Folsom/El Dorado News

Cyclists flock to Folsom to watch Tour of California time trial stage

Karen’s Bakery, a favorite among cyclists, was packed with spandex-clad riders and their supporters Friday as cycling fans descended on Folsom to watch the sixth men’s stage and second women’s stage of the Amgen Tour of California.

The eight-stage pro race has made its way through California since Sunday, when it kicked off in San Diego. About 140 men and 100 women took to the streets of Folsom’s historic downtown to compete in Friday’s time trial event – a 12.6-mile race against the clock.

At the starting line, spectators flanked the course and peered in from restaurant balconies, iPhones ready to capture the fast action. Competitors wore skintight uniforms, teardrop-shaped helmets and shin-high socks meant to keep their bodies sleek and cut through wind.

The bikes they use are specially designed for time trials, said Todd Stone, sales representative at Mike’s Bikes on Gold Lake Drive, which spilled over with shoppers and spectators Friday.

“They’re hunkered down, really aggressive,” he said. “They’re just trying to maximize every second.”

Friday’s stage is the only in the tour to feature time trials, considered the most spectator-friendly event because of the short distance and the riders’ proximity to the crowd. At other stages, competitors ride anywhere from 85 to 130 miles as a group after leaving the starting line, passing through most of the course one time, usually in a momentary blur.

In a time trial, riders one by one can zip by at 30 mph – a speed that takes a great deal of endurance to sustain, said local cyclist Adam Woods. The men’s race featured individual time trial riders – with one cyclist leaving the start house every 60 seconds. In the women’s race, cyclists rode in teams that left the start separate from one another.

Woods said he, like many on the sidelines, had eyes on Peter Sagan, the popular Slovakian racer who has won two stages in this year’s tour.

“It’s like any other sport – you watch the pros,” he said. “Cycling is great because you can get up close and talk to the riders. They’re great ambassadors for the sport.”

Cindy Sawyer, a 33-year-old amateur cyclist from Davis, said she made the trip to Folsom to get a glimpse at professional women cyclists.

“I’m a new biker, so I enjoy coming and seeing what could be,” Sawyer said. “It’s thrilling to watch, especially the women. It inspires me to become a better rider.”

At Karen’s, a group of female riders from local team Folsom Bike Trek commended Tour of California for taking steps forward for women, but they still said they feel like an add-on to a man’s sport.

Early Friday, male and female teams from local bike shops were given the opportunity to race the time trial course, which helps the organizers test out equipment, said Bike Trek rider Melanie Wong, 29, who took advantage of the opportunity.

“It’s a really fun experience to be in the start house and hear everyone cheering for you,” she said. “It makes you feel like a professional.”

An exposition set up throughout the day offered attendees a glimpse at the latest cycling gear and accessories. Vendors showed off high-tech handles, wearable fitness trackers, elite saddles and consumables such as pickle juice shots to prevent muscle cramping.

“It builds the overall feeling of excitement and enthusiasm towards cycling,” Stone said. “Folsom is a hotbed for all kinds of riding, so it’s cool that we’re able to showcase this on the world scene.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

Related stories from Sacramento Bee