SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — One hundred and 50 fit young men in distinctive Lycra cycling gear; 19 world-class teams; 800 miles of professional bicycle racing over eight days; two very stiff climbs — one worthy of the Tour de France; approximately 100+ miles riding each day; one intense time trial; a women’s time trial featuring 13 top women cyclists; and sometimes competing in weather that keeps most of us indoors — that is the sixth annual Amgen Tour of California.
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The Amgen is the largest cycling event in the United States and one of the top four professional stage races in the world. This year’s Stage 1 was slated to begin Sunday in South Lake Tahoe. It would have been the highest elevation start to the tour since its inception in 2005. The Tour ends in Southern California in Thousand Oaks Sunday, May 22.
The Tour has attracted top cycling teams and talent from the beginning, due in large part to the efforts of AEG and Amgen to create a world-class cycling event in the U.S. The eight stages provide a challenge the international cycling community can’t ignore.
The starting line in South Lake Tahoe was just part of the overall excitement that surrounds a major cycling event. Leading up to the scheduled start, spectators enjoyed sightings of the team motor coaches, team cars, and had a bit of face time with various riders.
Despite the winter-like weather, the teams’ bicycles were lined up, under cover, as mechanics fine-tuned them. These road bikes are top of the line equipment provided by the many bike manufacturers.
For cyclists and cycling fans, it’s a bikelicious sight.
After Sunday’s early-morning start was delayed and moved up to 1:15 p.m., the riders were ready to roll. They mounted their bikes, the national anthem was sung — and then massive disappointment.
Stage 1 was cancelled altogether because the weather was just too treacherous. The riders’ safety trumps all other considerations, especially after Woulter Weylandts, Team Leopard-Trek, died following a hard crash on a fast descent at this year’s Giro d’Italia.
World-class bike races like the Amgen are colorful, crowded, friendly, a bit chaotic and absolutely accessible. Riders, team drivers, cooks, masseurs, seigneurs and mechanics are generally out and about and more than willing to sign autographs, pose for photos and talk about their team and the event. Add the beauty of Lake Tahoe to all of this and the payoff is a day to remember for everyone.
AEG, a leading sports and entertainment company and owner of the Tour of California, partners with Amgen, a biotechnological company, to manage and produce the Tour de France-style stage race.
Amgen therapeutics have helped millions of people in their fight against cancer, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, bone diseases and other serious illnesses. The partnership with AEG has proven to be a dynamic and positive influence for professional road cycling in the United States and the fight against cancer.
This year’s tour will cycle through 15 host cities on the way to the finish. The Tour will now start today at Nevada City and end in Sacramento. While in Northern California, the Tour will pass through Grass Valley, Nevada City, Auburn, Wheatland, Davis, Folsom and Modesto.
Official race coverage will be offered by Cycling News, and Versus. One of the most entertaining aspects of the Tour of California will be the running commentary of Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll, of Versus, the most recognizable trio of pros who maintain the verbal gymnastics throughout the Tour de France.
The starting gun will be fired by a cancer survivor at the beginning of each stage. Stuart Arbuckle, head of the Amgen oncology team, told this writer that cancer survivors are nominated by each starting host city. In addition, within the parameters of the race, the Breakaway from Cancer jersey will be awarded to the most courageous rider each day. Breakaway from Cancer is an Amgen initiative that supports four non-profits: Prevent Cancer Foundation, Cancer Support Community, Patient Advocate Foundation and the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.
All 19 international and U.S. cycling teams compete in major stage races around the world. Some of them skip the Giro d’Italia to concentrate on the Tour of California, a testament to the strength of this race. Andy Schleck, team Leopard-Trek, Levi Leipheimer and others treat this as a very serious tune-up for the Tour de France. At the pre-race news conference, Schleck said he is aiming to win the Tour de France this year and he would also like to win the Tour of California.
The Tour of California will generate upwards of $50,000 for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, with perhaps between $5 and $10 million for the entire Lake Tahoe area, a result of 10 days of activities leading up to the start of the race. The impact on the state is $100,000,000 in revenue. It is big business and takes an amazing amount of coordination between race sponsors and organizers, Caltrans, the CHP and all the communities along the route.
This is the highlight of the year for California cycling fans. It’s a world class stage race within reasonable reach of just about everyone. In addition to the race itself, each start and finish line will have various organizations and vendors vying for your attention.
Until Sunday, May 22, the peloton will pedal furiously for more than 100 miles each day on a quest to be at the top of the podium when the last wheel stops spinning.
Liggett said the race will be decided in the last three days. It’s a battle of tactics and skill to put a team in perfect position to launch its leader over the line with the best time each day. The last three days are likely to be very intense.
Cycling enthusiasts who have never seen a world class stage race should plan on doing more than watching the peloton rocket past. Take in the festivities at the start and finish lines of each stage. Tents are set up for different teams, charities and causes. There are food vendors and picnic spots, weather permitting. It is a very family friendly atmosphere that adds a lot to a day of great sport.
The 2011 Amgen Tour of California promises to be the toughest one yet. The winning team and rider will have put their all into the victory. It is a true team effort, and while there will be one rider standing atop the podium when it’s over, he wouldn’t be there without his teammates.