2010 Amgen Tour of California stages unveiled today

Anouncement, of course, should confirm that Merced isn't included next year.

October 22, 2009 

The Amgen Tour of California liked the city of Merced's 2010 stage proposal, but simply couldn't pedal it past the federal government.

Merced's all-or-nothing bid turned up -- nothing.

An official announcement of tour sites will be made today at press conferences across the state, but Merced city officials and local cycling experts have already begun looking toward the 2011 application process.

"We're bummed out," Merced public information officer Mike Conway said.

Merced hosted Stage 4 in February in what was the race's first sunny start.

Eventual champion Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong, gathered in downtown Merced, engaging thousands of local residents.

The stage began with two parade loops in the downtown area, before climbing through Mariposa County and finishing with a sprint in Clovis.

It appears Merced -- which billed itself as "Bike Town, USA" on a large sign that hung near the starting line -- will have to wait at least one more year for an encore performance.

"That would have been a lot of fun. It was nice shot in the arm economically," Conway said. "Also from a recognition standpoint, it gave us a pretty impressive stature around the world.

"We're going to make our application for 2011 and talk to tour organizers to see if they have any suggestions and go from there."

Merced's recent proposal was tempting to tour officials, Conway said.

In the spring, Merced had proposed an alpine climb that would have captured the area's true natural beauty: Yosemite National Park.

The route, designed by local cycling buffs Doug Fluetsch and Steven Hale, would have started in Merced and finished on the floor of Yosemite National Park.

The stage featured challenging climbs over Marshes Flat, Priests Grade, Bagby and Mid Pines Summit, with a final push out of El Portal down into the Yosemite Valley.

The race would have finished in the shadow of El Capitan's rock wall.

"It would have been epic," Fluetsch said. "With the Merced River and the waterfalls, it would have been unlike anything the tour has ever had. It would have been the hardest stage in the U.S. -- by a longshot.

"Our deal was that it was all or nothing. We were either going to be very, very big or not in it at all."

Yosemite National Park rejected the proposal in a letter to Tour of California officials in June, said branch chief of media relations Scott Gediman.

"Our chances went down with that route," Conway said.

Yosemite officials entertained the idea, said Gediman, and would have liked to accommodate one of its Gateway Cities, Merced.

Ultimately, though, federal restraints hampered the plan. Yosemite is prohibited from hosting events that don't serve the park's purpose or have a large monetary prize, said Gediman,who also cited crowd control, safety and road closures as other red flags.

"Based upon impacts to the park and park visitors, it just wasn't feasible," he said.

Next year's Tour of California will be contested May 16-23, allowing the riders to test some Sierra Nevada climbs without the fear of running into snow or ice. The February tour time slot meant that even low-altitude stages were liable to be plagued by cold, wet and windy weather.

Conway said press conferences have been scheduled for today in Sacramento, Modesto, Visalia, Bakersfield -- all projected start or finish cities for the 2010 race.

Cycling experts believe Nevada City will be the event's starting point on May 16, with a Stage 1 route that finishes in Sacramento. The following day's ride runs from Davis to Santa Rosa, followed by a San Francisco-to-Santa Cruz run.

Riders will arrive in Modesto on the afternoon of May 19 at the end of a stage that will start in San Jose. The specific route has yet to be announced, but it's believed to be the same the tour used this past February.

The Tour wraps up on May 23 with a run from Woodland Hills to Thousand Oaks, which is home to the corporate headquarters of sponsor Amgen.

"We had always been told there was no guarantee it was coming back," Conway said. "It didn't surprise us, but we were bummed out because it didn't happen.

"It wasn't because they didn't like the route, so that was a nice pat of the back. But it just didn't work out."

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

The Modesto Bee's Brian VanderBeek contributed to this report.

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