By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
Next year's Tour of California, set for February 19-26, 2006, announced its title sponsor, route and participating teams today in a press conference in San Francisco - which will also serve as the race's starting venue. Race presenter AEG announced that biotechnology company Amgen will be the title sponsor, and that U.S. sports network ESPN 2 will serve as the official broadcast partner.
AEG's president and CEO Tim Leiweke pointed to the importance of having a strong television package to promote the race to the country and to the world. "With the partnership with ESPN, we will be talking to a million people every night, and with the worldwide distribution rights, this will be the most televised cycling event on American soil."
16 teams will take the start of the 700 mile race, with eight teams already confirmed to participate. Discovery Channel, Gerolsteiner, Davitamon-Lotto, Phonak, Saunier-Duval and T-Mobile will represent the Pro Tour teams, while Health Net/Maxxis and Navigators Insurance will defend the Continental Tour's reputation. Beginning with a prologue in San Francisco the race will move north, from Sausalito to Santa Rosa, Martinez to San Jose, an ITT in San Jose, and then from the Monterey Peninsula to San Luis Obispo, then to Santa Barbara and south again to Thousand Oaks. The race will finish in a circuit race around Los Angeles, specifically in the south bay area of Redondo Beach.
Gerolsteiner's Californian-connection Levi Leipheimer was on hand and said that races like this are the key to developing the cyclists of tomorrow. "When I was 13 years old and saw the Tour de France on television, I just felt this immediate connection and new I would be there. And now we have the Amgen Tour of California to inspire the next generation of cyclists. The first stage comes to my home town of Santa Rosa, so I am excited! The Tour de France is getting nervous! It's going to be the biggest cycling race in the world."
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome was very excited to be a part of the event, even offering full access of his city to the race. "This is a great thing for the city, and for the state," said Newsome. "Whether you want to start [the race] on the Embarcadero or even on the Golden Gate Bridge, I don't care - we are behind you!"
Robert Colarossi, managing director of the race, expressed that this race will be one of the best because of their treatment of the riders and the cities in which the race will pass. "Every decision we make regarding the race will be athlete-centric and athlete-focused, to make the best possible race. From when the riders arrive to when they leave. We are going to make it a great experience for all of our citizens as well."