Tour of California Stage 4 Start Timeline

4 a.m.

Amgen construction crews arrive in downtown Merced and begin setup for Stage 4 of the Tour of California. City officials join the crews around 5 a.m. Mike Conway, Merced public information officer, calls the Amgen outfit "magicians."

8 a.m.

Tents begin to pop up along N and Main streets. Two stages are built along 18th Street and the starting line is dressed in the Tour's trademark yellow. The streets are covered in chalked-out messages. A popular message: "Hope rides again." Meanwhile, Amgen officials have begun their trek down Highway 99 from Modesto to Merced in a long caravan of vans and Toyota Tundras.

9:25 a.m.

Fans begin to pour into the stage's epicenter -- an eight-block radius -- carrying noisemakers and coffees. Cowbells drown out the chit-chat coming from the booths and tents near the starting gate.

9:40 a.m.

Teams begin to arrive, slowly tracing their way down 18th street. Team Ouch and star rider Floyd Landis are the first to arrive. Team Type I -- and its documentary film crew -- isn't too far behind. There's no sight of Landis, but his mechanics can be seen working on the team's bikes. It's a meticulous process.

9:50 a.m.

Riders begin to sign in on the main stage. Riders are given an hour to complete the sign-in process. Many of them, including Astana teammates Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer, take their time. No rush.

10:15 a.m.

Merced mayor Ellie Wooten delivers a welcome speech on the main stage, announcing that "Merced is the first city to deliver a blue sky."

10:50 a.m.

Waiting until the very last minute, Armstrong finally arrives on the main stage to sign-in. The seven-time Tour de France champion is met with a hearty round of applause.

11 a.m.

The race begins .... slowly. The peloton -- or pack -- turns the corner from N to 18th street at a cruising speed. Mere feet separate the peleton from the fans lining the streets and corners.

11:04 a.m.

The peloton completes the first of two parade laps and begin to pick up speed. Landis holds a slim but meaningless lead.

11:15 a.m.

And they're gone, headed for the Sierra down Bear Creek Drive and eventually Highway 140 and 49.

11:30 a.m.

Merced Mall Fun Ride begins. Kids on BMX-style bikes dominate the field. Fun Ride nearly turns disastrous, though, as a pack of kids -- and one Sun-Star reporter -- veer off course and into downtown traffic. A motorcycle cop stops traffic and gets the junior peloton back on track.

-- James Burns, sports editor