The poorly kept secret that Modesto was again going to host a finish line for the 2010 Amgen Tour of California was replaced Thursday morning by the official announcement and an appeal to spread the word.
The fifth annual Tour of California will be moved to May from February for the first time in 2010, virtually assuring riders that snow, ice and wind will not be a factor as they pedal more than 750 miles from the Stage 1 starting line in Nevada City to the final Stage 8 loop in and around Thousand Oaks.
Along with Thursday's unveiling of the start and finish lines, many riders and their teams chose to announce their intent to compete in the 2010 Tour of California.
That list is headed by Lance Armstrong and his new Radio Shack team, which also includes three-time defending Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer. Top American riders Dave Zabriskie and George Hincapie also indicated on Thursday that they would ride in the race.
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This will be the third straight year Modesto has hosted the race. In 2007, Modesto was a starting point for a run to San Jose that took riders over the crest of Mount Hamilton. Last year, Modesto was the finish line of a run from San Jose that avoided Mount Hamilton.
The exact routes will be revealed at a later date, but it's certain that Modesto's finish line, which will come at the end of the May 19 Stage 4 run from downtown San Jose, will mark the Tour's midway point. From Modesto, the tour skips this February's Merced-to-Clovis stage and reconvenes the following morning in Visalia to begin a Stage 5 run to Bakersfield.
The main reasons for the move to May were the weather and the chance for riders to use the Tour of California as a final significant tuneup for the Tour de France, which begins July 3. This new time slot competes directly with the prestigious Giro d'Italia, which could prevent some of the better European riders from competing in the California race.
The February chill faced by the riders also was felt by local organizers and sponsors, who saw crowds limited by the bad weather. Moving the race three months ahead allowed organizers to incorporate Sierra Nevada climbs in the route without having to worry about snow.
On Feb. 17, the date this year's tour stopped in Modesto, a high of 51 degrees and 0.16 inches of rain were recorded downtown. On May 19, Modesto broke a spell of 100-plus degree days with a high of 91, although the historic average high for that day is about 82 degrees.
"It's obviously not a guarantee of good weather, but we're going to go for it," said Julie Hannon, Modesto parks director and co-chairwoman of the leg's local organizing committee. "It's already an all-day event. Last year when the race wrapped up, we wanted to do more things on stage, not bands necessarily, but more things with the schools and getting more people involved. We're hoping to ramp-up that part of it."
The idea is not only to bring upward of 20,000 people downtown for the race, but to keep them downtown to spend money in stores and restaurants. Hannon's committee estimated a minimum sixfold return to downtown businesses on Modesto's sponsor- underwritten $100,000 investment in the event. The committee thinks it can spark an even greater return next year with better weather.
The race's supporters in Modesto will have to raise more money for the 2010 event. The 2009 contract called for local committees to pay for hotel rooms for the Amgen staff and work crew that ran the event. In all, the Modesto committee paid for 143 rooms in February.
But in the 2010 contract between Amgen and the city, the local committee adds the responsibility of booking and paying for the rooms for the riders. Jennifer Mullen, executive director of the Modesto Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the local committee in 2010 will be paying for as many as 1,000 rooms — nearly two-thirds of the total room inventory of hotels in Modesto and Salida.
"I feel very confident we'll fill every hotel room we have and beyond," Mullen said. "We already have groups coming to Modesto that week that have nothing to do with the race. We'll be filled to the brim."
The additional financial responsibilities means the committee must identify additional sponsors to underwrite the event. Don Beebe, the director of community relations and special events for Save Mart, was an interested listener at Thursday's press conference.
"We were a primary sponsor last year and there's a good chance we will step up and increase that involvement this year," Beebe said.
Not lost on Beebe was the slight irony of the Tour's new May time slot. For many years, Save Mart was the major sponsor of the Mo- desto Relays, the city's top single-day sporting event for 67 years, which until this year always was staged the second Saturday in May.
"We could never find a way to bring enough people (sponsors) into the room to pay the half- million dollars it cost to put on a track and field event," Beebe said. "If the demise of the relays hadn't come when it had and this had come along in May, the combination could have been a killer."
Another fringe benefit of having the country's premiere cycling event coming to Modesto on an annual basis has been the positive impact on the local cycling community.
Susan Dion, president of the Stanislaus County Bike Club and volunteer coordinator for the local organizing committee, said her club's membership has exploded in the past two years.
"Our cycling club has almost doubled in size since the race came here and we've seen a new club start in town that's focused more on racing," Dion said. "We had more than 100 members volunteer this year, and next year we expect that number to double."
For more race information, including how to volunteer, visit the official Web site, www.amgentourofcalifornia.com.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.