The Amgen Tour of California opened with a burst of excitement this morning as professional cyclists raced off the starting line at L Street in downtown Sacramento.
With thousands of fans looking on and holding their phones overhead to snap photos, the race began promptly at 10:50 a.m., moments after the national anthem.
Amid an atmosphere both festive and laid back, the start of the acclaimed pro race was ceremonial, with riders heading out at moderate speeds before accelerating as they hit open roads, traveling along Garden Highway and heading towards Auburn.
The X-factor in the race today could be the strong winds. On flat, open roads where there is a crosswind, a surge at the front of the peloton could split the group and change the dynamics of the race.
The riders will return downtown around 3:45 p.m. and hit the finish line at L and 11th streets. The finish is dead straight and the road is wide, so there is less chance of a fluke victory. In the absence of a crash, expect a group sprint, and watch for superstar Peter Sagan of Cannondale to be at the front.
Hundreds of people descended on the state Capitol Sunday morning to stake a spot in front of the start line for the race.
Just before 9 a.m., Bill Chadwell of Citrus Heights could hardly hold back his enthusiasm, snapping up photos of the Capitol and festival on 10th street with his digital camera. The 62-year-old self-proclaimed serious cyclist will be volunteering as a traffic coordinator for the race.
"I can proudly say I was part of it," Chadwell said with a grin.
Vendors and sponsors, too, were busy preparing. Brian Bonham, marketing coordinator for SpeedPlay, a San Diego company that makes pedals, was filling up counterweights with water for his booth. The company has sponsored 8 teams.
"It's a huge up and coming sport," Bonham, 26, said of cycling. "Definitely a young man's sport, though."
Meanwhile, racers were seen gently speeding on the sidewalks of the Capitol, warming up. The five-person Chinese team, decked out in blue uniforms and sponsored by Giant, drew glances from onlookers. Several people asked the team to pose for photos.
Racer Hong-Yu Liang, 24, is from Heilongjiang province in northern China. Liang, a first time visitor to the United States, said the country was beautiful.
"The sky is so blue," she said.