MT. DIABLO STATE PARK -- Eating French bread and cheese, Scott and Sharon Shumway sat in their lawn chairs halfway up Mount Diablo, soaking in a view rivaling cycling enthusiasts Shangri La -- the French Alps.
All the Martinez couple was missing was wine.
Alas, the Bay Area's iconic peak was dry Saturday, due to state park regulations prohibiting alcohol, as throngs of race enthusiasts squeezed along its narrow road to the summit and waited under beautiful skies for some of the world's top professional riders to huff and puff past them during the steep Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California bike race.
The second-to-last stage started in Livermore, looped through East Contra Costa County and back to Livermore before the final climb up Mount Diablo, the most popular stretch for crowds. A retired park superintendent estimated the thousands of spectators to be Mount Diablo's largest single-day crowd.
"We see the race on TV in our living room, and we figured it would be much more exciting to see it up close," said Scott Shumway, who drove through the park gates shortly after they opened to cars at 8 a.m. and then hiked to a picnic spot halfway below the 3,865-foot summit.
Rangers stopped cars before the mountain's steep ascent and viewers were left to hike or bike to find a spot to watch.
At the higher elevations near the finish, the narrow road's shoulders were packed two-to-three deep with people waiting hours before any riders would pass. Fans rattled cow bells, waved flags from different countries, wrote encouraging chalk messages on the pavement, and kept track of the peloton with smartphones getting spotty reception and binoculars.
Devil's Elbow, a steep and sharp switchback near the summit, was one of the most popular viewing points. One man was dressed in a red-and-black devil outfit, holding a pitch fork, possibly honoring the host mountain or the man in a devil costume who has made appearances at European bike races for years.
Finally, by late afternoon, two lead riders pounded up the last steep incline as fans cheered and waved paper noise makers.
"You can see the sweat and the agony on their faces," said Eduardo Messidoro, a race fan from Bay Point who hiked 7.5 miles to stand near the summit finish. "This is so vivid. I hope this race becomes America's Tour de France."
Katy Wilke, of Martinez, and her husband, Shaun, took advantage of her broken foot and got a lift from race officials to the summit.
"We didn't know if we would be able to make it, but I wasn't going to be dead weight," said Katy Wilke, as she ate a picnic lunch 10 feet from the finish line, which featured a 17 percent grade in the last 300 to 400 yards.
The Wilkes and others watched Leopold Konig win the stage with an unofficial time of 3 hours, 54.18 minutes. Tejay van Garderen, 24, of BMC Racing, finished third, kept the tour leader's yellow jersey and is poised to win the 750-mile race Sunday in the final stage from San Francisco to Santa Rosa.
More than 3,000 feet below, Jason Zweiback and his family watched the racers from Diablo Scenic Road, with Zweiback reminiscing about past rides up the formidable mountain.
"I probably went up maybe three or four times. Usually, I'd drive to Blackhawk Plaza and ride my bike from there. But one time I rode from Livermore here, up the mountain and back," he said smiling. "Yeah, that hurt."
Zweiback and his wife, Pat, and sons Jacob and Andy cheered as the riders flew past on the flat section.
"It's like this bizarre parade," Jason Zweiback said. "You've got all these cars in front, the motorcycles, and then the bikers, and then behind them you've got these support vehicles and marshals and police and security, ambulances."
Earlier in the day, recreational cyclists Cindy and Ross Soulier, of Benicia, watched the race start with their 1-year-old daughter, Sienna.
"We're big fans of cycling," said Cindy, who in 1995 participated in a Washington-to-Washington (D.C.) ride. As the cyclists blew past their spot in a hospitality tent, she marveled at their age.
"They're younger than I thought they were going to be," she said, laughing.
Once the cyclists were gone, onlookers perused First and Second streets in Livermore, which were lined with vendor tents. Some listened to live music, as others wearing cycling apparel walked their bikes.
There was at least one celebrity spectator: Former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, who has taken up cycling since retiring from baseball.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.