At 12:15 p.m. Tuesday in Grovetown and just minutes later in Harlem, if spectators lining the course of the 2006 Ford Tour de Georgia had blinked, they might have missed the whole thing.
Eyes wide open, 100 or more pupils cheering from a grassy hill in front of Grovetown Middle School and about 2,000 people lining the streets of Harlem got their glimpse, albeit brief, of the event's speeding cyclists.
"It was pretty cool," said Dalton Taylor, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Grovetown Middle.
About 120 cyclists representing 15 teams and nearly 20 countries sped through southern Columbia County on their way to Macon and the finish of the first stage of this year's tour.
The pelaton came into view from the east of Grovetown Middle on Harlem Grovetown Road and shot past the cheering students in a matter of seconds. Still, it was enough to impress Dalton, who said he was amazed by the speed and precision of the riders.
"They have good sportsmanship," he said. "They keep it fast and don't get in any wrecks."
His teacher, Robin Evans, also marveled at their speed.
"It was great. They were moving so fast in perfect rhythm," said Evans, whose classes have watched the race from the hill for two years.
From Grovetown, the cyclists rolled into Harlem, where Mayor Scott Dean said the blur of the speeding pelaton was "the fastest 30 seconds in Harlem." Spectator turnout in Harlem for this year's tour was lower than in past years because the race coincided with standardized testing in some of the public schools, Dean said. Last year, Harlem city officials estimated about 3,500 people watched the race within the city limits.
The race was still impressive, he said.
"They came flying through and everything looked good," Dean said.
The Tour de Georgia, which wraps up today in the northern Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, is a six-stage, 600-mile open-road race that winds through the piedmont and north Georgia mountains. Within the sport of cycling, the tour is seen as the precursor to the Tour de France.
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