ESCONDIDO, Calif. - The eight-day, nearly 750-mile Tour of California, the nation's largest cycling event, began Sunday with a 102.6-mile stage beginning and ending in Escondido that included more than 11,000 feet of climbing.
The stage began 11:15 a.m. at Broadway and Grand Avenue, went on winding state Route 78 to Ramona and Santa Ysabel before a climb up Palomar Mountain and a return to Escondido.
"We wanted to start with a unique twist," said Kristin Bachochin, the race's executive director. "Palomar Mountain is a top categorized climb so fireworks will go off early in the race."
Shortly after 4:30 p.m., the winner, Louis Westra of France, crossed the finish line.
Escondido police officers – some with police dogs – were keeping a close eye on things. The department also had eyes in the sky to keep watch on the thousands of people that streamed into the city to watch the race.
"The event in Boston added multiple extra layers to not only our event, but probably all special events in the future will be concerned with various extra layers of security," said Escondido police Lt. Tom Albergo, who would not elaborate on what those extra layers entailed.
Escondido City Councilman Mike Morasco said the city had to fork over about $450,000 to pay for security and other race-related costs. However, he said donations and sponsorship payments covered a lot of that outlay.
Morasco said the overall investment was well worth it.
"We believe also that there's going to be a multifold return on our investment, perhaps not specifically for the coffers of City Hall, but for all of the different business owners," he said.
Merchants along Grand Avenue would agree with that. It has been tough bringing Escondido's traditional business district back to life. There are still several vacant storefronts along Grand.
Yet, merchants told 10News that the Tour of California coming to town is a sign of better times ahead.
"So, the wheels are turning and people are active and on fire to get downtown Escondido alive and active," said Alberta Agyan, who is the manager of French Delight restaurant.
Monday's second stage goes from Murrieta to Hemet, down the curvy and spectacular Highway 74 into Palm Desert before finishing at the base station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
The race is set to conclude next Sunday in Santa Rosa.