Baseball has moved smartly out of the shadows cast by Barry Bonds when he attacked pitches with superhuman ferocity. Can the sport of cycling retain its popularity after the image of Lance Armstrong pumping up a steep mountain road with a scowl on his face has become a portrait of dishonor?
The disposition of the American cycling public will be tested soon when the 2013 Amgen Tour of California churns through 750 miles of scenery, starting May 12 in Escondido and winding up May 19 in Santa Rosa. Sixteen professional teams comprising 128 riders will compete in the eight-day stage race.
Santa Barbara has a place in the heart of the race. Stage 4, which starts in Santa Clarita, will finish on Cabrillo Boulevard on Wednesday, May 15. The next morning, the riders will take off from the waterfront on Stage 5, a race along the back roads of the county that will finish at Avila Beach.
Patrick Diamante, one of the recreational riders who congregate at the Handlebar coffee house on Canon Perdido Street, said he is ready to embrace the race. “It’s such a good sport, a beautiful sport, a sport a lot of people can enjoy,” he said. “It’s a shame it was corrupted [by the doping scandal]. It was all about the money. The sponsors, the sanctioning bodies, they all knew about it, but they didn’t care. It was all about Lance. If he sells a house, it’s news. They need to turn the page and move on.”
Barney Berglund never lost his enthusiasm for the sport. “I loved riding as a kid, and I rode in college in Colorado,” said Berglund, who works in consulting and finance. He was chairman of the local organizing committee when the inaugural Amgen Tour came through Santa Barbara in 2006, and he was ready to take on the responsibility again when the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission made a deal to host the two stages this year.
One of the positives of the Armstrong era was cycling’s role in promoting efforts to fight cancer. The biotechnology giant Amgen, title sponsor of the Tour of California since its inception, has used the race to publicize anti-cancer initiatives. The irony was not lost on Berglund early this year when he was diagnosed with retroperitoneal sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.
“I’m planning to be at the race, but there’s an outside chance I won’t make it,” said Berglund, who has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments. The race will go on, with the help of Jack Bianchi and Susie Willett, who have joined Berglund as cochairs. They are a dream team. Bianchi, a cancer survivor himself, is an outstanding senior athlete (running, cycling, and triathlon) who’s often at the forefront of charitable causes. Willett once competed on UCSB’s cycling club and has taken up the sport again; she works full-time for the Conference & Visitors Bureau.
To plan for the safe passage of an army of cyclists and support vehicles through the city is no small task, but Willett said, “We’re doing something that we’re passionate about.”
The organizers recommend three ways the public can become more closely involved with the race:
• Volunteers are needed to serve as course marshals. Sign up at the Amgen Tour website (amgentourofcalifornia.com).
• Those who want to view the Stage 4 finish in style can purchase a pass to the VIP Viewing Party for $75. Inside a tent at the finish line, guests will sample food and drink, watch the progress of the race on big-screen TVs, and bid on race souvenirs. Proceeds will benefit the Julie Main Endowment (for cancer research) and the Bike Coalition (SantaBarbaraTourOfCalifornia.com).
• Santa Barbara is one of four host cities to stage a Breakaway Mile, a ceremonial walk for people affected by cancer, prior to the arrival of the cyclists. It is limited to 150 participants (amgentourofcalifornia.com/breakawaymile).
SERIOUS SERIES: Back-to-back series wins have elevated UCSB above .500 (8-7) in the Big West Conference baseball standings. The Gauchos’ next six games are crucial — at home against third-place UC Irvine (10-5) this weekend (May 3-5), and the following weekend at second-place Cal State Northridge (11-4).
ANYONE FOR TENNIS TITLES? UCSB’s first Big West championship of 2012-13 came unexpectedly from the fifth-seeded men’s tennis team. The Gauchos registered three upsets at Indian Wells — over No. 4 Hawaii, No. 1 UC Irvine, and No. 3 Pacific — to win their eighth conference title, their first since 2009, and an NCAA tournament berth. … Bruna Magalhaes, an SBCC freshman from Brazil, won the Community College State women’s singles championship at the Ojai Tournament. She dominated Sarah Anderson of Fullerton 6-2, 7-6 (7-1 tiebreaker) in the final.
YOUNGER, FASTER, STRONGER: The track and field at La Playa Stadium will be abuzz with activity Sunday, May 5, during Club West All County Youth (Grades 1-8) Championships.
For more sports, including a weekly highlight schedule, see independent.com/sports.