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2007 Amgen Tour: Tougher, but no leg-breaker

Six new cities, an increase in difficulty, a reshuffling of stages and a new, elaborate network television contract were unveiled Wednesday for the second Amgen Tour of California. Veteran pro Mike Sayers (BMC Cycling) was the only pending race competitor present among a dozen city officials and sponsor representatives as the route was detailed in the new City Hall chambers in Sacramento, where the second stage will conclude. Sacramento, Stockton, Seaside, Solvang, Santa Clarita and Long Beach are new venues. San Francisco, Sausalito, Santa Rosa, San Jose, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara

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By James Raia

Last year's stage 4 takes the peloton along the coast

Last year’s stage 4 takes the peloton along the coast

Photo: Casey B. Gibson (file)

Six new cities, an increase in difficulty, a reshuffling of stages and a new, elaborate network television contract were unveiled Wednesday for the second Amgen Tour of California.

Veteran pro Mike Sayers (BMC Cycling) was the only pending race competitor present among a dozen city officials and sponsor representatives as the route was detailed in the new City Hall chambers in Sacramento, where the second stage will conclude.

Sacramento, Stockton, Seaside, Solvang, Santa Clarita and Long Beach are new venues. San Francisco, Sausalito, Santa Rosa, San Jose, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara will again be part of the estimated 650-mile journey next Feb. 18-25.

While various representatives spoke of the race’s anticipated excitement, Sayers, the former captain of the Health Net squad and a Sacramento resident, and race director Jim Birrell (via teleconference), largely addressed race changes.

“They’ve added some difficulty to the race,” Sayers, the 13-year pro who last year placed 94th out of 97 finishers, said prior to the one-hour press conference. “The first difficulty is the stage coming to Sacramento (stage 2). It will include a difficult climb that I’ve been up a million times.

“I’m not saying it’s going to decide the race or even have an effect on the race because it’s so early. But it will have a very long and steep climb (Trinity Grade). It’s early in the year and it’s going to take something out of some guys.”

In addition to length and difficulty increases, race organizers have also adjusted the flow of the event. The individual time trial was held in the third stage in San Jose last year. Next year, the time trial will be the fifth stage in Solvang.

The 2007 route

The 2007 route

Photo: Amgen Tour of California

“We learned a lot last year,” said Birrell. “We still want to take into consideration the time of the year the Tour of California takes place. Our intentions are not to go and break legs like we would do later in the season and that you’ll see some of the these riders have to do in (the Tour de) Georgia and later in the year in the Tour de France.

“Last year, the design of the courses were challenging enough to complement where riders were in their training schedules. What we learned is that we put the time trial too early into the Tour. We found out that our overall winner was determined in mid-week. One of things you see in 2007 is that not only have we moved the time trial from Wednesday to Friday, but we’ve shortened it. One of our overall goals is to see that the overall leader’s jersey changes daily so that the storyline is always compelling.”

Defending champion Floyd Landis of Murrieta, California, won the time trial last year en route to his overall victory, ahead of CSC teammates David Zabriskie and Bobby Julich.

Landis wasn’t mentioned during the press conference, but the race will mark the first event of 2007 in which the embattled rider will likely not able to defend one of his several 2006 titles.

With Sacramento’s involvement, stage racing will return to the state’s capital for the first time in 20 years and during Birrell’s race-management indoctrination. The capital city also hosted a dubious moment in the legend of the Coors Classic.

French rider Bruno Cornilett arrived into Sacramento as the apparent winner of the race’s second stage. But the Peugeot rider entered the city from the wrong direction after being taken off course by race officials. The eventual stage winner was Greg LeMond, who also claimed his first Tour de France title the same year. LeMond soothed race officials’ embarrassment by conceding the stage to Cornillet.

Race organizers have not announced the participation of any top individual overall contenders for the 2007 Tour of California. But the Discovery Channel team of the United States, Team CSC of Denmark and Predictor-Lotto of Belgium have confirmed their entries.

Additional teams are expected to confirm their entries and announce the riders who compose their squads early next year, according to Michael Roth, an Amgen spokeman. Roth also emphasized the race has not received any negative reaction from sponsors regarding Landis’s uncertain career status.

The second race will be televised nightly for a total of 14 hours by Versus (formerly the Outdoor Life Network) in one-hour programs and various other recaps. Last year, the race was broadcast in a shorter nightly format on ESPN 2.


Highlights of the 2007 Amgen Tour of California, as supplied by the promoters:

Prologue: San Francisco
Sunday, February 18

A 1.9km prologue, sponsored by Union Bank of California, along the Embarcardero and up the tight, steep climb through Telegraph Hill to the finish at Coit Tower.

Stage 1: Sausalito to Santa Rosa
Monday, February 19

Starting on the northern side of the San Francisco Bay, Stage 1 will cover almost 100 miles from Sausalito to Santa Rosa. Sponsored by Herbalife, the stage begins with a climb from Mill Valley up to Mt. Tamalpais State Park before turning toward Muir Beach. The route mirrors that of 2006 all the way to Valley Ford, where the riders headed east to Santa Rosa; the 2007 route will continue north to Bodega Bay and turn onto Coleman Valley Road, a landmark climb in Northern California. Then it’s downhill from Occidental for three finishing circuit laps in downtown Santa Rosa.

Stage 2: Santa Rosa to Sacramento
Tuesday, February 20

After a scenic start through several Sonoma County wineries the peloton will tackle one of the most significant climbs of the race just 12 miles into the stage —Trinity Road, which will take the bunch into the Napa Valley wine country. Continuing east past Lake Berryessa, the peloton will head through Davis, then head north, following the Sacramento River to the Tower Bridge and on to the Capitol Mall. The stage concludes with three circuits through downtown, finishing on the front step of California’s Capitol Building.

Stage 3: Stockton to San Jose
Wednesday, February 21

After a neutral start with parade laps through downtown Stockton, the peloton will head west through Tracy toward the ascent of Patterson Pass. After passing through Livermore, the bunch will hit the long, constant grade of Calaveras Road, which leads to the most difficult ascent of the race, the category-1 Sierra Road climb in San Jose. After completing this King of the Mountain competition, the peloton will finish the 94.6-mile course in front of San Jose City Hall.

Stage 4: Seaside to San Luis Obispo
Thursday, February 22

Beginning in Seaside with a short neutral lap and following a route similar to the inaugural tour’s fourth stage, the course bears south on Highway 1. At more than 130 miles with three KOMs, this is the longest stage of the race, estimated at six hours in the saddle. The route contoinues through Big Sur and past Hearst Castle before shifting inland toward the finish at the intersection of Osos and Monterey in San Luis Obispo.

Stage 5: Solvang Individual Time Trial
Friday, February 23

At only 14.5 miles, with the start and finish located only two blocks apart, Stage 5 is a flat, fast time trial with one short, steep hill.

Stage 6: Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita
Saturday, February 24

Sponsored by Health Net, this 105-mile stage could be the pivotal stage of the 2007 tour. It’s heavy on climbs with four KOMs, two sprints and a demanding finishing circuit in Santa Clarita. The day starts in view of the Santa Barbara shoreline, brings two KOMs on Highway 150 before passing Lake Casitas and riding into town of Ojai for the first sprint. The third KOM is just outside Ojai, and then the course heads downhill into Santa Paula for the second sprint. Balcom Canyon will be the final climb of the day, where in 2006, nearly 10,000 fans formed a narrow corridor for the riders. The stage concludes with three circuits in Santa Clarita that finish at McBean Parkway at the Valencia Town Center.

Stage 7: Long Beach Circuit Race
Sunday, February 25

The finale is flat and fast —10 laps around a circuit course in downtown Long Beach. Sponsored by Amgen, the stage includes part of the famous Long Beach Grand Prix course used for CART auto racing with views of San Pedro Bay and the Pacific Ocean along the entire course.

Versus, formerly the Outdoor Life Network, will provide daily race coverage, with same-day coverage at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT most weekday nights and live and recap coverage on weekends.

For more, see the official race website at www.amgentourofcalifornia.com

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