Audio Postcard: Scenes from the Tour of California

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, February 16, 2009
The Tour of California had an up-and-down weekend in the Sacramento area.  Saturday's opener in Downtown Sacramento went off without a hitch.  But sometime overnight, Lance Armstrong's $10,000 bike was stolen, as were several others -- marring Sacramento's performance as a host city.  Then on Sunday, Stage One launched from Davis, with pouring rain and gusting winds mucking cyclists up throughout the ride.
But before the rain -- and the bike burglaries -- came Saturday's prologue.  Riders cycled one-by-one down Capitol Mall, U-turned in front of the Tower Bridge, zoomed past the Capitol building into midtown, and  came back down L Street – 2.4 miles in all.
Here's our audio postcard:

Announcer: “On the course, this is Carlos Sastre, your defending Tour de France champion!”
Tens of thousands of people are here in downtown Sacramento this Saturday afternoon for the 4th annual Amgen Tour of California, and the weather has cooperated.  There was some worry it might rain, but the sun is peaking out from behind some grey clouds.  It’s windy, it’s cold, but it’s dry.
Announcer: “Here he is, on the streets of Sacramento, California – Scotty Nydam!”
Adam Quilici of Citrus Heights is one of the fans here.  It’s the first time he’s seen a professional cycling race in person, and he says it’s different than on TV.
Quilici: “Because it’s fun to watch people really push the limits of the human body, and then the more you watch it, the more you can see the chest game-type of tactics that the teams do.  It’s really fun.  I’m looking forward to seeing Fabian Cancialara go through, and Carlos Sastre who won the Tour de France last year.  And Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer, of course, will be fun to watch.”
There are tents set up all along the course to sell and market everything from food and drinks to bike parts and merchandise.  At 19th and L Streets, the course’s final turn, is a tent for the Midtown Business Association, run by former Sacramento city councilman Rob Kerth.
Kerth: “This is a big day for us in Midtown.  It’s Second Saturday, it’s Valentines Day, it’s Amgen, it’s just a great day.  And this could well easily be our biggest day of the year.”
But with everything else going on today, no one is drawing as much attention as Lance Armstrong.  The seven-time Tour de France winner retired a couple years ago, but is making a comeback to promote finding a cure for cancer.  This is his first U.S. race of that comeback.  And so even though the Prologue is under way right now, and there are other riders on the course, a couple hundred people are gathered round the Team Astana trailer to watch Armstrong warm up.
Phillips: “He’s talking to people!  All right, he turned around!  Hey, Lance!"
David Phillips of Lodi has brought his 11-year-old son Joseph to check out Lance.
Phillips: “Gonna try to take another picture?  Okay. Go, here we go!”
And he lifts Joseph up onto his shoulders to get a better view.
Phillips: “D’you get a picture of him?”
Joseph: “Sort of.”
Phillips: “I think you can see him there, pretty good.”
Phillips says he watches the Tour de France on TV, and says it’s really cool to see riders like Armstrong in person.
Phillips: “We thought he retired, but it’s great he came back.  This is great to have in our back yard – very exciting.  It’s gonna help our tourism, help our economy, and we all need that!”
The path to the starting line is packed as Lance Armstrong makes his way over.  And the buzz, the energy in the crowd – much louder than it was earlier this afternoon.
Announcer: “He is the 1993 world champion and a 3-time Olympian.  He is a seven-time winner of the Tour de France.  He is the patron saint of cancer comebacks.  Lance Armstrong!  The comeback kid is back in the USA!  Lance Armstrong is on the course!”
It takes a little over four and a half minutes from start to finish, and with Armstrong on the course right now, a lot of people – and plenty of media members – are sprinting from the start line down 9th street over to L, up L to 11th and L at the finish line.
Announcer: “Ladies and gentlemen, Lance Armstrong is officially back!”
In the end, Armstrong finishes 10th, a few seconds off the pace.  His teammate, two-time defending champ Levi Leipheimer, comes in second.  And Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland hangs on for first.  The winning time?  Four minutes, 32.9 seconds.
Francisco Mancebo won Sunday's stage from Davis to Santa Rosa, and earned the yellow jersey at the end of the weekend.  Saturday's winner, Fabian Cancellara, dropped out of the race Sunday, citing a fever.