News feature, July 25, 2008
The announcement of the Tour of California parcours for 2009 during the broadcast of the Tour de France in America was no accident, as the promoters of the race, AEG, have partnered with the Amaury Sports Organization. Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski spoke with AEG Sports' president Andrew Messick, who revealed that the race would see its first mountain top finish on Mt. Palomar.
The Tour of California is once again expanding – both in terms of quantity and quality. A recent partnership between promoter AEG and Tour de France organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) will allow the American event to get more worldwide coverage.
The race will be nine days long in 2009, something that Messick said was necessary to do what the promoters wanted to accomplish. "The nine stages allows a number of things. It allows us to cover the geography of California. It's so big and we are now able to get down to San Diego County and south."
One of the aspects left off the press release announcement is that the final stage near San Diego will actually be a mountain top finish, a first for the race. "The final stage is planned to be a mountain stage up Mt. Palomar. Whoever wins the race will have to have legs on the final day!"
"The final stage is planned to be a mountain stage up Mt. Palomar. Whoever wins the race will have to have legs on the final day!" -Andrew Messick lets the cat out of the bag on the race's climax..
"We want to reach out the cycling community in San Diego which is huge and to have a mountain top finish to the race will be exciting."
Running the race through more of southern California is just one the requests by the fans, the media and the riders themselves. Another item on the wish list was to utilize the bigger mountains of the Golden State such as the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe. However, having the race so early in the season means the courses need to be adapted to the riders' level of conditioning – and that the roads of the upper elevations are often closed with snow. But Messick said the 2009 race will try to compromise between the two.
"Merced to Clovis will not be a central valley stage but head east and skirt the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada foothills. It will be beautiful and challenging, but not high enough that we will have to contend with ice and snow."
Another highlight of the race will be a crossing of the Golden Gate bridge on stage three, as it leaves Sausalito. "It won't be an important part of the stage but we are trying to include the important and iconic parts of California. We like the route and are optimistic that going through the forests and along the coast will be beautiful."
Messick said he think the race will continue to become a major part of the top team's early season race plans, though there will always be room for the U.S. domestic teams to have a shot at the big stage.
"We think that the timing and the weather we will still get the best riders in the world. We are already in the position where we have more of the UCI ProTour teams than we are allowed to have. We have a good mix with them and the North American teams. We like that they have a shot at the big European teams. Giving guys like Scott Nydam, Dominique Rollin and other to get out front and mix it up with them is great."
Expanding the Tour's audience
In order to grow the Tour of California, AEG entered into a partnership with Tour de France organiser ASO in order to bring the race to more countries worldwide.
"The ASO and AEG partnership has three elements," said Messick. "The ASO is going to be helping us from an international television perspective, broadcasting the Tour of California in excess of 100 countries next year. We will be on the backbone of some of their networks and support to increase the reach."
And like most partnerships, one hand washes the other. "In turn AEG is going to be helping with [the ASO's] U.S. based partnerships to find U.S. companies willing to partner with their races and build the Tour de France interest here."
Of course the most important part of the deal will be the increased coverage for both races. "We will be jointly promoting each other's racing. We have a whole series of initiatives that will promote the Tour in February and they will promote the Tour of California in July."
When asked about the doping positives at this year's Tour de France, particularly from the perspective of a major race promoter, Messick did not mince words. "I'm in my job because I love cycling. And as a race organizer it pisses me off... what Riccó and Duenas and all those guys did. They do so much damage to the sport, their teammates and all the athletes. They are jeopardizing the livelihood of all the cyclists."
Like many are saying, Messick thinks that the larger point is that the cheaters are being caught, even though it is painful to watch. "I think we are all conflicted, but I think the ASO is doing the right thing and they are testing. I am proud of them. And it's just bad for the sport. The anti-doping authorities are doing a great job. I don't know if they are desperate or stupid, but in time they will be sniffed out. And they will realized if they take these substances they will be caught."