The Amgen Women’s Tour of California is underway. As many people as racers gathered around the starting line this morning at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe.
The relatively small crowd did not dampen Skylar Schneider’s spirits. She races for Team USA.
“I'm really excited," says Schneider. "I think it will be a really fast race. All the best racers in the world are here so it's really a privilege to be riding with these women.”
Schneider finished second at the UCI Road World junior championships in Qatar last year. Team USA Is comprised of racers who normally ride for other teams throughout the year.
Martie Lynch was one of about 70 fans at the starting line. She was disappointed so few people were in attendance.
“I was expecting that there would be a lot of women like me supporting younger women. I mean I'm somebody who broke away from heart disease through exercise and medication so for me this is really critical,” says Lynch.
The full name of the race is the Amgen Breakaway From Heart Disease Women’s Race and directs attention to prevention and treatment of heart disease. The men’s race does the same for cancer.
“I have granddaughters now and they knew I was coming up for this and I was wishing there would be lots of people that I could photograph to show my granddaughters and say, ‘Look this is really great!’ But, they're not here,” says Lynch.
But Michael Roth with AEG says the crowds will be here, and, unlike previous years, they can choose which day works best for them.
“We’re in the same really close region, Lake Tahoe area to Sacramento for four days for the women and so I think there are choices to be made," says Roth. "And we’re gonna have fans that will spread themselves out in Lake Tahoe for the next couple days and so that may sacrifice attendance numbers at one day but will give the Lake Tahoe region a very hearty number.”
AEG does not keep attendance statistics. They are tough to keep when fans are spread out along the race course.
But, Roth says the women’s and men’s racing is becoming more popular and the strength of the sport can be judged in other ways.
“We know it's growing by the TV ratings. We know it's growing by what we see visually at the finish lines, by how are sponsorships go up every year," says Roth. "When you have a race that more than a million people will attend and you're not charging for admittance you're not charging for tickets but you see more sponsors come out. The sponsors are able to reach a large number of people and they're seeing it as well. We also see more teams wanting to come and compete in this event which talks about the stature of the race."
The women will race a brand new route for stage two also at South Lake Tahoe. Stage three will be in Elk Grove. Stage four will be in Sacramento on Sunday, the same day as the first stage of the men’s race.
Skylar Schneider's teammate, Megan Guarnier won the first stage. Schneider says she believes continued international media coverage will help increase the popularity of women's racing.
About 200 spectators were at the finish line when the race concluded.