the famed ski resort village. But the predicted sprint finish came to pass since much of the route was flat, and the large group was able to stay together to the end.
Ben Swift of Britain's Team Sky showed off an explosive kick on the long straightaway on L Street and crossed the line with his arms overhead, besting Peter Sagan of Liquigas and Matt Goss of HTC-Highroad.
It had already been a long day for many. Duane Strawser was reading at home in Nevada City at close to midnight Sunday when he got the call that the race would start in his town. Strawser, owner of the Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop, was a key player in luring the race to town last year. All of the sudden, they were hosting a start for a second year.
"When I got the call, I jumped in my truck and set up all of the barricades downtown," said Strawser, who worked through the night without sleep.
In Yuba County, cyclists streamed through Beale Air Force Base, home of the U-2 spy plane and other top-secret aircraft, before heading south to the little farm town of Wheatland. It was the first time the race had come to the town, with a population of about 2,300.
On Wheatland's Main Street, there was still only a scattering of spectators about a half-hour before the racers arrived.
"To a lot of people around here, bicycle racing's not a big deal," said retired schoolteacher Barry Rounds, a local cyclist who had come to watch. "This is really something."
Eunice Wilson, 86, and her friend Gene Humphrey, 89, sat on the steps of the white-steepled First Christian Church, anticipating the coming race. Eunice held a pair of clippers in her hands. She'd been pruning her church's rose bushes to help pass the time.
"This puts Wheatland on the map," she said. "The pet parade is exciting, and the Christmas celebration is nice, but this beats them all."
The crowd gradually grew larger, with children on corners ringing cowbells. Police officers cordoned off blocks.
Then the first racers came through.
"Look!" said Michael Lillard, who sat on a wall with his sons: Tannen Vagle, Aydin Carraway, Nathan Lillard and Max Lillard, ages 9, 8, 4 and 16 months. They all had slushees from the local hamburger stand.
Lillard said they had watched the race on television in previous years and were excited to have it pass through their town.
The race zoomed through Wheatland in a matter of minutes, making two turns, before heading south through the walnut orchards and rice fields of Yuba and Sutter counties toward Sacramento.
Due to the shortened stage, race organizers added two extra laps around downtown.
By the time the peloton reached Sacramento after 76 miles, riders were hitting speeds well over 30 mph along Ninth Street, where devout cycling fans mixed with curiosity seekers as the pros sped past on the way to four laps around downtown.
Just then, weather played a role once more as the overcast skies let out a cloudburst that made the roads slick, especially on the tight corners. The rain lasted only minutes.
The riders sped along L Street and whisked past a 4-year-old boy named Daniel Schwartz who just might have gone by the name Juan José if his mother had not shown a certain restraint in the days before his birth. Back then, longtime cycling fan and mother-to-be Julie Schwartz of Davis pledged to her friends that she would name her son after the rider who won the intermediate sprint competition when the race went through Davis.
Juan José Haedo crossed the line first that year.
Mother and son were among an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 fans stretched along the streets of Sacramento to watch the race.
"We come every year. We're big fans," she said, as Daniel sat on his bike. "I used to go to the Tour de France before he was born."
By the time Swift crossed the line in first place, Sacramento's role as host was broadcast nationwide and beyond complete with plenty of aerial shots of the fans crammed against the barricades.
Though the crowds were larger than previous years, the economic impact was not as significant because the city did not play a role in the overall start of the eight-stage race and therefore did not book nearly as many hotel rooms.
Mike Testa of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated that the race will bring in $3.7 million, compared with $8.5 million last year, when the teams stayed several days in town before the race began. This year, Testa said, there were 700 rooms booked in connection with the race. Last year, it was 2,500 rooms.