World’s Best Cyclists Tackle Brutal 750-mile Route

By Karen Kefauver • Photo by Doug Pensinger

With California’s grim budget projections, state residents need something to cheer about. Fortunately, fans of cycling as well as casual observers can rally around this winter’s 2009 Amgen Tour of California, the largest professional bike race in the United States, which runs February 14-22. The 750-mile-plus ride will attract some of the world’s best cyclists – including Lance Armstrong of Texas, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France, and two-time defending Tour of California (TOC) champion Levi Leipheimer, a Santa Rosa resident.

Competing in teams, 128 road racers will test their strength and endurance during the grueling, nine-day event, known as a “stage race” in cycling parlance. From the state capital in Sacramento to Escondido in San Diego County, the all-male peloton will cover almost the entire length of California — racing day after day at a pace most of us can only imagine. They will start and finish the consecutive races in 16 cities that have been selected by TOC presenter AEG Sports. Communities along the route will witness, firsthand, a lineup of some of the most elite, recognizable cycling teams and athletes in the world. (As of press time, the slate of 2009 teams had not been finalized, but many of the same riders will compete in the Tour de France in July). More than one million spectators came out to watch the tour last year, according to AEG.

Host cities for the prologue and eight stages include: Sacramento, Davis*, Santa Rosa (site of the Women’s Criterium), Sausalito, Santa Cruz*, San Jose, Modesto, Merced*, Clovis, Visalia*, Paso Robles*, Solvang, Santa Clarita, Pasadena, Rancho Bernardo*, and Escondido*. (*Cities participating for the first time in 2009).

Rain or shine, some of the most exciting action will unfold in the Northern California portion of the route, including Stage 2’s ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, followed by demanding climbs on Tunitas Creek Road and Bonny Doon Road. Fast descents will follow.

Pro riders Ben Jacques-Maynes and Taylor Tolleson, both Santa Cruz County residents, said they were happy to know what was in store for them on these tough climbs.

“It will be an advantage that I ride Bonny Doon Road regularly on my training rides,” said Jacques-Maynes, who has competed in the three previous TOCs.

The 2009 Tour of California is presented by title sponsor Amgen and organized by AEG, a sports and entertainment company. Amgen launched an initiative in 2005, Breakaway from Cancer, which helps raise funds and awareness for cancer support programs.

For more TOC information, visit www.amgentourofcalifornia.com. For details on Stage 2, the leg from Sausalito to Santa Cruz, visit www.tourofcalifornia-santacruz.com.

An avid mountain biker and road cyclist, Karen Kefauver is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz. She specializes in writing stories about adventure travel and endurance sports. For more of her cycling stories, visit karenkefauver.com.