Amgen Tour of California: On May 16, 2012, the World Will Be Watching

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2012 10:05

Courtesy Amgen Tour of California

For one day, Sonora will be the center of the bicycling universe, attracting many of the world’s top racers and media coverage reaching millions of viewers around the globe.

As host to Stage 4 of Amgen’s 2012 Tour of California bike race on Wednesday, May 16, the town will see record crowds. “We’re expecting 10,000 or more,” says Sandy Gordon, the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau’s marketing manager.

Her estimate may be conservative. Nevada City, a Mother Lode town of 3,100, hosted stage starts for the bike race in both 2010 and 2011 – and drew 30,000 to 40,000 spectators each year, according to Vice Mayor Duane Strawser.

“The town was absolutely packed,” says Strawser, 48, a three-year city councilman who also owns the community’s bike shop and organizes the 52-year-old Nevada City Classic, the nation’s second oldest cycling race.

More people will be in Sonora on May 16 “than have ever been here before for any event,” Gordon says of the 2012 event, which will see cyclists race from downtown Sonora to the Fresno County community of Clovis, more than 130 miles away.

Some perspective: The 1848 discovery of gold over three years saw the county population rise from a few hundred to nearly 18,000. For Amgen, that many people could pour in over just 48 hours.

NBC Sports Network will telecast the Tour of California, an eight-day, 750-plus-mile race featuring more than 150 star cyclists, many of whom will go on to compete in the Tour de France in July. Leading American riders will include Levi Leipheimer, a three-time Amgen champ, and Chris Horner, who won last year’s race at age 39.

Despite the Tour’s international flavor, Stage 4 is at its heart a local event. With help from Tour administrators, a local organizing committee has recruited volunteers and sponsors. Festivities began in February with unveiling of the route and will extend through race day, with parties, rides, receptions, an art exhibit, train rides and more.

A “Rope, Ride, Ribbit” campaign has linked the Tour with Sonora’s May 12-13 Mother Lode Roundup and the May 17-20 Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, offering visitors a unique trifecta.

Rounding up sponsors and contributors, the race’s local organizing committee hopes to raise $100,000 to meet race costs. It’s an investment that could pay off in spades.

Strawser says a poll of Nevada City businesses, and comparisons with other similar-sized cities, shows the race pumped an extra $1 million into the economy over three days, including race day, the day before and the day after.

“And we’ve enjoyed continuing benefits,” he says. “People who saw the race on TV or read about it in papers have come here to see for themselves.”

The event generated stories about Nevada City in the New York Times and other national and international media, from Europe to South America. “You can’t buy that kind of publicity,” says Strawser, an accomplished road and mountain bike racer since the mid-1980s.

Part of Amgen’s appeal in the Sonora area is that many local riders have already pedaled some of the scenic route the elite cyclists will cover. Lime Kiln, Campo Seco and Jacksonville roads, as well as Highway 49 (nearly 80 miles of which are part of Stage 4), are all on the tour route.

No, baseball fans can’t play at AT&T Park, Wrigley or Fenway. But Tuolumne County cyclists can step out their front doors and pedal the same roads the world’s best will take on.

Amgen Tour cyclists will stay in Livermore, the Stage 3 finish, the night of May 15 and should arrive in Sonora by 8:30 the next morning to prepare for the race to Clovis. By that time, a pit row will be set up on Washington Street north of the Yaney Avenue starting line, next to downtown’s Courthouse Square. Cycling fans are free to stroll through, talk to riders, gawk at $20,000 bikes and watch mechanics at work.

At about 10:45am, the cyclists will head south from Yaney on Washington Street, cross the Highway 108 bypass, then turn west on Campo Seco Road. After crossing the second set of railroad tracks, the figurative “green flag” will fall and the racers will open up. They are expected to hit 50 mph on downhills and average 25 mph for the entire stage, which includes about 10,000 vertical feet of climbing.

All roads will be closed to traffic while the riders pass through. Washington Street will be closed for much of the day, and downtown parking will be at a premium.

Out on the course, fans are welcome to stake out viewing spots in advance as long as they do so early and their cars are parked off the pavement. One way to see the race is to volunteer as a course monitor, helping with barriers, intersections and pedestrian control (online, register at

But for the best overall look at the race, tune in or record it on NBC Sports Network; check local listings for time. Just make sure your cable or satellite purchase includes the channel, as it’s not in most basic services.

Stage 4 includes four King of the Mountain competitions on key grades, and sprints at Mariposa and Oakhurst. A high-speed, potentially dramatic descent to the finish line in Old Town Clovis will follow.

The eight-stage race, which starts May 13 in Santa Rosa, will end May 20 in Los Angeles.

© 2012 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2012 10:05