Sacramento to host Tour of California start?

The Californian capital city of Sacramento is a "strong candidate" to return as a host city for the 2014 Amgen Tour of California, according to a report published Monday.

The cycling website Tour de France Life reported that the Northern California city could host the start of the race when it takes place May 11-18 next year. Although the race followed a south-to-north route for the first time in 2013, a start in Sacramento could indicate the route will return to a north-south format as in the past. Sacramento has hosted the race five times out of the race's eight years but did not take part in 2012 and 2013.

Race owner Anschutz Entertainment Group Vice President Michael Roth told Cyclingnews Monday that the race organization does not comment on speculation about host cities and will likely make the official announcement during the first two weeks of November, adding that the list of participating cities is still in the final stages.

But Jim Birrell, managing partner of race technical director Medalist Sports, told Tour de France Life reporter James Raia back in August that Sacramento had been in contact with the race about being a host city for 2014.

"I know AEG has presented a proposal to them," Birrell said. He also said that the state capital is an important market for the race and that "there's a good chance of going back to Sacramento next year."

The Sacramento Bee newspaper estimated that approximately 50,000 fans attended the Sacramento stage finish in 2011, generating an estimated $3.7 million in hotel and restaurant business for the local economy.

Sacramento previously hosted stages of the race in 2007 through 2011. The city has hosted one prologue time trial and four stage finishes. Fabian Cancellara, riding for Team Saxo Bank, won the prologue time trial in 2009. Mark Cavendish, riding for HTC-Columbia at the time, won the tour opener in 2010 with a bunch-sprint win in Sacramento after a start in Nevada City. Team Sky's Ben Swift won the second stage of the race there in 2011 on a course that also started in Nevada City.

The 2011 stage to Sacramento turned out to be the de facto opening of the race after organizers canceled a planned stage around Lake Tahoe at the last minute because of inclement weather.

The Tour of California started in San Francisco in February of 2006. In 2010, the race moved from its February spot on the UCI calendar to its current place in May, making it one of the last major preparation races before the Tour de France. Past winners include Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Michael Rogers, Chris Horner, Robert Gesink and 2013 victor Tejay van Garderen.

"The race has always attracted the top riders in the world, whether it is the last race before the Tour de France or the first race of the season," Roth said.

The race is ranked 2.HC on the UCI America Tour.

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.