MODESTO — Modesto welcomed and celebrated the Amgen Tour of California, North America's top bicycle race, with passion and energy for four years.
It became the city's top one-day sports attraction, and crowds of up to 25,000 lined the tree-lined streets to watch icons such as Lance Armstrong zoom by in the peloton. Downtown was turned into a vendors' heaven and media from around the world chronicled the race almost breathlessly.
And then, in a flash last month, it was done. Tour organizers released the 2012 itinerary, and Modesto learned it would not be a part of the Santa Rosa-to-Los Angeles program next May. Officials selected a San Jose-to-Livermore route for Stage 3, and Sonora was chosen as the starting point of Stage 4 for a trip to Clovis featuring a treacherous climb of Old Priest Grade Road below Groveland.
City spokesmen accepted the disappointment with grace and noted the Tour's preference for different routes and scenery. They also realized the local stage, which received rave reviews by all involved over the years, easily could return to the calendar.
Still, the news saddened fans and officials who had enjoyed Modesto's latest entry in the sports world. The Tour's exit from the city, though it is hoped to be temporary, was named The Bee's top local sports story for 2011.
1. It wasn't for lack of interest or excitement that the Tour pedaled away from Modesto. Fans cheered another chaotic finish last May, as Greg Henderson of Sky West edged Argentian Juan Jose Haedo and last year's stage winner Thor Hushovd for the win.
The Auburn-to-Modesto trip, toughened by a headwind, left riders weary and sore at the I Street finish line. Six months later, it was Modesto's turn to reach the end of the line. "Modesto is a fantastic partner and they have been for four years," said Kristin Bachochin, the tour's executive director. "We look forward to coming back to Modesto in the future."
2. Hilmar kicker Kurtis Bettencourt waited patiently while his coaching staff kept him loose by telling jokes to break the tension. Escalon coach Mark Loureiro called three straight timeouts to rattle the player who had missed two field goals in a 10-0 loss to the Cougars a month before. Bettencourt then delivered the boot of his young life a 42-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 final. Down went mighty Escalon, the 2010 state small-schools champion and holder of a state-leading 25-game winning streak, 20-17 in what was the Stanislaus District's game of the year.
3. Chuck Hayes, the pride of Modesto Christian, thought he had extended his NBA career in the best possible way a four-year $21.3 million contract with the close-to-home Sacramento Kings. Then he learned he had failed his physical due to a heart abnormality and the Kings voided his deal. Two days later after more extensive tests in Cleveland, the story took a favorable turn. Hayes' heart was enlarged only by a pouch on the right ventricle, said specialists, and was not problematical. They recommended he can continue his career, and the Kings added the happy ending by re-signing him for $1 million more than the original contract.
Basketball fans recognized Hayes' special heart years ago. They now had proof.
4. Reeves Nelson, another top-tier grad of Modesto Christian, led UCLA in scoring and rebounding last season as a sophomore. But by early December of his junior year, he was bounced from the team by coach Ben Howland for poor behavior after two suspensions. The tattood 6-foot-8 junior, an unmistakable presence, appeared to be headed for a professional team in Lithuania at year's end.
5. Former Pitman High quarterback Colin Kaepernick, one of the most productive football players in NCAA history while at Nevada, was rewarded last April at the NFL Draft. Kaepernick was selected in the second round (33rd overall) by the San Francisco 49ers. He remains the No. 2 quarterback behind Alex Smith for the NFC West champion 49ers.
6. The Modesto Nuts did everything in 2010 except win the California League championship. They annexed the second-half North Division title and won 13 games via walkoff at Thurman Field. Jerry Weinstein became the franchise's all-time winningest manager, and the Nuts also staged a successful California- Carolina League All-Star game. They drew 180,785, an attendance record for the fifth straight year.
7. The Reserve At Spanos Park north of Stockton owns a nickname Shawnee's Alley, named for Shawnee Martinez, the Enochs High senior who made Sac-Joaquin Section history by becoming the first golfer, male or female, to win three straight Section Masters titles. She shot 71, 70 and 72 at The Reserve the last three years, earning her a scholarship to Long Beach State.
8. Pick-Any-Number-To-1. Those were the odds of a local backcourt tandem starring for the same Division I university. It happened at San Jose State, where Justin Graham (Ripon) and Adrian Oliver (Modesto Christian) engineered the Spartans' most successful season in 24 years. Oliver was the nation's fourth-leading scorer the last two years while Graham exited as the program's career leader in steals and assists.
9. Merced's Doug Fister, languishing on the Seattle Mariners' staff, was sent to Detroit. The Motor City fell in love with him. The Golden Valley High graduate went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA and became No. 2 in the Tigers' rotation behind Cy Young Award winner and American League MVP Justin Verlander. Fister then beat the Yankees in the Divisional Series and the Rangers in the ALCS.
10. The MJC Pirates notched their second straight 8-3 season, and a No. 22 national ranking, featuring a high-acceleration offense that averaged 41 points and 490 yards per game. The Pirates set three school records during a 72-26 rip over Merced Aaron Fields rushed for 350 yards and rallied from behind to defeat Delta in Week 10.
11. Oakdale (13-1) roared through the football season with a 36-point margin of victory but, for the second straight season, was stopped by Del Oro in the Section 3 final. Del Oro advanced to Carson for a state title game while Oakdale again limped home. The Mustangs averaged 49 points a game and deployed almost all juniors on defense.
12. Cal State Stanislaus built its sparkling Al Brenda Track at Warrior Stadium as a soccer and track showcase. That vision was rewarded when the Warriors became hosts of the NCAA Division II Track and Field Championships, which drew 620 athletes from throughout the country and attendance of more than 6,000. Fifty-two national champions were crowned in Turlock.
13. The improved MJC Pirates encouraged their fans by reaching the title game of the 74th MJC Tournament for only the third time since 1999. This was important, given the fact the Pirates haven't won the event since 1945. Nearly 1,000 attended the final, but Fresno won 98-71.
14. The Beyer High Patriots (9-3) climaxed a rebuilding program engineered by coach Rich Alkire and won the Modesto Metro Conference football title. It was their first outright title since 1975, when Dean Laun he died this fall coached the Patriots. They lost to Stagg in the postseason that year, so it was fitting that Beyer won its first-ever playoff game ... over Stagg.
15. The Modesto Christian Crusaders (25-9) are still chasing that elusive state title. Another good season they're 76-23 in the last three seasons ended with a loss in the Northern California Division 4 final to St. Mary's of Berkeley, 70-42. The Crusaders learned later that freshman Charise Holloway, the district's player of the year, transferred to St. Mary's of Stockton.
16. Devin Combs celebrated his 21st birthday in July by opening a special present a football scholarship to the University of Nevada, where Kaepernick launched to stardom. Combs returned to football after a three-year layoff and accounted for nearly 3,000 yards and 25 TDs (19 passing, 6 rushing) as MJC's double-threat quarterback. He redshirted this fall and will enjoy three seasons with the Wolfpack.
17. The Cal State Stanislaus women, playing without injured star Katie Busi on senior night, scored their most significant win in years when they knocked off Cal Poly Pomona the top-ranked team in the West 83-80. Senior Christin Gowan drove to her left and hit an off-balance jumper with 9 seconds left to spark a postgame party.
18 The Le Grand High Bulldogs (12-1) brought pride and excitement to their Merced County farm town by winning the Section Division 5 title and advancing to a state-final berth in Carson. Though they had not played in 20 days, they fought Sierra Canyon on equal terms for a half before losing 34-13.
19. Oakdale, the Section Masters champion for the first time since 1964, qualified a remarkable nine wrestlers to the State Meet in Bakersfield. But by early afternoon on the second day, all nine had been eliminated. One of the district's best-ever teams placed 13th.
20. CSU Stanislaus (11-4-6) made history by winning the school's first California Collegiate Athletic Association women's soccer title. Sophomore Karenee Demery totaled 16 goals, six of them game-winners, and earned All-American second-team honors for the second year.
Justin Jones (Oakdale) pitches Cal to College World Series.
MJC's Caitlin DeNise swims to two state titles.
Enochs' Faith Makau wins Section D-1 cross country title.
Jeff Thomas wins 3rd Modesto City golf championship.
Oakdale takes 4th Section D-4 baseball title in 5 years.
Escalon captures 2nd straight D-5 baseball title.
Ripon Christian girls win 5th Section D-5 volleyball title.
Milt Richards resigns after 13 years as Stanislaus A.D.
Pitman freshman wrestler Emilio Saavedra goes 52-2, 3rd in state.