Amgen bike race takes over Escondido


NCT post race ATOCBy David Garrick
5:36 p.m., May 12, 2013

Thousands from across the region endured near-record heat Sunday in Escondido and surrounding North County communities to cheer on the world’s top cyclists in America’s version of the Tour de France.

Despite temperatures in the high 90s, avid cycling fans and newcomers to the sport jammed the sidewalks of downtown Escondido’s Grand Avenue Sunday for the Amgen Tour of California.

The crowds swarmed the blocks of downtown near Grand Avenue and Broadway, which served as the starting line just after 11 a.m. and the finish line just before 4 p.m.

In between, the cyclists drew smaller crowds along a 103-mile route, including the San Pasqual Valley, Main Street in Ramona, Palomar Mountain, parts of Julian and Cole Grade Road in Valley Center.

Downtown Escondido was filled with loud, cheering and people shaking cowbells during the start and finish, and crowds milled about in between.

But the turnout appeared significantly smaller than the last time Escondido hosted the race in 2009. Food courts, festivals and some restaurants near the finish line were sparsely populated much of the day, and many blamed the heat.

Cynthia Palmer of the National Weather Service in Rancho Bernardo said temperatures as high as 97 were recorded in Escondido Sunday. The city’s record temperature for May 12 is 98 in 1927, she said.

“I think the heat might be taking a toll,” Vinnie Griffin of downtown’s Vinz Wine Bar said during the race.

But others downplayed the effect.

“The riders got an especially warm welcome today in Escondido,” joked fan Kerry Catori, who was shielding herself from the sun with a cloth parasol. “But I think the people that wanted to be here came anyway.”

Catori, who lives less than a mile from the finish line in Old Escondido, said she was impressed by the size and scope of the race.

It brought many unfamiliar sights to Escondido: an army of TV trucks, large hospitality tents throughout downtown, giant video screens on nearly every downtown corner and dozens of reporters and photographers from overseas.

The race was broadcast live in 216 countries and across the United States on the NBC Sports Network.

“I’m excited this has come to our town,” Catori said. “I’m so proud of my city.”

Escondido officials, who spent $500,000 to host the race, say they hope it boosts the city’s image and helps spur local economic development.

After Escondido, the eight-day race moves to Murrieta, Palmdale, Santa Clarita, Santa Barbara, San Jose, Livermore and the final stage, a race from San Francisco to the finish line in Santa Rosa next Sunday.

Dave McStay of Temecula brought his family to Escondido and said he plans to spend Monday in Murrieta, where temperatures are expected to be even higher.

“This is exciting, because the crowds are great, and they have a lot of the top riders,” he said.