By Steve Medcroft
Medalist Sports, the U.S. race logistics company behind the Tour of California, says that even though the Amgen Tour of California has yet to step up to ProTour status, it expects to give a racing and spectating experience on par with higher-profile international events.
Speaking two days before Sundays prologue in Palo Alto, California, Medalist Managing Partner Chris Aronhalt says "there's no question that the event is ProTour quality and we operate to the same standards (as ProTour events). When you look at the operation, the teams, the significance of the event around the world, we feel that it is a ProTour level event already."
Currently classified as 2.HC (hors catégorie - the highest non-ProTour UCI sanction for a stage race), the Tour of California could take the jump into the ProTour as early as the 2009 season. "AEG still has to decide and evaluate the importance of that classification, and in a ProTour race, and with ProTour status, there would be changes to the types of teams (that ride)," Aronhalt said. "But we're always looking how we can grow. "
Growth for Medalist and growth for the Tour of California are not necessarily the same thing, however. The Tour of California is the first of a five-event season for Aronhalt and partner Jim Birrel; the company manages the six-year old Tour de Georgia, the USA Cycling PRO championships, the relatively new Tour of Missouri and a brand-new three-day stage race in Colorado (to be held August 22-24). "These events take a lot of mental and physical energy and we don't know how many we could do in one season but we're constantly in discussion with new properties and new interests, which is exciting for us in the terms of a report card for the sport - we feel it's very healthy. We have a great base of staff and a pretty good blueprint (for managing events) to start from. We are always trying to grow the profile of the existing events but we're sure that new opportunities will come along."
As for the 2008 Tour of California, Aronhalt says that the race staff is ready to make the event roll smoothly. "We have over 450 staff that come in from around the world. They all have very specific roles," he explained.
And with the logistics worked out to the ProTour level, all that's left is the racing. "California is a great blend of weather, terrain and community," Aronhalt said. "The drama and anticipation of this race may not be over until the final miles into Pasadena, which has to be exciting for the spectators. We know Levi is coming to defend the jersey. And to have riders like Bettini and Boonen here - how can it not be competitive?"