Two-Wheel Racing

Amgen Bike Tour Returns

Amgen.jpgBy the time you read this story the madness
will have already begun, with dozens of the world’s best bike
racers blazing south through the state of California in a
spellbinding, death-defying blur of brightly colored Lycra. Their
legs, constantly pounding the pedals, are powering their bicycles
for 650 grueling miles on their way from a start in San Francisco
to an eventual finish line in Long Beach, a mere eight days
later.

The Amgen Tour of California is without a doubt the most
impressive and prestigious multi-staged bike race in North America,
and once again Santa Barbara County will be playing host to a
portion of the action with a high-drama and high-speed Stage 5 Time
Trial in Solvang on Friday, and the start of the 105-mile Stage 6
ride kicking off along the sandy shores of East Beach on Saturday
morning.

As any of the thousands of fans who turned out last February to
watch the inaugural year of this two-wheeled extravaganza will tell
you, you don’t have to be a bike enthusiast to appreciate
riders — their tires mere inches apart, hitting speeds in excess of
60 miles per hour as they explode through hairpin turns, zoom
across picturesque wine country settings, and climb up backbreaking
mountains, with the sounds of cow bells and screaming fans ringing
in their ears.

Though still a far cry from the granddaddy of all bike races,
the Tour de France, Amgen has received a 2 Hors Classe rating from
the world’s governing body of bike racing, the Union Cycliste
Internationale, giving it the highest rating a professional stage
race not on European soil can receive.

When the peloton hits the 805 this week, be sure to keep your
eyes out for early race favorites like California native and Team
Discovery stalwart Levi Leipheimer, who is a three-time top-10
finisher at the Tour de France; Italian standout and current world
number-one, Paolo Bettini, riding for Team Quick Step; last year’s
second-place finisher from Team CSC, David Zabriskie; American
legend and multi-stage winner from last year George Hincapie; and
dark horse Norwegian sprint specialist Thor Hushovd from team
Credit Agricole. All told, with 18 teams (six of which have trained
at various times this year in the Santa Ynez Valley) and 144
world-class riders coming from 28 different countries, the tour is
certainly not without its star power.

As for the course itself, it started in San Francisco on Sunday,
February 18, with an individual time trial. From there, the riders
took a 96-mile ride on Monday from Sausalito to Santa Rosa followed
by Stage 2 on Tuesday, which picked up in Santa Rosa and finished
115 miles later on the front steps of the State Capitol building in
Sacramento. Then it was on to Stockton and San Jose for the Day 4
ride, which featured the tour’s most treacherous uphill
stretch — San Jose’s Sierra Road.

From there, on the day before the riders hit our area roads,
they will navigate the dangers of Highway 1 around Big Sur as they
travel 132 miles from Seaside to San Luis Obispo. Unlike last
year’s route, which saw riders coming over the pass on Highway 154
and screaming down Shoreline Drive for a dramatic finish in the
heart of S.B. on Day 6, this year’s stage will be a clock racing
time trial starting and finishing in Solvang that uses portions of
the 154 and 246 highways as racers charge through Los Olivos and
the surrounding area.

However, on Saturday, February 24, just like last year, riders
will line up on Cabrillo Boulevard near the Fess Parker DoubleTree
and start Stage 6, which takes them to Santa Clarita via the hilly
twists and turns of back-country Montecito and highways 192 and
150. Not only is this second-to-last stage anticipated to be the
deciding factor in this year’s competition but it was also a
hands-down favorite among last year’s competitors.

Amgen will then conclude Sunday with a mild, flat, and fast
77-mile spin on a spectator-stuffed 10-lap circuit course in
downtown Long Beach. And, if the bike action alone isn’t enough of
a draw, each tour stop features a virtual circus of activity around
it, complete with live music, games, autograph opportunities,
sponsor booths, gala balls, and educational activities for kids
young and old.

Where to Take in the Action

Stage 5: Solvang, Friday, February 23

The race begins at 11 a.m. in front of Mission Santa Inés and
finishes up nearby approximately three hours later. (Due to the
nature of time trials, riders will be crossing the finish line
basically non-stop.) Other choice viewing spots include Sunny
Field, which is about a mile out from the start line; downtown Los
Olivos; Ballard Canyon; and Hans Christian Andersen Park in
Solvang. The sure-to-be-packed finish line is in front of the
bandstand at Solvang Park on Mission Drive.

Stage 6: Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita, Saturday, February
24

Though the race doesn’t get underway until 11 a.m., the fun
begins hours earlier with a whirlwind of activities around the
start line on Cabrillo Boulevard between Garden Street and Calle
César Chávez. Prime viewing once the starter’s gun sounds can be
found along East Beach; roadside vantage points throughout
Montecito, as the pack of riders makes its way to Foothill
Road/Highway 192 toward Carpinteria; and Highway 150 into Ojai
should also offer some spectacular views of the screaming
peloton.

NOTE: Roads will be closed in surrounding areas on race day,
thus making last-minute attempts to get to the action next to
impossible. Using your own bicycle to access the action is
advised — especially for the Montecito and Carpinteria portions of
the race.

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