Andrew Messick, President of AEG Sports, recently announced the list of 15 cities that will highlight the sixth annual Amgen Tour of California held from May 15-22, 2011. Notably absent from the list was Santa Rosa, which has had a five-year tenure on the race route and is the home of three-time overall winner Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack).
"Let me talk about the things that weren't considerations and those are any doubts about Santa Rosa as a community, the organizing committee, as a place where there's a passion for bike racing, and a passion for our race," Messick said. "I've said many times and I'll continue to say that Santa Rosa is one of the cities that gets it right, and there's very little that we can tell Santa Rosa to do that they're not already doing."
Santa Rosa was selected as a host city for all five previous editions of the Amgen Tour. Leipheimer admitted that he was disappointed his hometown did not make the cut for the sixth edition. However, he acknowledged the importance of the race visiting other California cities.
"When I first learned that it wasn't going to be able to make it Santa Rosa, I was disappointed but I quickly realized that it's the Tour of California and it has to go in different places, that is the way it should be," Leipheimer told Cyclingnews. "Now we are going up to Tahoe, Auburn and Baldy which are new places for the race. Santa Rosa was involved in every edition of the race so far, and we should be proud and grateful for that." San Jose is the only city which will have hosted in all six editions of the race as of the 2011 running.
Messick noted that there were more than 50 cities that applied to host a stage for the 2011 Amgen Tour, more applications than any previous year. "There is just a reality that we can't go to every city every year, and I think that more than anything is the reason that we weren't able to include Santa Rosa in this year's race."
"We spent a lot of time working with the organizing committee in Santa Rosa, and we're optimistic and confident that we'll be able to continue in the future to create great opportunities to showcase Santa Rosa."
One selection criteria Messick outlined was to create a manageable race and event for the athletes that minimized the number and length of athletes transfers. "Based on where the race was going it was very difficult [to include Santa Rosa] without having unmanageable transfers for our athletes," Messick said.
There were 15 cities chosen that include South and North Lake Tahoe, that will host the opening stage. The stage two road race will start in North Lake Tahoe's Squaw Valley and finish in Sacramento. It then travels to Auburn and Modesto in stage three, Livermore to San Jose in stage four and Seaside to Paso Robles in stage five.
"I'm looking forward to next year's race, and I think it is going to be the best course, by a good margin that we have seen yet," Leipheimer said.
The race will return to Solvang for the stage six individual time trial. The quaint Danish town was site of Amgen Tour time trial during the three editions that Leipheimer won his overall titles from 2007-09.
"Speaking bias, I love it because I won three times," Leipheimer said. "I love the area, and I think it is the perfect setting for the time trial. If you look at it objectively, it makes for a much better spectator friendly environment. This year's course in Los Angeles was such a big undertaking for the organizers and who knows if it was what they really hoped for. I think Solvang has been proven and it works. I just love that course and it is perfect for a time trial. I'm happy to see it back in Solvang."
The race will move to Claremont for the start of stage seven before finishing up Mount Baldy, what is considered the first true mountaintop finish with over 2500 feet of climbing. The race will conclude at the stage eight road race from Santa Clarita and Thousand Oaks.
"I think it is the mountaintop that the riders and the fans have been waiting for," Leipheimer said. "I've ridden it, scoped it out, and I immediately thought that it was epic. It is the kind of mountain where you are going to see thousands of people, the crowds will be thick and they will have to split as riders come through. It is very Tour de France-esque and it will really put the Tour of California on another level."