by Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The fourth edition of the Tour de Georgia will feature mostly familiar race routes with many of the same host cities. The one major departure for the race is a literal departure -- with the third stage's individual time trial leaving the state to finish just across the border in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The other major change for the race is its elevation to Hors Category status by the UCI -- the only race in North America with this status.
Other than those changes, the race will look very familiar which has drawn criticism in the past. However, race technical director Jim Birrell of Medalist Sports told Cyclingnews that fitting as many regions of the state while still creating a challenging course with minimal transfer is a tough equation. "Being a six day tour, we are limited to how far we can geographically go in the state," said Birrell. "We learned our lesson of minimizing auto transfers [in 2004.] In putting together a compelling course we have to consider the topographical aspects of the state as well. To make a successful tour you need a little bit of everything. Certainly southern Georgia is in the long-term plans, but we need to increase the amount of days before then."
Taking a look at the 2006 edition, the race will get underway in Augusta, the same as last year and the third time the city has hosted. From here the race runs southwest to Macon, the farthest south the race will travel. Macon has been a participating city in all four years of the race. The return to so many cities is a testament to the local organizing committees, according to Birrell. The second stage will start some 75 miles northwest in Fayetteville, and travel north to Rome. This is the second year in a row for this stage.
Stage three is the individual time trial once again, but for the first time, it will not be in Rome and will not start and finish in the same location. The northern city of Chickamauga in Walker Country will host the start of the stage which will include the well-known Lookout Mountain before finishing in Chattanooga. One can assume from the name that the parcours for this stage will be quite a roller coaster over the hilly region of northern Georgia. "Our time trial is going to be a little more challenging," said Birrell. "The Rome course is an epic course because of the long straight before the long climbs and technical descent. I think we have a little longer course this year finishing in Chattanooga. It's a bigger market for us which helps our sponsors."
Stages four through six are seemingly identical to the previous years, particularly the daunting climbing stages from Dalton to Dahlonega in stage four and the infamous ascent up Brasstown Bald in stage five. However, Birrell explained that the race routes will be vastly different for these two stages, particularly in the climbing department. "We are changing the Dalton to Dahlonega stage a little with some new climbs, and it will be ten miles shorter. And the Brasstown stage we are changing again with five KOMs including one at the top of Brasstown Bald." The final stage will again finish in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, but will begin in Cumming/Forsyth County to coincide with the county festival.
Medalist Sports is also managing the inaugural Tour of California in February, a daunting task on its own, let alone with another major race two months later. Yet Birrell assures that his company can handle the workload of the two biggest races in North America. "We have such a core group of A-team staff and contractors, and we are fortunate that our local organizing committees in Georgia have mostly been through it too. The ingredients are the same, just one is a four hour drive for us and the other is a four hour flight."
Birrell also said that working on both races can benefit both. "Working on the Tour of California at the same time helps us since we are talking to the Pro Tour teams already." The race plans to invite fifteen teams from around the world, including defending champion Tom Danielson's Discovery Channel team, Floyd Landis and Phonak, Bobby Julich and Team CSC, Levi Leipheimer and Team Gerolsteiner as well as other UCI international and continental teams. Organizers expect a formal announcement of participating teams in early 2006. As for a title sponsor, Birrell said that an announcement on that will be forthcoming as well. "We are real close. We have one and we are in the final details."
Stage 1 - Tuesday, April 18: Augusta - Macon
Stage 2 - Wednesday, April 19: Fayetteville - Rome
Stage 3 - Thursday, April 20: Chickamauga - Chattanooga, Tenn ITT
Stage 4 - Friday, April 21: Dalton - Dahlonega
Stage 5 - Saturday, April 22: Blairsville - Brasstown Bald Mountain
Stage 6 - Sunday, April 23: Cumming - Alpharetta