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Cycling gaining ground in Auburn

Bike shop owners say room for bike popularity to grow
By: Ray Hacke Journal correspondent
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Mark Henley has seen firsthand just how popular bicycling road races are in Europe. The service manager at Auburn’s Bicycle Emporium has attended the sport’s premier event, the Tour de France, once and been to another of cycling’s showcase races, the Giro d’Italia, five times. He’s also seen other races in Italy and Belgium. Even more impressive to Henley, however, is that many Europeans don’t view cycling as a mere spectator sport. “In Italy you’ll see a couple thousand guys out riding on a Sunday morning,” Henley said. “It’s just fun to see.” Though cycling has its hardcore fans like Henley, it hasn’t quite generated the following in the United States that it has in Europe — at least not as a spectator sport. As Auburn prepares for some of the world’s elite riders to zip through town this Sunday on the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California, cycling’s growing local popularity is best measured by the number of people who participate in the sport — at least recreationally. “I’ve been (riding) for almost 20 years, and I see more riders now than I’ve seen in the past 20 years,” said Dan Tebbs, owner of Auburn’s Victory Velo Bike Shop. “There are a lot more of them out there on the road.” Henley agrees. “I’m starting to see people out ridin’ at all times of the day,” Henley said. At least 10,000 spectators are expected to line the streets of Auburn as well as other nearby towns, such as Cool and Meadow Vista, along the Amgen Tour’s first-stage route, which runs from Nevada City through Placer and El Dorado counties to Sacramento. Those spectators will undoubtedly be hoping to catch a glimpse of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong — by far the biggest name in international cycling — as well as Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie and local rider, Chris Jones, who will be competing for the Type-1 Diabetes Colnago team. Lisa Kodl, owner of Auburn Bike Works, hopes the spectators who turn out will be able to gain an appreciation for some of the challenges riders face as well. “We’ve got some good places for climbing and some corners for (riders) to maybe catch,” Kodl said. “It’s not all downhill after Nevada City.” Armstrong’s oft-chronicled Tour de France successes in the wake of a bout with testicular cancer inspired many in Auburn and elsewhere to pursue healthy lifestyles by getting on their bikes. Local cycling enthusiasts believe that watching the Amgen Tour will inspire many spectators to take up the sport for themselves, helping cycling’s popularity to grow even more. “I don’t know if the impact will be immediate, but it will introduce the sport to a lot of people,” Tebbs said. Bike shop owners expect business to increase in the days after the Amgen Tour passes through. “We’re poised to have our biggest after-sale ever,” said Bill Marengo, owner of Bicycle Emporium, which is one of the Amgen Tour’s sponsors. “I definitely think people will be affected by the Tour,” Kodl said. “People will think about getting out on a bike again or at least getting theirs worked on.” There’s still room for cycling’s popularity to grow on a local level — especially since many motorists dislike sharing the road with their two-wheeled, pedal-powered counterparts, according to Kodl. “We’re not as bike-friendly (as they are in Europe),” she said. “We’re working on it, but we’re not there yet. Drivers don’t see bicycles as other vehicles. They’re not as aware of cyclists as they are in Europe.” Still, Henley, for one, is thrilled that for once he won’t have to buy a plane ticket to see the world’s best cyclists compete. “It’s more than exciting,” he said. “Guys that you normally have to go over (to Europe) to watch are riding through town right here. It’s better than good.”