30,000 swarm Nevada City to watch Armstrong win classic | TheUnion.com

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30,000 swarm Nevada City to watch Armstrong win classic

With 30,000 fans cheering wildly, cyclist Lance Armstrong zoomed past other champions, his own teammates and the finish line of the Nevada City Classic Sunday to claim the 2009 title of the oldest bicycle race in the West.

The win by the seven-time Tour de France champion puts the local race on the cycling world map – and Nevada City in a stronger position, promoters believe, to land at least a leg of the Amgen Tour of California next year.

If that dream can be realized for Nevada City’s 50th race, leaders in this town largely dependent on visitor dollars may have a foretaste of things to come.

Armstrong’s potential for boosting Nevada City business was so alluring that one restaurateur – a week away from completing preparations for his grand opening – speeded up his debut just for the cycling icon’s arrival.

Matteo’s Public, a new Commercial Street restaurant with a patio right on the race route, opened its doors with only a liquor license and sandwiches brought in from Summer Thymes Bakery and Deli to greet an estimated crowd of 30,000 people.

“Because of the situation, I decided to just bust my butt and get it open,” restaurant owner Matt Margulies said Sunday as cycling fans crowded the Gold Rush town’s sidewalks.

With the throngs of people in downtown Nevada City at mid-afternoon, an increase in sales at local businesses – and the increase in sales tax revenue, however brief – is a welcome development in this city of 3,000 residents that faces a $120,000 budget deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Business owners sought to capitalize on the crowd’s spending power with hot dog and lemonade stands, traveling water coolers and patio seats at some of Broad Street’s most notable establishments being reserved for special deals.

Las Katarinas, which sits just off the finish line, had its window seats reserved for prominent guests, owner Dave Francis said.

“I’ve only got two windows,” Francis said. “They are a premium.”

Las Katarinas also enjoyed a spike in patronage, Francis added.

The National Hotel, with some of the race’s best views from its veranda above Broad Street, sold out its balcony seats quickly for the day, said bartender Robert Stuckey.

The hotel charged $50 for the prime seats, which included brunch, free drinks and champagne.

“Everything is good,” Stuckey said.

The enthusiasm for the classic, spurred by Armstrong’s abrupt announcement of his participation last week, also set the media into overdrive. Local television crew TouchDown Productions, which is known for its “Game of the Week” show on public access television, produced a live stream of the show on NCTV and NevadaCountyTV.org. Executive Producer Gil Dominguez expected 1 million hits on the site, he said.

“Potentially, it’s our biggest audience ever,” Dominguez said.

The business benefit extended beyond Broad Street. Because Margulies’ kitchen wasn’t ready to go and his liquor license requires food be sold at his establishment, he partnered with Summer Thymes in Grass Valley to provide the edibles so he could open just in time for the race.

“What we’ve done is create a family-friendly pub,” Margulies said, surveying a patio full of patrons.

To contact Staff Writer Zuri Berry, e-mail zberry@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4244.