by Mira Reverente
Wicked headwinds and the previous night’s sporadic rainfall did little to dampen the festive mood at the start of the women’s race and the finish of the men’s race at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.
Anna van der Breggen of Boels Dolmans Cycling Team won stage 1 of the women’s race with a time of 2 hours 36 minutes and 4 seconds and donned the much-coveted yellow jersey and the sprint leader’s green jersey. The 2017 returning champion broke away from the pack and grabbed a solo victory during the final ascent to the finish.
Ventura sisters Alexis and Kendall Ryan finished 67th and 73rd respectively. At the women’s team presentation the night before the women’s race, Kendall talked about her home court advantage and comforting familiarity with the steep hills and sharp turns of her hometown’s roads.
“No pressure really,” she said as the crowd erupted in laughter, when asked about her stage 1 prospects, the same stage she won last year.
Ventura resident Jeff Tillquist, is not just a big fan of the Ryan sisters, but of American cyclists in general. “I just love watching our American cyclists do so well here even if it’s really a predominantly European sport,” he said.
Wearing a chicken costume, Tillquist was also aptly toting an American flag while waiting at the finish line for his favorite teams including Rally UHC Cycling. It was his third time being a spectator.
In 2016, cyclists breezed through Ventura. Last year, stage 2 of the men’s race started next to the Ventura Pier. This year, the women’s 60-mile stage 1 started and finished next to the Ventura County Fairgrounds. The men’s 136-mile stage 5 started in Pismo Beach and ended in Ventura, a few minutes after the women.
It’s definitely bigger and better every year. “In 2016, we captured everyone’s attention when Cabrillo Middle School spelled out ‘Ventura’ in the fields,” said Marlyss Auster, president and CEO of the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau. “That got everyone’s attention and the engagement we received was tremendous.”
For Geerike Schreurs, a massage therapist who tours with the Trek-Segafredo team, it’s the abundant sunshine and the surfing prospects that got her attention. “I love how it’s so laidback here and the beach is right there,” she said, pointing for emphasis. “And all the locals seem to be excited about the tour. We feel so welcome.”
Yellow cow bells were in abundance and spectators rang them continuously as the riders started coming in. “I love coming to watch the Amgen Tour,” said Jerri Rousseau of Manhattan Beach. Rousseau and her husband have been following the tour around in their trailer from NorCal to SoCal and everywhere in between since 2006.
“There was that one year where they re-routed the course due to some snow and we were there,” she said. “Then one year we dressed up our puppies in yellow, green and polka dot jerseys.”
On the podium, Astana’s Blanca Liliana Moreno Canchon donned the polka dot jersey establishing her early dominance of the mountains. In the men’s race, Education First’s Tejay van Garderen retained the yellow jersey while Astana Pro Team’s Davide Ballerini showed everyone who was king of the mountains, donning the polka dot jersey. Bahrain-Merida’s Ivan Garcia Cortina won stage 5 of the men’s race.
Volunteers in bright orange shirts were posted at street intersections providing directional support and assisting local law enforcement with riders and spectator safety. Two-time volunteer Diane M. of Santa Barbara was one of about 220+ volunteers.
She got a front-row seat in her course marshal post along Ferro Drive, by Grant Memorial Park. “It was so worth it to take the day off and volunteer,” she said. “I just love being part of the cycling community.”
And in the end, it’s all about that. Said Auster, “It takes a committed and caring community to stage an event of this magnitude where Ventura is front and center.”