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Tour of California: Biggest U.S. Bike Race Rolls in May

Adventure Sports Journal Cover

Amgen Tour of California springs forward with new dates, stage cities and some famous shaved legs

March/April 2010

Adventure Sports Journal

By Karen Kefauver

Rather than playing El Niño roulette in February, as they've done with mixed success for four years, organizers of the Amgen Tour of California are hoping more flowers than showers will greet racers and spectators in May's fifth edition of the United States' premiere road race.

The eight-day Tour de France-style stage race starts in Nevada City on May 16 and ends in Southern California's Thousand Oaks on May 23, covering more than 750 miles en route.

Despite some rainy wet days, last year's Tour of California drew a record two million spectators and generated $210 million in economic growth. Prospects look good that those numbers will be exceeded this year with the help of California spring sunshine, five new course cities and many of the biggest names in cycling, inducting seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong who returned to cycling last year after a three­ year retirement.

The star-studded lineup also includes three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer of Santa Rosa and many other big names such as Dave Zabriskie and George Hincapie.

After gambling on the weather for four years, the tour's move to May will decrease chances for nasty weather and allow the road race to visit locations that might not have been possible in February, including the very first mountain-top finish in race history (Stage 6, Pasadena to Big Bear Lake).

Hopefully, it will also allow the tour's organizer, AEG, an LA-based sports and entertainment company, to better showcase the beauty of Califomia's ephemeral green hills and spring wildflowers, and bring even bigger crowds out to see the event.

Sixteen cities were selected as the start and finish points for the daily races, including five new ones (see box). For the first time, Nevada City will host a stage of the race - and not just any stage, but the opening of the tour.

It's a strategic, sentimental and scenic choice - the tour coincides with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Nevada City Bicycle Classic (June 20), the oldest bike race on the West Coast and second oldest in the nation. Many notable riders like Greg LeMond and Armstrong (last year's winner) have tested their fitness on the hilly circuit race through Nevada City's historic; colorful downtown.

The tour's lO4.2-mile stage from Nevada City to Sacramento will head south en route to Sacramento, and will travel through Grass Valley and Auburn's Old Town. Heading out of Auburn, the cyclists will cross over the Auburn-Foresthill Bridge - the tallest bridge in California (738 feet). The mostly downhill stage, which will certainly favor the sprinters, will be abruptly interrupted by a grueling climb from the American River to the town of Cool. Sacramento streets will once again see the teams finish with three blistering fast circuits around the State Capitol.

"The first two stages will be mostly sprinting," said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, at a press conference.

He was referring to the Nevada City to Sacramento leg, and Stage 2, lO9.5-miles from Davis to Santa Rosa.

"The Santa Cruz stage will be the first opportunity for (top overall) riders to take the lead," Messick said.

Santa Cruz is the finish of Stage 3, a 113.3-mile race from San Francisco that includes some challenging elevation gains. No matter whether the road is hilly or flat, throughout the race, thousands of spectators will line the course to cheer the riders.

Stage 4, San Jose to Modesto, returns from last year albeit following a longer (121.5 miles) and more difficult route.

From near downtown San Jose, cyclists will head up Sierra Road (1,930 feet) within the first five lung-searing miles. The epic climb promises to be a defining moment in the race. From here riders will face fast, flat, windy roads (including the twisty Calaveras Road) on their way into downtown Livermore for the first time.

The race will then follow Mines Road, where the riders will face nearly 30 miles of narrow, twisty pavement, most of it climbing, before a long descent into Patterson. As in 2009, the stage will finish with two circuits in downtown Modesto. After Stage 4, the ride moves south into Southern California.

In a state that has been hard hit by budget woes, the Tour of California promises to unite and excite communities up and down the state, direct a little sunshine into the state's economy and perhaps give state tourism a boost with worldwide television coverage. And of course it should be a gripping bike race with big names facing off less than two months before the start of the Tour de France.

Karen Kefauver is a freelance journalist based in Santa Cruz specializing in stories on endur­ance sports and adventure travel. Contact her through her website, www.karenkefauver.com.

The Amgen Tour of California: May 16-23, 2010

  • Stage 1: Sunday, May 16 - Nevada City to Sacramento, 104.2 miles
  • Stage 2: Monday, May 17 - Davis to Santa Rose, 109.5 miles
  • Stage 3: Tuesday, May 18 - San Francisco to Santa Cruz, 113.3 miles
  • Stage 4: Wednesday, May 19 - San Jose to Modesto, 121.5 miles
  • Stage 5: Thursday, May 20 - Visalia to Bakersfield, 121.5 miles
  • Stage 6: Friday, May 21 - Pasadena to Big Bear Lake, 132.8 miles
  • Stage 7: Saturday, May 22 - Los Angeles (individual time trial), XX miles
  • Stage 8: Sunday, May 23 - Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village/Agoura Hills, XX miles

Five New Cities for 2010
The 2010 Amgen Tour of California will visit 16 host cities for official stage starts and finishes of the race stages. These are the cities that have been included in the tour for the first time: Nevada City, Bakersfield, Big Bear Lake, Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills.

Talk like a Roadie
Lingo to bring you up to speed at the Tour of California

  • Attack: An aggressive, high-speed move away from other riders.
  • Breakaway: One or more riders who sprint away from the main group in an effort to build a lead.
  • Criterium (crit): A bike race held on a short course, usually less than 5k, often run on closed-off, downtown city streets.
  • General classification (GC): The overall standings in a stage race.
  • King of the Mountains (KOM): This is the title to win for cyclists who excel at climbing. That rider will wear a special jersey during the race.
  • Peloton: The main or whole group of racers. Also called "the pack" or "the field."
  • Prime: Pronounced "preem," this is a mid-race sprint for prize, points or time bonuses. Cyclists push themselves hard to win primes.
  • Stage race: A road race comprised of multiple, one-day races, or stages.
  • Time trial: A race in which competitors start one-at-a-time, usually at 30 second or one-minute intervals. The winner is the cyclist who completes the course in the shortest time.
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