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Landslides could re-route Amgen Tour of California

The coastal highway is gorgeous, but unstable. Portions north of the Bixby Bridge (pictured) have collapsed due to winter storms.

The coastal highway is gorgeous, but unstable. Portions north of the Bixby Bridge (pictured) have collapsed due to winter storms. (Image credit: AFP Photo)

Amgen Tour of California organiser AEG will make a decision on the final route of stage 5 by the end of this month after winter storms caused landslides along the coastal highway. Portions of the road on the planned route from Seaside to Paso Robles are still closed due to a road collapse north of the famed Bixby Bridge and a landslide 45 miles to the south.

AEG president Andrew Messick would not reveal any information about possible detours should the state's transportation agency, Caltrans, not complete work to re-open the road by the May 19 stage, but said a decision would be made on the final route soon.

"We have several alternative routes between Seaside and Paso Robles," Messick said. "Together with Caltrans we will make a decision by month's end."

The California State Highway 1 is famous for its breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. The road hugs steep cliffs as it undulates along the coast for nearly the entire length of the state.

However, just what makes the scenic route such a popular destination for tourists and cyclists alike also makes it susceptible to winter weather.

On March 16, heavy rains destabilized the cliffs and caused a portion of the southbound lanes 20 miles into the planned route to collapse toward the ocean.

On March 27, a landslide near Gorda blocked the highway 45 miles to the south, and work was just nearly complete to re-open the stretch when, on April 16, another, larger landslide buried the road.

Now the San Luis Obispo Tribune reports that Caltrans estimates completely reopening the highway will take "at least a month" - this less than one month before the planned stage.

Already the longest stage of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, the 223.6km planned route leaves little room for detours that would lengthen the stage, and there are few roads along the coast which could be used to skirt the landslides.

If either Seaside or Paso Robles are substituted for another host city, it would not be the first time in Amgen Tour of California history that the race has been dramatically altered at the last minute. In 2010 wildfires caused the start city for the Big Bear stage to be changed from Pasadena to Palmdale, on the other side of the Angeles National Forest.

Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.