The San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys -- aka the Central Valley -- are frequently left out of discussions about and in California. The closest that President Barack Obama has gotten to setting foot on the valley floor was a late-campaign visit to Keene -- about 30 miles southeast of Bakersfield at the extreme southern edge of the valley -- to dedicate a memorial to César Chávez just before heading to San Francisco to raise funds for his campaigns.
That largely describes the relationship that national political parties have with California -- to use the Bay Area and southern California as an ATM machine -- only visiting to glad-hand and fill their campaign war chests.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the same tactic used by the organizers of the 2013 Amgen Tour of California -- go where the money is. In what might be better described as the Tour of Coastal and Affluent California, no city in the valley has been selected as a start or end location, which is disappointing when one considers the spacious fields, rolling foothills and bustling urban areas offered here.
It would seem impossible that planners could miss an area of more than 42,000 square miles, home to 18 of California's 58 counties, two-fifths of the total land area of the state and more than 5 million people -- one-sixth of the state's population.
Race organizers insist they have not permanently ruled out valley communities, including Modesto, and as a privately run event they have every right to select the areas that will best serve their needs. Modesto has been on the route for four of the past seven years, once as a starting location and three times as a finish point. Each of those events were more successful than the last, with tens of thousands of spectators lining the streets to watch the blur of the peloton pass by. Last year Sonora served as a starting point, with the route taking riders through Jamestown, along the eastern shore of Lake Don Pedro and then south to Old Town Clovis -- arguably a route that speaks to California's rich environmental and agricultural history unlike any other. In 2009, Merced served as a start location.
With four of eight routes south of the Grapevine -- and the fifth along the southern Central Coast of Avila Beach -- and the riders heading from south-to-north for the first time, it certainly addresses the perception that past races have been too north- heavy.
There are sure to be active, interested crowds lining the routes in each of the chosen locations. Although with growing awareness about the extent of doping among professional cyclists -- symbolized by the recent fall-from-orbit of cycling icon Lance Armstrong -- the public's tolerance for such behavior might be seen in reduced participation. The city of Bakersfield withdrew its bid to be a host city for the tour in part because of the doping cloud hanging over the sport.
We are disappointed that none of the cities in our region -- Modesto, Sonora, Turlock or Merced -- were chosen to host next year's event. We are even more disappointed that the tour is bypassing the valley -- and a significant portion of California's population -- altogether. We hope the tour organizers realize that it might be harder to reignite the valley's interest in the race than it would have been to maintain it.