Democrat staff writer
COOL Ñ Spectators and cycling fans lined Highway 49 around the town of Cool for the first stage of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California as early as 6 a.m. Sunday.
Equipped with lounge chairs, ice chests and umbrellas, the crowd waited patiently for a glimpse of professional cycling action. The Amgen is considered the biggest spectator sport in the nation.
Amateur cyclists rode up and down the highway prior to the race, spiking a sense of anticipation for everyone.
Many people found locations along the road to support the riders as they flew past; others found their way to the festivities in Cool. Three hours before the raceÕs estimated arrival of 2 p.m., the area was covered with tents, trailers, booths and portable playgrounds, elevating the checkpoint into a bona fide event location.
A massive Johnsonville Brat trailer, complete with a mobile grill big enough to make any professional tailgater jealous, staked a claim in the Holiday Market parking lot adjacent to a county-fair size stage from which people could enjoy a wonderful jam session from mid morning through the afternoon.
People of all different lifestyles and ages found something to enjoy before the pros raced by. There was a bounce house for kids and they were given chalk to decorate the roads with messages of encouragement for the riders Ñ a tradition originating from the Tour de France.
Just down the road at Northside School, Vice Principal Doug Booker and the faculty put on a bike-themed fund-raiser for their Northside Education Foundation, complete with a bicycle rodeo course, a book sale, Jamba Juice smoothies, kettle corn and no less than three awesome bands.
El Dorado County resident Ann Gaunt brought her daughter, a Northside student, to the kidsÕ day at the school and found a wonderful vantage point right next to the bicycle route. Gaunt shared the sentiments of the majority of folks that made their way out to the event Ñ she was hoping to get a glimpse of Lance Armstrong in action.
For Auburn Lake Trails residents Tom and Katheryn Robinson, the AmgenÕs first leg was an opportunity to see how the professionals cycled.
ÒThis is a great chance for us to see some real professional athletes,Ó Katheryn said with a laugh. ÒWe donÕt get too many celebrities or famous athletes up around here, so we had to come see it.Ó
Many of the Cool residents had never seen a professional cycling race before, much less one with a name like Lance Armstrong attached to it.
ThatÕs what makes the Amgen so special Ñ giving all of California an opportunity to see a sport that is truly prestigious on the international stage. For most itÕs rare to ever be able to see an event of such magnitude, let alone in their own backyard.
One-hundred and 4.3 miles after the first stage began in Nevada City, it ended in Sacramento. While the rest of the country waits for the results of each dayÕs stage, those who made their way to Cool Sunday afternoon have enough memories to last a lifetime.