Is Tour of California 2017 returning to a north-south route?

The host cities for the 2017 Tour of California are a closely guarded secret, but hints of the route gleaned from several official city websites and local reports suggest a return to a north-south configuration, with a possible overall start in Sacramento and stage 2 taking off from Modesto.

The seven-day men's race, which will be part of the WorldTour for the first time next year, is scheduled for May 14-20, while the four-day women's race, also WorldTour, will start three days earlier on May 11 and then finishing on the first day of the men's race.

The Sacramento Business Journal reported last month that Sacramento, which has taken part in eight of the past 11 tours, put in a bid to be a host city again in 2017. Sacramento hosted the overall start of the men's race in 2014 and 2015, and the California state capitol hosted the conclusion of both men's and women's races this year.

Bidding for a stage start or finish is the first step in the process but doesn't guarantee a spot among the final host city selections, which race owner AEG is expected announce next week.

A post last month on the City of Modesto website titled, "Modesto to Host 2017 Amgen Tour of California," boasted that the Tour of California will be taking off from Modesto on May 15, which corresponds with stage 2 of the men's race.

"Community & Economic Development staff announced in August that AEG Tour officials have offered the City of Modesto a start stage in the 2017 Amgen Tour of California," the post read. "City Council voted to approve an action involving a letter of intent on September 13th."

Modesto paid last year to host – not a stage start or finish – but the overnight stay for part of the race entourage, which can reach into the thousands, with the expectation that the city would be offered a stage start or finish this year.

Modesto Public Information Officer Amy Vickery told Cyclingnews via email that the city could not officially comment until November 2, when it would be having a press conference. AEG representatives did not respond to Cyclingnews' requests for a comment.

The Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove also put in a bid to host a stage of the women's race on May 13, according to the Sacramento Business Journal's September report. AEG has traditionally shared host cities between the finish of the women's event and the men's race. In 2014, when the Tour of California added a women's circuit race for the first time, it took place on the same urban Sacramento circuit where the men finished their opening stage several hours later.

The peloton crosses the Sacramento River.

In 2015, the first multi-day women's stage race at the Tour of California began in South Lake Tahoe two days before the men's race started, then once again concluded on the same Sacramento circuit where the men finished their opening stage.

This year, the four-day women's WorldTour race ran concurrent with the men's, with the two events linking up in South Lake Tahoe during the men's fifth stage and then finishing on the same day in Sacramento. the women once again competed on the Sacramento circuit after the men took off for their final road stage. For the third consecutive year, the women used the circuit that the men's race would finish on later in the day.

For 2017, the women's WorldTour stage race, now dubbed the "Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women's Race empowered with SRAM," is scheduled to begin three days prior to the Tour of California, overlapping only on the first day of the men's event as it did in 2014 and 2015.

Santa Rosa, which hosted the overall start of the race in 2012 and has been a fairly regular fixture in the race's first 11 years, confirmed the Cyclingnews that it did not put in a bid to host a stage this year. Nearby Folsom, which hosted individual time trials in 2014 and 2016, also did not put in a bid to host next year's race, according to the Sacramento Business Journal report.

Previous stage hosts San Jose and Morro Bay have also put in bids to host stages, according to minutes of meetings posted on their respective websites, with Morro Bay bidding for a stage finish. Other northern cities that have hosted overall starts include San Francisco, Sausalito and Palo Alto. Since 2010, however, when the race moved from its February spot on the Calendar to its current spot in May, five of the seven starts have taken place in the Sacramento or Santa Rosa areas.

Where the race is likely to end up is harder to pin down, but Big Bear Lake has hosted three stages of the Tour of California in the race's 11-year run, and it was scheduled to host a time trial in 2015 until a freak spring snowstorm forced organisers to move the event to a shortened course in Santa Clarita. Despite not making the cut of 2016 host cities, community leaders expressed confidence at the time that they would get a stage in 2017. The Big Bear Grizzly reported that officials had told local organisers the mountain community was "very much in play" for a 2017 return.

Quoting City Manager Jeff Mathieu and local organising committee Chairman Craig Smith, the Big Bear Grizzly reported that although previous race plans and commitments kept Big Bear Lake off the 2016 route, it was looking good to host a time trial stage in 2017.

When Cyclingnews contacted Big Bear Lake this week, however, acting Public Information Officer Sarah Siep said she had not heard anything new about a 2017 stage, and she confirmed that Mathieu also had not heard of any 2017 host city awards.

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