Beginning Sunday, February 19, the excitement of a bicycling
stage race will zip 600 miles through California from north to
south. Much in the style of the very famous race that covers France
each summer and is usually won by an American, the Amgen Tour of
California will be divided into eight leg-busting days, or stages.
The race begins in San Francisco, leads north into the wine
country, circles back and onto Highway 1 for a southward coast run,
and finally terminates in Redondo Beach on February 26. Santa
Barbara lies smack in the path of the riders. Stage 5 ends just
west of Stearns Wharf on Friday, February 24, and Stage 6 begins
the following morning. To celebrate the event, a festival will be
held at the Stage 5 finish line as the riders come into town.
Cycling, both recreational and competitive, is a growing sport in
the United States, and local promoters expect as many as 10,000
people to attend the one-day Santa Barbara festival. “The goal is
to eventually rival the Tour de France in spectatorship and the
level of the competition,” says Barney Berglund, chairman of the
local organizing committee.

Berglund says that although other annual stage races do take
place in the United States — such as the Tour de Georgia — none can
boast of the star power that will be competing in the upcoming
California tour. “The Tour de Georgia has never had the level of
international teams that will be attending this first Amgen race,
and the exciting thing is that there are a lot of great American
riders.” Berglund says that with Lance Armstrong’s recent
retirement from competitive cycling, American promoters of the
sport are working to ensure that the popularity of cycling
continues to grow on domestic soil, and that the cycling craze
built by Armstrong’s domination of the Tour de France does not
wither. “They want to see the enthusiasm of the last seven years

The Amgen Tour of California will consist of 16 teams and about
130 athletes. They will visit 10 cities, including San Francisco,
Santa Rosa, San Jose, Monterey, San Louis Obispo, Santa Barbara,
Thousand Oaks, and Redondo Beach. The eight stages range in
distance from the 1.9-mile time trial stage in San Francisco to the
130-mile Monterey-to-San Luis Obispo “Queen Stage.” The total
mileage measures out at 596.2 miles.

The Tour de France, meanwhile, usually covers 2,500 miles, yet
even to arrange the relatively short Amgen tour was a tremendous
logistical undertaking, reports Berglund; the route has had to be
changed several times in recent months as various CHP offices
reconsidered their plans of cordoning off certain roadways. The
alterations reduced the length of the route by 100 miles, but
Berglund is confident that enthusiasm for the event will only grow
over time and that in the future the tour will receive greater
liberty to go where it wants. Still in its infancy, however, the
Amgen race must organize itself around the bigger, established
tours. “They had to plan this race for the beginning of the year so
it wouldn’t block the European races,” explains Berglund, “but they
eventually want to do it later in the season so they can add
mountain stages.”

The Sierra Nevada, of course, will be buried in snow for months
more, yet some difficult, snow-free ascents await competitors in
the Amgen tour as they travel down the Big Sur coast, past San Luis
Obispo, and onward toward the finish line in Redondo Beach. In
fact, the February 24 climb over Highway 154 as riders enter Santa
Barbara marks the loftiest point in the race. Berglund says the
racers will move at 18 to 20 miles per hour up the back side and
will descend at more than 50 mph. Meanwhile, the Amgen Lifestyle
Festival in Santa Barbara begins at 10:30 a.m. on West Cabrillo
Boulevard, between Chapala and Castillo. Amgen is a biotech company
that specializes in human therapeutics and medical research, and
visitors to the festival will find information on cancer awareness
and treatment. Some proceeds from the bike race, in fact, will go
toward cancer research. Other festivities will include a health and
fitness expo, cycling gear, family activities, live entertainment,
and a big-screen TV to keep the crowd tuned in to the race as the
riders move toward town. The first cyclists are expected to arrive
at approximately 2 p.m., and winning jerseys will be distributed on
the stage at 3 p.m. The jerseys, which are granted after each day’s
ride, go to the best athletes in various categories and aspects of
the race.

These include the strongest mountain cyclist, the fastest
sprinter, the most aggressive cyclist, and the most promising rider
less than 23 years of age. The stars of pro cycling may not be as
well known to Americans as our baseball and basketball icons, but
they are tremendous athletes in their own field. Some of the big
names competing in the Amgen Tour of California are Levi Leip-
heimer, George Hincapie, Bobby Julich, and Gilberto Simoni — all
veterans of the renowned summertime tours of Europe. Each of these
cyclists enjoys the status of “protected rider”; each is a valuable
asset to their teammates, who shield them from the headwind as they
move together across level terrain. This trick is called “drafting”
and it prepares these star cyclists for punishing climbs, where
they tear ahead on legs of steel. Like Lance Armstrong, these
cyclists are the ones who win races, and they are the ones to watch
out for just before 2 p.m. on February 24 as they charge over San
Marcos Pass.


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