Thousands of spectators gathered under dark skies Tuesday in Auburn to watch the start of Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California.
It was the first time the Placer County seat had hosted an Amgen start, and the crowd was excited and eager.
The event took place in the midst of an unseasonal cold front, with a chilled breeze blowing and rain threatening.
Many lining the streets wore raincoats and caps. Some gathered around an outdoor fire pit near the High Street and Lincoln Way intersection.
A display on a downtown bank read 53 degrees just after 9:30 a.m. But no rain had fallen yet.
"We had our fingers crossed it wouldn't rain," said Bill Radakovitz, a director of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce who watched from a VIP tent.
It almost worked out.
At 10:23 a.m., the first light raindrops fell. Three minutes later, the racers departed to loud cheers and the ringing of cow bells.
Cyclists made figure eights through downtown and Old Town Auburn, passing the starting line five times to the delight of fans, who jammed the city's winding streets and created a chaotic and lively scene.
"It's insane," said Emily Chepernich, 27, who pushed her 9-month-old son, Abraham, in a carriage. He was wrapped in a thick blanket to ward off the cold. "I didn't think it would be this crazy," she said.
Her friend Nicole Pugh, also 27, said Auburn is the kind of place where nearly everyone in town comes out for downtown excitement.
"We live for this stuff," Pugh said.
Soon, cold rain started falling in earnest, driven by wind.
Earlier, Jim Felt, an Auburn manufacturer of performance bicycles, said the racers would feel the rain and cold, but the race would proceed.
"It'll be full bore as long as it doesn't start dumping on us," Felt said. Rain would slow the cyclists down as the threat of crashing made them cautious.
"The cold hurts cyclists," he said. "They're so thin. So lean. They have zero extra baggage," meaning body fat, he said. "They get chilled, and their muscles tighten up. They lose feeling in their feet and hands."
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