Leipheimer's home town to host opening stage
The 2011 Amgen Tour of California has only just wrapped up, and organiser Andrew Messick of AEG has already announced one detail for next year's race: it will commence in Santa Rosa, the home of three-time champion Levi Leipheimer.
"The future starts 51 weeks from now in Santa Rosa, the start of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California," Messick said at the closing press conference in Thousand Oaks, California. "It's been an excellent home to the race as a venue, and for bringing the cycling community in North America together, there's no place better."
Messick and the race director Jim Birrell of Medalist Sports looked back on this year's race, the high points - both literally and figuratively - being the two summit finishes on Sierra Road and Mount Baldy, and the lows of cancelling stage one at Lake Tahoe and moving the start of stage two from Squaw Valley.
"If you look at the two summit finishes, you have to be impressed with the work of Jim's team. There was nothing on top of Sierra Road - it was a cow pasture. There was no power, no cell phone, no plumbing. Overnight they built a village. Same on Mount Baldy. It was really impressive," Messick said
Birrell pointed to the huge crowds, especially on Sierra Road, as a reason to look at continuing the trend of including summit finishes in the race.
"We saw some unbelievable dynamics unfold in the race, and our crowds on Sierra Road far exceceded those we've had in downtown San Jose in the past. It will be something to evaluate for the future."
Messick said that one feature which will be a part of the Tour of California in the future is Lake Tahoe. "It didn't work out this year because of factors outside our control.
"There is a place for Tahoe in this race. The teams that came early were rewarded with exceptional riding and great weather - we were hit with a fluke storm this year, but it is a fantastic venue that showcases an exceptionally beautiful part of California."
Becoming the preferred preparation for the Tour de France
Race victor Chris Horner said the inclusion of the mountain top stage finishes was one of the features that will keep the sport's top talent coming back.
"Without the summit finishes, it made it hard to focus on the race. The time trial specialists like Levi [Leipheimer] and David Zabriskie would put so much time into us... With the summit finish it becomes a realistic goal."
Messick said that his goal is to keep the race both exciting for the fans - attracting the top talent and providing a spectacle - but at the same time keeping the race's position as a reasonable preparation race for the Tour de France. That limits the race expanding too much in terms of length.
"The challenge with expanding is we want to be a race that attracts riders who are serious about the Tour de France. We want to be an important part of the build up for teams annd riders who want to do well in July," said Messick.
"To do that we have to be mindful of not having the race be too hard. One of the challenges for the Giro [d'Italia] is, there are a lot of people for whom the Giro doesn't work if you want to do well in July. It's hard to ask a rider to be sharp for those two races.
"We can consider expanding over time as long as we don't become so challenging that riders won't want to do either the Tour of California or the Giro."
Last year the race organisation was discussing the possibility of entering the ProTour, but with the current rules governing the UCI's top tier, now called the WorldTour or World Calendar, Messick said that going to that level is made difficult by some important considerations.
"First, it's expensive - it's not like Europe where teams are driving to races. You have to invite all of the ProTeams which involves flying them across the ocean.
"And at the same time you're knocking out a bunch of Continental teams," he said. Even with bending participation rules to allow the domestic teams in the race, there would be limited space in the start list.
"That's always been an important part of our conversation with the UCI, how to create a structure that allows you to have both - the World Calendar status and the Continental teams."
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