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Fans give enthusiastic welcome as cycling stars spin through town

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Months of planning and anticipation were rewarded with a few minutes of wild excitement and a lasting sense of pride Sunday afternoon in Downtown Auburn. Four breakaway riders raced through to town just after 1 p.m., followed by a 124-man herd of cyclists, including stars Lance Armstrong and three-time Amgen Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer. The parade of support vehicles zoomed through and an enthusiastic throng of fans on Lincoln Way roared their approval. Many fans lingered in Auburn’s newly updated Central Square to watch the finish in Sacramento, where Mark Cavendish won a thrilling sprint to the finish. Sierra Foothills Cycling Club president Larry Matz was thrilled with the way the event turned out. “Amgen is looking at Auburn as a model city,” Matz said. “The city’s preparation was fantastic. We had a great turnout and excellent participation all the way around.” The crowd saw young Chad Beyer claim the bonus sprint points as he made a strong push to beat out Paul Mach, Marc De Maar and Maarten Tjallingii. All four riders broke out in front of the peloton early in Sunday’s race and remained there for most of the day before being caught and passed up in the final few miles of the 104-mile journey. Mach was the first man up the grueling climb to Cool out of the American River Canyon, claiming the King of the Mountain jersey for Stage 1. Back in Auburn, hundreds of spectators lingered in town, taking in the race on a big-screen TV near the central square. Auburn resident Jim Northey, who will put on two criterium races in Auburn this summer, said he was pleased with the way the event was handled. “I think it was unbelievably good for the city,” Northey said. “It was a great effort by the city to get behind it and I think all in all it was a great success.” Northey said he expects the event to have a positive impact on the turnouts for his races and, in turn, for businesses around town. “I expect to have way more riders than we did last year,” Northey said. Matz, whose club was founded in February and already boasts close to 100 members, said Sunday’s success and the efforts of more than 200 volunteers in Auburn bode well for the city’s future as a part of the Amgen Tour of California. Auburn could be in line for a lucrative start or finish to a stage, which would bring even more exposure and many more people to town. “I think Auburn has got the volunteers and the energy to do it,” Matz said. “That would be the ultimate.” Reach Todd Mordhorst at toddm@goldcountrymedia.com.