AMGEN Race Starts in Merced

Merced, CA, USA Stage four of the AMGEN Tour of California got underway in Merced Wednesday morning. The cyclists did two laps around the Civic Center and the historic courthouse before heading north on "M" Street and leaving downtown Merced.

The crowd started gathering in downtown Merced hours ago waiting for a chance to see Lance Armstrong and to watch the start of the biggest race on American soil.

AMGEN officials were estimating about 15,000 people would come to Merced for the start of Stage 4. City officials said the attention is great for city pride and for the local economy.

One of the best parts of being a start city is that spectators have the chance to mingle with the cyclists before the race. Lance Armstrong stopped to sign autographs for a few minutes when he arrived in Merced.

Action News caught up with the seven-time Tour De France winner who told us he's happy to finally be racing on a sunny day. "We could be starting anywhere just as long as the sun is out, it's been a rough few days and it's gorgeous today, so we're excited. Feeling good. The team is in a good position and Levi is riding strong and we have the jersey and we're excited," said Armstrong.

Armstrong was referring to his teammate, Levi Leipheimer, who is still wearing the Yellow Jersey as the race leader.

They're two of the more than 130 cyclists from around the world who are racing from Merced through Mariposa and Oakhurst to Clovis Wednesday morning.

Lance said he's aware there may be ice and snow in the foothills, but that the riders will just have to be careful up there.

The tour will go straight through Oakhurst, and businesses there are ready for the riders.

The local "True Value Hardware" store has more than a dozen tents and stacks of chairs ready to go. They'll be set up throughout town. Hundreds are expected to line the streets to watch the cyclists zip by.

At "Oakhurst Physical Therapy" cycling videos have been playing to help pump up the excitement.

The AMGEN tour promises riders a tough ride through Oakhurst. Cyclists will speed through a stretch of Highway 49 before crossing a bridge and facing some tricky turns.


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