Perhaps we’re wrong in thinking that the wild success of the US Pro Cycling Challenge — aka Tour of Colorado — has put extra pressure on the Tour of California.
While the first three years of the Colorado race have been met with huge, enthusiastic crowds and generally perfect weather, California has had some bad luck and in our opinion, a loss of momentum.
Last year, in a route switch, California decided to go from South to North. That seemed like it might be a fun change-up but the first two stages saw the temperatures rocket from 100 to over 110 degrees. It was a rare opportunity for fans to witness professional athletes melting. Verdict: let’s not do that again.
The race had also been burned the year before only this time it was not unexpected heat but unforeseen snow in Lake Tahoe. Stage one was cancelled and the high elevation start of stage two was shortened and pulled off the mountain. Second verdict: not running that risk.
Perhaps hoping to avoid the snow and heat and in response to the successes of Colorado, the race organizers did what many people in California do when facing difficult problems: they said, “screw it, we’re going to the beach.”
Thus the Tour of California went for the money shots — the dramatic, sweeping coastlines of California — from Monterey to Cambria to Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara. Take that Aspen and Breckenridge, top that, you land-locked Coloradans. And so California skips the oven of Palm Springs and the potential late snowstorms of Lake Tahoe.
In keeping with the more scenic route, they also eliminated the horrific eyesore that was the Bakersfield time trial. In a state as diverse and stunning as California, holding a time trial in Bakersfield was a shocking decision — a scorched earth, post apocalypse landscape of thousands and thousands of aging oil pumps. Like holding a bike race around Chernobyl.
Things should be far more beautiful in Folsom, for the stage two battle against the clock — unless they decide to take the riders past the famous Folsom prison, immortalized by the Johnny Cash country western song. Brings new meaning to the old French term for bike racers — ” Les forcats de la route,” or slaves of the road.
The Tour of California launches in the state capital of Sacramento instead of the usual Santa Rosa kick-off. That means there will be significantly less Levi Leipheimer and, sad to say, far less wineries. The second is definitely a drawback but there’s plenty of good wine lists in Sac Town and besides, we’re headed down to Santa Barbara so we can certainly wine-taste and bike spectate there.
With the Mount Diablo summit finish on stage three — a reprise of the queen stage last year — this Tour of California looks to be more beautiful and of course, more beachy.
In our opinion, the only black mark is the inclusion of Santa Clarita, the start town for both stage six and seven. Santa Clarita made its debut last year and we can’t say we were thrilled — it’s one of those cities that appear to be nothing more than suburban sprawl. As Gertrude Stein once said of Los Angeles, “there is no there, there.”
Last year’s start in Santa Clarita was in one of those higher-end shopping malls that lacked all personality. The night before, I’d tried to vain to find any old town character or any restaurant that wasn’t a chain or a sports bar. Total failure. Strictly on tourism, Santa Clarita doesn’t have much to recommend it and the Tour is using the city not once, but twice.
We are, however, super excited about the final stage out of Thousand Oaks, the headquarters of race sponsor Amgen. Cyclingnews described the stage as likely to be a “demanding, punchy circuit” and we couldn’t agree more.
If it’s the same course as the 2010 edition of the race, we’ll again be on the 5k Rockpile climb where eventual GC winner Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) kept his 9 second advantage over Dave Zabriskie. It was indeed a killer circuit and exciting racing as Garmin threw everything at Rogers from the gun but couldn’t crack him.
That will wrap up the Tour of California and hey, we’ll be about 20 minutes from the Pacific ocean. Time for one final run to the beach.
Stage 1: Sunday, May 11 – Sacramento
Stage 2: Monday, May 12 – Folsom (Individual Time Trial)
Stage 3: Tuesday, May 13 – San Jose to Mount Diablo State Park
Stage 4: Wednesday, May 14 – Monterey to Cambria
Stage 5: Thursday, May 15 – Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara
Stage 6: Friday, May 16 – Santa Clarita to Mountain High
Stage 7: Saturday, May 17 – Santa Clarita to Pasadena
Stage 8: Sunday, May 18 – Thousand Oaks.