Biker David Zabriskie (front left) narrowly defeated Michael Rodgers (front right) and Levi Leipheimer (back left) to win the Third Stage of the AMGEN Tour of California Tuesday. Photo by Nita-Rose Evans.
Biker David Zabriskie (front left) narrowly defeated Michael Rodgers (front right) and Levi Leipheimer (back left) to win the Third Stage of the AMGEN Tour of California Tuesday. Photo by Nita-Rose Evans.

Everyone from bike aficionados to casual observers packed the Beach Street finish line of the AMGEN Tour of California. The crowd of 20,000 people crammed into every available crevice behind the barricades, some even taking to the trees. All of them strained to get the best glimpse of the incoming riders.

In the third stage finish of the sixth annual AMGEN Tour of California race, professional cyclists rode 113 miles from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, finishing in front of the Boardwalk. In a photo finish, David Zabriskie came in first place with a time of four hours, 26 minutes and 10 seconds. Following on his wheels was Michael Rodgers and last year’s winner Levi Leipheimer, who finished third.

“Coming into the race, I was a bit unsure, but the feelings I had today were very good,” Zabriskie said. “Coming into Santa Cruz was beautiful, the sun came out [and] there was a big crowd.”

The tour rode into town for the second year in a row, and was highlighted by the participation of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

This year, there was a slight change of scenery. Instead of ending stage three of the race downtown, the finish line was moved to the area in front of the Boardwalk.

“It’s nice to finish in front of the Boardwalk, which is a really iconic figure for the town, and is a monument to our tourist heritage,” said Peter Koht, economic development coordinator of Santa Cruz.

The Boardwalk was one of several major sponsors of this year’s race, providing $185,000 of the total $245,000 it took to put on the event.

“The city’s commitment to this race, and why we’ve put so much effort into it, is to encourage more people to come to town — not only to enjoy our beaches, but also to enjoy our roads and our trails for biking,” Koht said.

Santa Cruz resident Dean Whiteman came out to watch the race and look at the various vendors selling the newest bike technology.

“Santa Cruz, for the last hundred years, has been a tourist destination for lots of people,” Whiteman said. “I want to see people bringing their kids into town, and just enjoying what we have to offer here. It’s a beautiful city and it’s a great place for people to come and visit.”

Jason McCrary, manager of the Ideal Bar and Grill on Beach Street, estimated that he saw a 50 percent increase in business from an average Tuesday night because of the tour.

“This event is great for the community. If it builds up every year, it turns into a tradition, something people start to put on the calendar every year,” McCrary said. “It’s a nice thing to offer Santa Cruz, something different than we normally do. It brings a different aspect to the city.”

The benefits of the Tour of California come not only from increased revenue from tourism, but also from an increased awareness of the cycling community and the use of bikes as alternative transportation.

People Power is an organization that has been operating in Santa Cruz for over 20 years, and works in conjunction with the city to promote sustainability through the use of bicycles on an everyday basis. For the past two years in which the Tour of California has passed through Santa Cruz, the group has offered a free bike valet service to spectators who want a safe place to leave their bikes while they watch the race.

“We want to encourage people to ride down to today’s bike race, and secondly just to honor people, because, when they ride somewhere, we want to be there and say ‘Welcome! Let me take your bike,’” said Micah Poser, director of People Power. “It’s like being at the front door of a party and taking someone’s coat. It’s that kind of energy.”

Whiteman believes that the bike race’s presence in Santa Cruz helps highlight the city’s notoriety as a popular destination for bike riding.

“Santa Cruz is a bike-friendly city. We give just as much right and freedoms [to bikes] on the road as cars,” Whiteman said. “Even when I’m driving my car, I’m more respectful to bikers, even before I started riding a bike — only because, everywhere you go in Santa Cruz, you’re going to see bicyclists ride and having a good time. We’re just a bicycle community.”

Santa Cruz Economic Development Coordinator Peter Koht says that, although the city cannot determine whether it will be involved with the Tour next year, the idea is open to consideration.

“We’ll do the analysis of how much it cost and how much it returned in tax revenue, and we’ll make a decision at a later date,” Koht said. “What I can say is that the energy and excitement that we see outside and on the race course — as well as the response we got from AMGEN and the Tour — is very encouraging.”

Meanwhile, Dean Whiteman will attend next year’s event, whether it’s in Santa Cruz or not.

“If it doesn’t come back here next year,” Whiteman said, “I’ll go somewhere else to see it.”