Five questions with Andrew Messick: Armstrong adds excitement to Tour of California

Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, which owns and operates the Amgen Tour of California, had a good day last Thursday. That's when Lance Armstrong announced he would be competing in the race. The Bee caught up with Messick by phone in Las Vegas, where he was attending Interbike, the major bicycle trade show.

You got some good news (last Thursday) for your race.

We announced that Lance Armstrong will be riding the Amgen Tour of California, and we're very excited about that. We think it's great news for the sport of cycling, great news for the Amgen Tour of California. We think it's great news for Lance because he gets an opportunity to ride in a top-tier race in the United States that's going to bring attention and focus onto him and his causes.

Did you reach out to Armstrong?

We heard about the comeback and we went to them very early and we said, "This is perfect. We think that our race, where it sits on the calendar, the caliber of racing, the course, all of those elements are supportive of people performing at a high level in the Tour de France." If his ultimate goal is to go back and race competitively in the Tour, we're a vital building block in building that six-month program that gets him fit for that.

Sacramento is already excited that the race is coming here (Feb. 14) for Stage 1. How much different is it going to be with Lance Armstrong?

You know how great Sacramento was last year. Part of me says I'm not sure how we're going to put more people around the course, but my guess is we're going to put more people around the course. It's going to be an epic day in Sacramento. We have the luxury of the whole race unfolding there. We're going to have women's racing (in a separate race). We're going to put a lot more effort and energy behind it to make sure it's one of the most special days for sports that Sacramento has had in a long, long time and a real celebration of cycling. There's so much good that can come of this. Just put aside the cancer issue. If Lance Armstrong is able to bring a broader audience in terms of who is paying attention to cycling, maybe we can get more people riding bikes. …

What other stars are coming?

I had a long talk with (sprinter) Mark Cavendish this morning. He's at Interbike. He said, "I can't wait to come back. I'm looking forward to racing." I would be selling the Amgen Tour of California short if we only talked about Lance Armstrong. Cavendish is the fastest man in the world. I mean, there's nobody faster on a bike right now, and he told me he's going to be there. We're going to have a great, great field. We'll be disappointed if we don't get Oscar Freire and (Paolo) Bettini and we don't get those super high-profile iconic guys who love our race.

What about television coverage?

We're going to be more than doubling the number of hours the race is broadcast in 2009 from 2008. We think we'll go from 14 to 32 hours, and it is our expectation that we'll broadcast the race in over 100 countries. The race will be on live in potentially as many as 60 countries.

– Blair Anthony Robertson