Modesto gearing up for Amgen Tour of California bike race

The first visit of the Amgen Tour of California to Modesto seemed little more than a flash, as the riders sped out of downtown en route to San Jose.

Last year, Modesto saw the potential of what the event could bring to a city when it hosted a finish line celebration instead of a start.

Now, entering the third year of what it hopes will be an annual relationship with the Tour of California, Modesto has several events planned in the days leading up to the race's Stage 4 finish, which should occur around 3:15 p.m. on May 19.

On Saturday, May 15, the downtown streets will be buzzing with the Modesto Downtown Criterium, an amateur race that starts at 8:15 a.m. at 12th and I Streets. From 10 a.m.-3 p.m. that day, the city — in conjunction with the Downtown Improvement District — will host a family cycling festival.

On May 16, the inaugural Modesto Road Race will streak through the countryside west of Salida, making a nine-mile loop of country roads.

On May 19, race day, there will be several events leading up to the afternoon finish.

The day has been declared a Bike to Work Day, and free bike valet service will be available starting at 6:30 a.m. at Gallo Center for the Arts, adjacent to the Tour of California finish line.

The Lifestyle Festival opens at 11 a.m., featuring more than 100 national and local vendors, the Breakaway from Cancer Village, three Jumbotrons to watch the progress of the riders and a beer garden.

At 11:30 a.m. the Harvest Moon Criterium, an amateur race co-sponsored by the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club and Ciclistas del Valley Cycling Club, will take to the streets.

The VIP hospitality tents open at noon, with the Breakaway From Cancer march of survivors and supporters parading on the downtown race route at 1 p.m., joined by the Beyer High marching band.

As the race date approaches, more than 10,000 cycling education booklets, underwritten by MOCSE Credit Union, will be distributed to local schools.

To date, the local organizing committee has raised approximately $90,000 to fund the event, in addition to the more than $200,000 in in-kind donations made by local and regional sponsors,

Stage 6 start moves to Palmdale

The Pasadena-to-Big Bear route, called the "Queen Stage" of the event due to its difficult and technical climbs, was re-routed because of severe fire and mudslide damage to the Angeles Crest Highway.

Wednesday, event organizers announced the start of Stage 6 has been moved to downtown Palmdale. The new route lengthens the stage from 126 to 135 miles but still features climbs totaling more than 12,000 feet and a finish line at Big Bear's Snow Summit Ski Area.

The route was supposed to start in downtown Pasadena, cross the Colorado Avenue bridge and head past the Rose Bowl, which has been a finish point for past tours.

Pasadena officials, while disappointed at the loss of the stage start, recognized the need to put safety first, since Caltrans could not guarantee the planned route would be cleared and repaired in time to be able to handle the riders plus their support teams and spectators.

Local organizers vowed to put together a new bid to host either a start or finish in Pasadena in 2011.

Tour de France takes over Amgen TV production

The announcement that Amaury Sports Organisation, which owns the Tour de France, will be overseeing all aspects of television and video production for the 2010 Amgen Tour of California has led some long-time cycling followers to hint that the next logical step is for ASO to take over the California race.

The rumors were so strong that Andrew Messick, sports president for Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Tour of California, felt compelled to make a statement insisting the deal extends only to media production.

"It's a complete fabrication," Messick told cycling publication VeloNews. "I have no idea if ASO is interested. There have been no conversations whatsoever. We are happy owning our race and we intend to own it into the long term. Rumors of an ASO takeover are nonsense."

Messick said that the Tour of California, despite its depth of financial support from sponsors and local committees, struggles to break even financially, perhaps fueling speculation of an ASO takeover.

In addition, this is the final year of the five-year, $35 million commitment to the tour from AEG, a Los Angeles-based sports production company.

"Financially 2009 wasn't a good year (for the race)," Messick said. "In the sports industry it was a pretty bad year for everyone. I think 2010 will be much better, and I can envision us being profitable in 2011."

Making a buck off the race

Grass Valley's historic Holbrooke Hotel is offering what it believes is the best vantage point to watch the opening moments of the 2010 Tour of California.

For $20 patrons can sit on the hotel's balcony as riders blaze past. The price includes one well drink or one draft beer. The hotel staff even will bring out a shade umbrella upon request.

What probably won't be offered at the hotel that day is a wine designed to commemorate the 2010 Tour of California. Malibu Family Wines has produced a limited release wine made from grapes grown along the 2008 Tour of California route.

The 2008 Semler King of the Mountains Cuvee, a proprietary red, is a blend of Bordeaux and Rhone grapes is sold only in 750ML bottles $32 a bottle. For each bottle sold, the winery is donating $11 to local organizing committees.

For information on the Family Cycling Festival, contact Nancy Young at 529-9303.