By Mark Zalewski
The promoters of the Tour of California announced the cities and routes for the 2008 edition, including a new prologue city in Palo Alto on February 17 and a point-to-point finish from Santa Clarita to Pasadena near Los Angeles seven days later.
"We remain committed to upgrading and enhancing every element of the race experience for the cyclists and spectators by creating an even more challenging and exciting race," said AEG's senior director for sport Kristin Bachochin. However, the overall make-up of the race remains quite similar to the first two editions – both in terms of distance and difficulty of climbing, keeping in mind the early season calendar position of the race.
One big change for 2008 is the prologue, which will have no climbing. This is a stark contrast compared to the previous course which ascended the very challenging Telegraph Hill in downtown San Francisco. Stages one and two are the same as last year's race with stage one having been the same for all three.
The third stage is half-new, with a start in Modesto that will add a new section of climbing before returning to the famed Sierra Road climb just before the finish in downtown San Jose. Stage four will again travel from Seaside south down the beautiful highway 1 to San Luis Obispo, followed again by a critical time trial in Solvang.
The other big change for 2008, one that could actually affect the overall classification, is making the final two stages point-to-point, unlike the circuit race final stage of the previous two years. Stage six from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita is well-known from last year's race, but the final stage from Santa Clarita to Pasadena, home of the Rose Bowl, is completely new and could make for an exciting and tactical finish – especially if the overall race is close.
"The challenging geographical features and picturesque landscape of California provide the perfect combination of elements for a world-class cycling event," said Bachochin.
The course design, particularly the changes to the prologue, seems to try to maximize view-ability for potential spectators. AEG said that last year's race garnered 1.6 million on-site spectators, even though that would have required around 1,500 people lining every kilometre of the 1031 km course. Regardless, four stages with finishing circuits and a more open prologue location will make it easy for anyone to see the action.