The 2011 Amgen Tour of California starts in South Lake Tahoe Sunday, May 15. This is a big one for cycling fans.
Some of the best road bike teams and cyclists from around the world will pedal for eight days and cover about 800 miles from north to south through great flat areas interrupted by rolling terrain and nice mountain climbs. Throw in some wind, perhaps a little rain along the way and spectacular scenery, and we end up with a world-class professional cycling stage race.
The Tour of California is an internationally recognized race. The European teams wouldn’t bother to enter if it wasn’t. The United States and Europe must field very competitive riders to do well in this race.
Gone this year is Lance Armstrong who retired last year. He was always a big draw, but his absence, while disappointing, doesn’t mean the Tour is any less exciting.
There are 19 teams entered. If you miss them here, there is always the Tour de France, the Dauphene, or the Giro d’Italia in Europe. Watching it here is much easier on the wallet and you don’t have to learn another language to enjoy yourself.
There are five opportunities for fans in El Dorado, Placer and Sacramento counties to view the start, middle or end of a stage. One of the fantastic aspects is it’s free — you just need to get to a spot where you can see them hurtling past.
Riders will ride one and a half loops around Lake Tahoe and then head to Northstar-at-Tahoe for the finish of Sunday’s stage one. Spots anywhere from the casinos at Stateline all the way to Northstar are great for viewing.
Monday’s second stage begins at Squaw Valley and finishes at the Capitol in Sacramento. Tuesday, the riders start in Auburn and end the day in Modesto. South Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley and Davis are all within reasonable distance for most of us to travel.
Make sure to park far enough off the pavement to be out of the way if you pick a spot along a road. If you don’t, it’s probable the CHP will make you move your car.
Highway 50 will be closed over Echo Summit completely by Caltrans for two weeks, followed by a few more weeks of one-lane closures and guided one-way traffic.
El Dorado County residents can take Highway 88 to Luther Pass on Highway 89, which will take you into Meyers. Turn right and you’re on your way to the start line.
Caltrans advises driving to Jackson and heading east on Highway 88. Those from Diamond Springs up can take E16 south to Fairplay Road, turn left and follow the road until it ends at Omo Ranch Road. Turn left again and you will run into 88. Turn left again and you are on your way to your next left turn at Pickett’s Junction onto 89.
You’ll pass through some nice country on Fairplay and Omo Ranch roads with lots of South County wineries along the way. On Highway 88, you’ll pass Hams and Cooks stations, Bear River Reservoir, Silver Lake, Caples Lake, Woods Lake, Carson Spur, Carson Summit and the always wonderful Hope Valley.
Plan to leave a couple hours early. It’s a long ride, but gorgeous. Take chains and a shovel just in case it snows between now and then — Omo Ranch Road isn’t plowed from about 10 miles from the Fairplay intersection. Right now it’s clear.
The Tour of California is colorful and fun. Keep your eyes wide open when the peloton approaches. If you blink, you’ll miss it. It’s that fast.