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Sunday, Escondido played host to world-class athletes for the start of the 2013 Amgen Tour of California. The level of talent lining up for the start of the race was equal to what fans could expect to see in the big races of the European cycling circuit. Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), the current world champion, was there, as was Andy Schleck, who won the Tour de France in 2011.

Many of the top professional riders in the US are racing the Tour of California, as this is a chance for the domestic professionals to show their stuff against the world’s best. The Tour of California is the biggest, longest, hardest bicycle race in the country; the American cycling equivalent of the Super Bowl and only a notch below the European grand tours in terms of prestige. Having the TOC begin in San Diego county is an honor, but it’s also expensive. The city of Escondido couldn’t raise funds to fully cover the $500,000 bill to host the start of the race. Still, that’s peanuts compared to hosting some of the mainstream sporting events like the Super Bowl--not that Escondido will ever do that.

Fittingly, an American is the favorite to win the overall race this year. Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) has been close to the podium at the Tour of California before. Last year, he finished fourth, only 1:17 behind the winner. Additionally, he finished fifth in the 2012 Tour de France, surprising fans and riders with his abilities. He’s only 24, but van Garderen is one of the sport’s rising stars. He showed great poise before the first day of racing, expressing equal measures of gratitude and confidence in his chances to win the TOC.

On the first day, American domestic pros made a big move only eight miles into the 102 mile stage. A group of four rode off the front and stayed there for hours, fighting off the chasing group with admirable tenacity in the searing, triple-digit heat. It took almost ninety miles and a degree of attrition for them to get caught. After that, it was a three-mile dash to the finish line and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) , a dark horse rider from the Netherlands, made the winning move.

Seven more days of racing follow the first, leading the riders through California all the way to SF and beyond, but there’s no doubt that day one set the bar for drama and excitement very high.

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Dave Rice May 13, 2013 @ 6:29 p.m.

I've got to wonder how much the heat in yesterday's stage (not to mention today's Murrieta-to-Palm Springs leg) is going to affect these guys before they finally make it out to the coast on day four...


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