Saturday, November 28 , 2015, 6:49 am | Fair 38º

Amgen Cyclists Hot-Foot It Into Santa Barbara

Riders and fans brave the heat to celebrate the Tour of California's Stage 5 finish on the waterfront

Taylor Phinney exults in his breakaway victory in Stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California bike race, as he heads toward the finish line on Santa Barbara’s waterfront.
Taylor Phinney exults in his breakaway victory in Stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California bike race, as he heads toward the finish line on Santa Barbara’s waterfront.  (Fritz Olenberger photo)

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

After a grueling climb and triple-digit temperatures, Amgen Tour of California cyclists raced down the San Marcos Pass on Thursday, leaving behind the Santa Ynez Valley as they sped toward the glittering coastline.

Waiting for them were thousands of spectators on the Santa Barbara waterfront, cheering as the cyclists came closer and closer to the finish.

The last few kilometers of the race would be challenging, with exhaustion and dehydration setting in, a fact not lost on an announcer for the event.

"It used to be Santa Barbara," the announcer's voice boomed over the loudspeakers set up along Cabrillo Boulevard. Not anymore, though.

"Welcome to downtown Pain City," he added.

By the time they arrived, the Amgen racers were most certainly feeling the effects of the 108-mile route, which began at the Pismo Beach Pier, passing through the wineries and farms of the Santa Ynez Valley, and then completing a grueling ascent of Highway 154.

The race was completed in just over four hours.

As riders crested the pass and began to speed toward the ocean, many reached speeds of almost 50 mph on the highway, which was closed to motorists as the cyclists passed through.

The eight-day race spans more than 720 miles from Sacramento to Thousand Oaks. 

Taylor Phinney gets congratulatory kisses after winning Stage 5 of the Tour of California, which finished Thursday on the Santa Barbara waterfront. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

This is the fifth time the annual race has passed through Santa Barbara, and even Thursday's record-breaking heat couldn't keep cycling fans from watching the finish on Cabrillo Boulevard at Chase Palm Park.

One of those excited spectators was Mark Sapp, who was wearing a bright green Cycle MAYnia T-shirt, and took a break from guarding bikes at the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition Bike Valet to watch the cyclists speed by to the finish.

"An event like this helps cycling in general," he said.

Sapp's point was reinforced by the spectrum of cyclists enjoying the event as the pedaled along the bike path near the race course, ranging from riders on beach cruisers and families hauling children in bike trailers to semi-pro riders in sponsorship uniforms.

"It's very exciting," said local resident and cyclist Jessica Halverson, as the brightly colored peloton sped by.

As for the atmosphere of the race, "everybody's out in their gear. … You see people of all ages, shapes and sizes. It's a cool community," she said.

Another local cyclist, Rob Guzzon, said he'd been able to watch the riders make their way through town earlier on his phone before they came into sight of the finish line.

Guzzon, who has been cycling himself for three months, said watching the race was a first for him, and he plans to try his own luck in a distance road race, the Santa Barbara Century, in the fall.

The cyclists briefed the press after the event, and the heat was on everyone's mind.

One race official reported that the air temperature had been 106 degrees in Solvang before the group started their ascent over the pass.

"The wind was a like a hairdryer in your face," said Will Routley of Canada, who won the Michelob Ultra King of the Mountain Jersey on Thursday.

When asked how many bottles of water he went through during the ride, Routley responded, "I don't think I can count that high."

The star of the day, however, was Taylor Phinney of the United States, who staged a ferocious breakaway from the peloton during the Highway 154 climb, thwarting the sprinters in the lead.

Phinney completed the 108-mile ride in just under 4 hours.

A former resident of Santa Barbara, Phinney was familiar with the roads in the area, and said that "if we would have gone down Old San Marcos Pass, I would have won by a lot more."

Phinney pulled away from the group about 20 miles before the finish of the race on the Santa Barbara waterfront, and said he was able "to soak in" the lead and relish the last leg of the race.

"That's what we all live for," he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

With the crowd cheering them on along Santa Barbara's waterfront, cyclists sprint to the finish of Stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California bike race on Thursday. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

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