By Karen Kefauver
May 25, 2012
The return of the Amgen Tour of California,
North America’s premier road race, to Santa Cruz County is another reminder of what exquisite terrain cyclists here enjoy and the passion of the local cycling community.
The race returned to the county thanks to a dedicated volunteer group that stepped up to fund, organize and staff the event.
Although the nearly 800-mile, eightday race officially rolled to a close Sunday in Los Angeles, I’m still enjoying the afterglow of some of the world’s best cyclists powering through Santa Cruz County roads on May 14 for the finish of Stage 2 in Aptos.
That Monday, many cycling fans decided to skip work in order to watch the professional racers compete in the road race.
Anticipating the crowds, I secured a spot early at the finish line at Cabrillo College.
I hoped that somehow elite racer Ben Jacques-Maynes, 33, a pro cyclist with Team Bissell, might take the lead and win in front of a hometown crowd. The day before, at the end of Stage 1, the Corralitos resident had earned the title and honorary cycling jersey for “Most Aggressive Rider.”
Although it was Peter Sagan, 22, of Slovakia, who won Stage 2 rather than Jacques-Maynes, I was still thrilled because earlier that morning I had joined a short road ride with some of Sagan’s Italian teammates on pro cycling team Liquigas-Cannondale.
The road ride, organized by Joanne Thompson of Bike Station Aptos and Courtney Dimpel of Bicycle Trip, followed the final section of the Stage 2 course and included several dozen riders of all abilities. The highlight was the presence of special guest riders, cycling pros Alan Marangoni of Ravenna and Stefano Agostini of Padua of team Liquigas-Cannondale, along with Cannondale Director of Sports Marketing Rory Mason.
As we rode together in a pack down Soquel Avenue, headed for Rodeo Gulch Road, I was thrilled to have the Italians, in their lime green cycling kits, experiencing the roads we ride.
When we regrouped for a coffee at Casalegno’s Store before returning to Soquel Drive via Old San Jose Road, I learned that the pair would be racing the Tour of Switzerland in June. I assured them I would be cheering for them and wished I had studied Italian since they spoke little English. As we climbed back on our bikes, I felt like a proud Santa Cruz cycling ambassador.
Jacques-Maynes echoed my sentiments shortly after he crossed the finish line of the 117-mile race that started in San Francisco that morning. He told dozens of international reporters tracking the race, “I’m lucky to ride these roads all the time. A big reason I live and train here is because of these mountains,” he said in reference to the hilly course he had just completed. “I’m so happy that the Amgen Tour of California came back to Santa Cruz County.
For me, personally it’s very exciting.”
This race was a special one for Jacques-Maynes because it represented a comeback from a broken left collarbone and then serious complications that followed.
“Rolling down the finishing straight, it hit me how much finishing this Amgen Tour of California healthy and fit means to me. It’s been a long year!”
wrote Jacques-Maynes, who placed 36th out of 110 riders, in the final standings, in an email.
While Jacques-Maynes is recovering from the physical stress of the race, Santa Cruz resident Maura Noel is assessing the financial stress of the race, since she personally fronted more than $100,000 to have the race return to Santa Cruz County.
“It appears my 401K money is safe,” emailed Noel, who spearheaded the comeback of the race. [The City of Santa Cruz hosted finishing stages of the ATOC in 2009 and 2010 but declined to participate in 2011, citing financial constraints.] “We are still waiting for a few small bills to come in, but my preliminary estimates are that we did indeed raise enough money with a teeny, tiny bit left over,” Noel wrote.
After being celebrated at a surprise thank you party hosted at Bike Station Aptos, Noel departed for Idaho to volunteer as a course marshal at the Exergy Tour, a women’s stage race that started in Boise on Thursday.
Despite some complaints about traffic congestion, Noel says feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.
Avid cyclist John Caletti, who owns a bike frame building business, noted that the impact of the race may have a lasting positive benefit.
“Riding my bicycle on race day, people were so friendly and excited about cycling,” Caletti said. “Cars gave way, spectators cheered us on and people really came together to support the bicycling community. Having the Amgen Tour of California come to Santa Cruz was good for cycling in general because more people become aware of cycling and realize this is a premier place for cycling, bike culture and the cycling industry.”