Amgen Tour of California sprint draws downtown crowd

Crowds watched more than 100 cyclists roll through downtown Winters for the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California on Saturday.
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FILE: Crowds form in front of the Putah Creek Cafe to see the 2018 Amgen Tour of California. Photo by Nick Marquez for the Winters Express.

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Walking through downtown Winters early Saturday morning, it might have been hard to believe that an important leg of the 645-mile Amgen Tour of California race would wind through the city later in the day. There were no road closures, no crowd-control barricades, no sandwich boards prohibiting parking or traffic along Railroad Avenue.

Two hours before the race, many of the shops and restaurants kept their weekend hours — they were closed. The only sign of the upcoming race was a literal one: A computer printout with a map of Stage 7 folded and taped at the checkout stand of Eagle Drug.

“When we got here, close to 9:30 a.m., it was very, very quiet,” Teresa Morgan said as she and her sister Lisa waited for the event to start.

Two hours later, it was anything but quiet. Crowds began filling in the empty spaces on the sidewalks up and down the street. Cyclists huddled in front of Steady Eddy’s and small groups formed on Putah Creek Bridge where former triathlete Scott Miles and his wife Kara came out to witness the race.

“We just love the sound and the speed of the Peloton as it comes through,” Miles, who now describes himself as a beach cycling enthusiast, remarked as he waited for the riders to arrive in town. “It’s amazing when you see them how fast.”

By 11:30 a.m., a line of CHP cars moved through the city, conducting rolling stops and shutting off access to several streets that join Railroad Avenue.

“I’m going to deputize everyone for traffic control,” one CHP officer said through a loudspeaker. “You all have police power.”

Twenty minutes later, the riders rolled into town. One of the cyclists leading the pack was Roseville-native Neilson Powless who finished third overall in the Winters sprint and 53rd in the stage. Less than a minute later, more than 100 competitors maneuvered their way down Railroad Avenue into a turn onto Putah Creek Road for the final half of the race. And as fast as they came, they went — it took no more than two minutes for the entire race to roll through town.

Was the race a good thing for the city? Not everyone felt it was. Earlier in the day, on the same bridge where the Miles family watched the race, a local man remarked that most locals in town didn’t care for big events like Amgen. “This is Winters,” he quipped. “We don’t like that stuff here.”

Miles disagreed. “I still support the fact that this cannot be anything but a good thing from Winters,” Miles said as the riders crossed over the bridge. “Just based on what I have witnessed in the past with the three years that it did come through…it was amazing.”

Though the crowds may have been smaller in size compared to years past, there were some who were drawn not so much to the race but the town itself. The Moraga sisters, who drove from their home in Sacramento through the country roads of Yolo County to watch the race from a park bench outside Rotary Park, said they could have stayed in the capital to watch the start and finish of the race or attended an earlier stage in nearby Folsom, but chose Winters because of what the town had to offer.

“I was looking at the map, and I thought, I do not want to go into Sacramento and deal with all the crowds,” Lisa Moraga said. “I’ve come through here before on my way to Lake Berryessa to go hiking and bird watching, and I just said this was the right atmosphere to watch a bicycle race.”

“Probably the best thing I discovered while here is where the Palm’s Playhouse is and how to get there,” Teresa Moraga said. “And there’s a fantastic yarn shop down the street, and I knit. We love Winters!”

Routes for Amgen’s 2019 Tour of California race will be announced early next year.

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