COLUMBIA — Spectators who filled the sidewalks of Walnut Street this afternoon were eager to catch the speeding cyclists of the Tour of Missouri whiz by.
The crowd was an mix of young and old, families and couples, avid cyclists and curious spectators.
Amy Jerke, of Columbia, brought her children, 4-year-old Kai and 17-month-old Tea, to watch.
“I thought it’d be really neat for my son to see,” Jerke said. “I didn’t know if it’d be coming through every year, so I wanted my son to see it.”
About 45 minutes before the cyclists arrived, hundreds of spectators gathered at College Avenue and Walnut Street to watch them negotiate the hazardous turn at high speed.
Most of those at the scene were prepared to witness an accident resulting from the cyclists’ speed, excitement for the last 500 meters and the tightness of the turn.
“It’s going to be naughty coming around this corner,” said Clayton Cummings, a St. Louis resident and cyclist.
Spectators disappeared over the small hills of College Avenue, filled the bridge over the road and hung over the barricades.
“I wish that I could be in about five different places,” said Joe Kouba, a Columbia resident who came to watch the race with his son and one-year-old grandson.
The cyclists sped through the turn with apparent ease.
“It was everything we expected,” said Joe Moseley, a Columbia resident and cyclist. “It’s like they are all riding on the same bike when you see them make that turn so close together. You see that on television at the Tour de France and you just don’t have a feel for what it’s really like.”
Mike and Laura Morgan, of Columbia, stood watching the big-screen TV broadcasting the race live at the expo area set up along Eighth and Ash streets.
“I’m still surprised it’s actually happening,” Mike Morgan said of the race. “It’s very cool that Team Discovery Channel came out to this.”
Packed crowds along the finish line left some to try to find a better view from above, setting up on the different levels of the parking garage on Sixth and Walnut streets.
Gregg Garcia of Columbia sat with his two boys, Manny and Patrick, eager to see some of the big names of cycling ride past.
“Having the Tour de France winner and all the cyclists around the world brought a lot of excitement,” Garcia said.
Manny, 6, was in awe of the endurance of the riders.
“I’ve ridden 8 miles, but that’s not very much of the 133,” he said.
Matt Gleason, an MU student, leaned over the edge and stared across Walnut Street, anticipating the pack of cyclists that were just minutes away.
“I just want to see a strong sprint with of the big names. (George) Hincapie is my favorite,” Gleason said.
He wasn’t the only one. The crowd watched the big-screen TV set up at the finish line by Seventh and Walnut streets and cheered when favorite Hincapie, the overall leader entering the race, started to make a push to the lead.
But it was Brazilian cyclist Luciano Pagliarini who held off the rest of the racers to put on the yellow jersey in the end. He was met by a roar of cheers as he finished.