Amgen Tour cycles through Palmdale

Six-year-old Nathaniel Martinez (bottom right) gets an autograph from reigning Amgen Tour of California champion Chris Horner.

Nathaniel Martinez

PALMDALE – Six-year-old Nathaniel Martinez was on a mission Friday morning.

He leaned against the rails, stretched his arms out as far as they would go, and thrust his Palmdale souvenir magazine at every athlete that crossed his path.

“Autograph!” he demanded.

Martinez was one of hundreds of area residents and cycling fans from around the world who converged on Marie Kerr Park Friday for the rare opportunity to see world class athletes up close and personal at the Amgen Tour of California Stage 6 Start in Palmdale.

It’s a once in a life time thing to see the athletes of the Tour de France,” said Patty Gibson of Lancaster.

Kotomi Tucker sings the National Anthem.

“I came just to support our local community because this is a really great event that brings everyone from all over the world,” said Palmdale resident Ashley Tapia. “It’s a really great memory to have.”

The event also brought massive exposure to the City of Palmdale, said Mayor Jim Ledford.

“This is a world class event so we’re getting international exposure, and for our city, that’s the goal,” said Ledford. “It’s to show what we are as a community… We’re not only the home of the space shuttle and the stealth fighter, but now we’re the home of the Amgen Tour as well.”

Festivities kicked off at Marie Kerr Park around 8:30 a.m. with exhibits, merchandise and food tents. There was an “100 Years of Flight” exhibit; a display of replica aircraft; the City of Palmdale booth with free souvenir magazines; the Amgen Tour of California merchandise tent; and tents by sponsors Palmdale Regional Medical Center, Double D Cupcakes, The Energy Coalition, Palmdale Chamber of Commerce, and KMIX 106.3/The Edge 100.1 broadcasting live.

Highland High School Air Force ROTC CA 944 posted the colors.

Many spectators arrived well before the festivities began to claim their spot near the starting line. Opening ceremonies were led by Amgen announcer Dave Towle. He interviewed cyclists as they came on stage to sign in to the race. Towle also interviewed Palmdale resident Becky Stafford, who was selected to fire the starting pistol as part of Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer® initiative.

Stafford is a two-time cancer survivor, beating both breast and uterine cancer.

“Next Thursday will be my sixth year of being diagnosed with uterine cancer,” Stafford told the announcer. “The important thing to remember is if you’re ever diagnosed with cancer, go to the American Cancer Society. Everything is free.”

Another key role in the opening ceremonies belonged to eight-year-old Kotomi Tucker, who was selected from nine AV Idol finalists to sing the National Anthem before the start of the race.

Becky Stafford fires the starting pistol.

“I’m just a teeny weeny weeny bit nervous and excited,” Tucker said before taking the stage. “I’m going to have fun.”

Tucker belted out the National Anthem to hearty applause from spectators.

Stafford fired the starting pistol around 10:25 a.m. and the cyclists were off. Within minutes, the fanfare was over.

City officials said the benefits to Palmdale will go well beyond the race.

“The hotels are packed, restaurants are being utilized, so there is an economic impact,” said Ledford. “This is something we want to do every year, this is our goal.”

Palmdale previously hosted the Amgen Tour of California in 2010 as a last-minute substitution.

Assemblyman Steve Knight said Palmdale being asked to host for a second time is a remarkable feat for a city of 152,000 population.

“It’s just something that’s normally for communities that are larger,” Knight said. “The Amgen Tour coming to Palmdale is just exceptional… bringing world class athletes to Palmdale, the community coming out and supporting, that’s what it’s all about.”

The largest cycling event in America, the 2012 Amgen Tour of California is a Tour de France-style cycling road race, created and presented by AEG, that challenges the world’s top professional cycling teams to compete along a demanding course.

For many more pictures from this event, visit our facebook page.

Read the Amgen Tour of California Stage 6 results.