Sports

James Burns: Simple start to historic day

James Burns, sports editor
James Burns, sports editor

Surely you played this game as a child.

Find a globe.

Spin a globe -- spin it so fast the continents and oceans run together, creating a blur of browns and blues.

Let it run across your index finger until you've created enough friction that the orb stops in some faraway land.

Maybe China.

Maybe Morocco

Heck, maybe even Merced.

Why not?

It worked for AMGEN Tour of California and state officials, who worked together in selecting the host cities for the fourth running of America's premier cycling event.

On Wednesday, the Tour will spin its wheels in downtown Merced, looping through our streets and by our shops before making the climb through Mariposa County.

Hundreds of riders, including seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, two-time TOC champ Levi Leipheimer and disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis, will clip in along the stage's starting line.

It promises to be a monumental day in the history Coverage of the event will be beamed into households across the world, thanks to VERSUS.

Thousands and thousands of fans are expected to line the course, many of whom will have come to see Lance.

"When you say Lance is going to be racing in Merced, boom, it creates a mental picture in people's minds," said Mike Conway, public information officer for the city of Merced.

"The Lance Factor is such that we don't know how many people to expect in downtown Merced.

"We're preparing for a big party. We just don't know how many guests we'll have."

Talk about an economic stimulus package.

Those fans, especially the high-end cycling nuts and out-of-towners, will pump loads and loads of cash into our hotels, restaurants and shops.

And, you can bet, the action will be intense. We might even see a pileup or two as the race winds through the city streets.

If we're lucky.

"When we were first looking at it, when we were asked to participate, we thought this would be an opportunity to put Merced in a positive light," Conway said.

"You know, let our city shine and let our city be known for a positive event."

But why Merced?

Of all the cities and towns in the south Valley, why Merced?

Remember that bit about the spinning globe? Well, the selection process wasn't far off.

What?

Did you think an event as elaborate as a nine-day, 16-city tour would have an equally elaborate birth?

Sorry.

You're over-thinking it.

It's much, much simpler.

New cities are selected each year, in part to keep the course new and exciting, but also to showcase different regions of the Golden State.

The city of Clovis, the finish line for Wednesday's Stage 4, pitched a proposal to be a part of this year's format.

At that point, the selection process spiked in sophistication.

Someone with power and influence decided that a run through the foothills and Sierra would be ideal for the Tour. An Alpine Stage, brilliant.

It's not quite the Pyrenees, but a mountain climb would certainly level the playing field.

Officials just needed a starting point, so...

"Someone looked at a map and decided the Merced-to-Clovis would be a fun route," Conway said. "They called. They asked. And we accepted."

Of course, game-plan execution has been a virtual 24-hour job for the city. You can't just throw a party for thousands and not make the proper accommodations.

You've got to know where to put these people. How to feed them. How to police them. And so on and so forth.

But the origin -- the jump-off to this monumental sporting event -- harkens back to a much simpler time. A much simpler game.

Find a globe. Spin a globe.

And where it stops is where the Tour starts.

Stage 4, at least.

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

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