You won’t get a chance to see the Amgen Tour of California come through San Francisco this year, but you don’t have to travel far to see the pro peloton, which begins this Sunday and races its way though the state over the next eight days.
Though in its infancy compared to established Euro races, the Tour of California has positioned itself as a world-class race, and it’s the largest cycling event in the nation. Nineteen of the elite teams, like Radioshack and Rabobank, will compete in our state, and even without Lance Armstrong, it will still be a cycling superhero showcase. Among the crowd favorites will be Andy Schleck, who came in second at the Tour de France last year, and Santa Rosa local, Levi Leipheimer, who has won the Tour of California three times and held multiple top ten finishes in the Tour de France.
Stage One begins in South Lake Tahoe on Sunday at 10:30 am. At 6,300 feet, it’s the highest elevation start in the six-year history, and one of the most beautiful and grueling routes of the Tour. The route skirts the entire lake on Stage 1 and heads out to Sacramento for Stage 2. In poor timing, Highway 50 will be down to one lane for repairs, so plan your road trip accordingly.
If you want to catch the Tour even closer to home, Stages 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday are your best options. Stage 3 traverses from Auburn to Modesto, and at 120 miles, it’s one of the longest—and most exciting in the Tour. Amgen organizers describe this stage as “a sprinters dream.” If you get there early, you can position yourself at the finish line in downtown Modesto and see heavyweight sprinters jockeying for position before the finish. Fans of the King of the Mountain stages will love Stage 4, which runs from Livermore to San Jose. With three major climbs, this route will be a polka dot jersey dream of a stage.
So, grab your giant foam finger or favorite pro jersey and catch the peloton as it takes to our neighboring towns. Or, if you have the vacation time, you can follow the tour all the way to its Southern California end in Thousand Oaks on May 22.