By Laura Fishman and Devin Dunlevy
City on a Hill Press Editor and Reporter

Crowds of people gathered on top of parking structures, roofs and trees in order to catch a glimpse of the 129 cyclists passing through the finish line that spanned Santa Cruz’s Front Street.

With an estimated 10,000 bodies viewing the race in downtown Santa Cruz and hundreds more gathered in various viewing spots throughout the city, Mayor Cynthia Mathews called Stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California a success.

“It took a huge amount of energy and resources to pull this off,” she said. “Our plans came together perfectly.”

For the first time, Santa Cruz served as one of the 16 host cities for the Tour of California, where the eight-stage race came through the city on Monday, Feb. 16, and will finish in Escondido, Calif. on Feb. 22.

On Presidents’ Day, 17 teams competed in the rigorous 116-mile course from Sausalito to Santa Cruz, through the rain and muddy trenches, where the weather added unexpected challenges along the way.

But for some of the local fans and professional cyclists, the Amgen Tour of California serves as more than just a race.

Many city officials and local Santa Cruzans are supporters of the cancer-fighting initiative the tour is promoting. Numerous professional cyclists competing in the Tour of California see the fight-against-cancer movement as an important issue, and have said they are happy that the Tour is shedding light on it.

Lance Armstrong, who finished in 13th place of the Stage 2 race, returned to the sport of cycling after a three-year retirement in order to raise awareness for The Lance Armstrong Foundation, which works to unite people to fight cancer.

The foundation was started in 1997, after Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer and decided to educate others about the growing epidemic.

Chief Operating Officer of the Lance Armstrong Foundation Betty Otter-Nickerson said the foundation predicts that by the year 2015, cancer will be the number-one killer in the world.

“The foundation empowers people affected by cancer,” said Otter-Nickerson, who watched the Stage 2 finish in downtown Santa Cruz.

Professional Bissell Team cyclist Ben Jaques-Maynes is a strong advocate for the fight against cancer, as the disease runs in his family.

“The cancer initiative of the Amgen Tour of California is terrific,” Jaques-Maynes said. “If I can help with that goal, the more the better.”

Jaques-Maynes was awarded with the Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer™ Most Courageous Rider Jersey, which recognized his strong performance in the breakaway during the race. As a local resident of Watsonville and a UC Santa Cruz alumnus, thousands of fans cheered for Jaques-Maynes as he accepted the award on the main stage.

“There’s a lot of courage flying through this race and it’s a nice homecoming to be honored with a jersey this spectacular,” he said.

While Jaques-Maynes was disappointed with his finish in the 28th position, he remains thrilled with his local fan base.

Other awards were given to Thomas Peterson, of the American Garmin-Slipstream team, who placed first in the Stage 2 race and to the Levi Leipheimer of the Astana team, who placed second.

Tour of California organizers got a taste of how Santa Cruz feels about this particular bike race, with thousands of “Livestrong” posters, promoting the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and numerous people drawing chalk banners in the middle of the raceway.

While Mathews said she didn’t know whether or not the Tour would return to Santa Cruz in future years, she saw the event as a great success. When it came down to how the event was organized, she said she wouldn’t change a thing.

“We hear the people at Amgen are thrilled,” she said. “It went absolutely primo!”

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