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The road to France? ATOC organizers explain the race’s move from February to May

By Ben Delaney

The Amgen Tour of California has been a great early season race since its inception in 2006. Its organizers want it to be a great race, period.

“We aspire to be an important part of the cycling calendar,” said Andrew Messick, AEG Sports president. “We felt as though being a February race we were, I don’t want to say pre-season, but we weren’t a race that most riders were really targeting.”

To be a bigger race, the Tour of California needed two things, Messick said: a mid-season date and access to more climbing.

“In February, there is a lot of terrain that’s inaccessible due to snow and cold,” Messick said. “Shifting to May will open up the Sierras, mountain top finishes and areas like Lake Tahoe. To showcase the California that we know and love — blue skies, warm weather — we need to be in the spring. We think the racing will be better, and the competition will be better.”

Messick said he is confident that the race will continue to attract many of the world’s top riders, despite its scheduling conflict with the Giro d’Italia. The 2009 Californian tour was a who’s who of professional road cycling.

For 2010, the plan is for the Amgen Tour to serve as a fine-tuning event for riders targeting the Tour de France.

“We are partners with ASO, owners and operators of the Tour de France,” Messick said. “We want to be an important race in the lead-up to the Tour. To that end, we have made the race a little bit longer, a little bit harder. Some of our stages are going to be designed to give people a real indication of where they sit in terms of fitness.”

The big day will be stage 7, from Pasadena up to Big Bear, which could include about 13,000 vertical feet of climbing.

The 2010 Amgen Tour of California will kick off May 16 in Nevada City with at least two of the world’s best cyclists who are also targeting the Tour de France: Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and Tour podium finisher Levi Leipheimer each announced their intentions to race California via Twitter Thursday morning. Tour veterans George Hincapie and Dave Zabriskie also confirmed their planned participation.

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