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It’s here…Amgen Tour of California ends in Santa Rosa

It’s almost here. You can almost hear it—just the whirring of high-performance bicycle gears from afar. When it arrives in downtown Santa Rosa on Sunday, May 19 there’ll be no mistaking it by the sustained burst of cheers. For months, the noise has been building. In November, 2012, we first got word that Santa Rosa had been selected to host Overall Finish of the Amgen Tour of California.  Months later, the final route was announced. On Sunday, May 12, the world’s top cycling teams begin tearing northward up the state—to the whisper of performance gearing and wind-shunning cycling jerseys—to the final two laps around Santa Rosa’s downtown, transforming the Plate of Plenty to the “place of pelotons” for a day.

Actually, while it’s a great honor to be selected as the Overall Finish line of Amgen Tour of California, it shouldn’t be a great surprise. Santa Rosa, with its surrounding countryside, is one of the nation’s top cycling destinations—and we host internationally competitive teams as their year-round or seasonal training home base.

Coincidentally, the Tour takes place during National Bike to Work Week. The weather looks like it’ll be perfect for taking advantage of Santa Rosa’s continuing efforts to add bike lanes and other improvements, making getting around on two wheels safer and more convenient for everybody. Certainly the competing cyclists are observing the Bike to Work Week—it’s their job, after all! It’s just that their commute is more than 750 miles. But the scenery’s nice.

Here’s an outline of the race:

Stage 1 – Escondido
Stage 2 – Murrieta to Palm Springs
Stage 3 – Palmdale to Santa Clarita
Stage 4 – Santa Clarita to Santa Barbara
Stage 5 – Santa Barbara to Avila Beach
Stage 6 – San Jose Time Trial
Stage 7 – Livermore to Mt. Diablo
Stage 8 – San Francisco to Santa Rosa

The peloton gets going at 8:15am from Marina Green, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge shortly thereafter (one of the few bridges across the Bay that allow cyclists—although, I very much doubt that the Amgen Tour of California athletes will have to dodge dawdling tourists on their way over!) and heading up State Route 1 along Tomales Bay. Meanwhile, the gears will already be grinding in Santa Rosa: At 7:30am Echelon Cycle & Multisport sponsors “Ride to the Finish,” amateur cyclists all the excitement of riding the closed race course through 30 miles of the official Tour course, finishing in downtown Santa Rosa. Registration is free but capped at 50 riders.

At 8:30am, the Lifestyle Festival opens up to all cycling enthusiasts. Located near the finish line, the Festival area is a place to spectate, congregate, educate and, of course, shop. For $1,000, participants can get the Finish Line Experience, a backstage pass to VIP areas, and greet the cyclists. Or just check out the latest bike gear, clothing, family activities and education, and refuel with the various food vendors, too. The Lifestyle Festival continues throughout the day.

Stage 8 is 81 miles, with an elevation gain of 7,592 feet. Pretty respectable, but no Oakville Grade, this time! While a previous Tour of California began a stage way out in the flat Central Valley town of Davis, streaked through Napa County after crossing the mountains and flanking Lake Berryessa, then climbing Oakville Grade and Trinity Road to land in Santa Rosa via Bennett Valley, this year’s Stage 8 is a straight shot from the Golden Gate, through Mill Valley (a steep grade that’s popular with weekend cyclists) and up the coast. 

A Levi’s Gran Fondo, it ain’t? Wait. They turn north near Freestone, and it looks like they’ll climb a steep ridge via Jonive Road before linking up with Occidental Road. I’m not sure why they don’t take Sanford to Hall Road, which is a popular route with Santa Rosa cyclists—although it has little or no shoulder, it’s not too busy and motorists can share the road without having to pause for, like, an unendurable 10 seconds!

Speaking of cars, you’ll want to find a place to park yours well away from the race course. The streets closures on Sunday morning can viewed on the map at Tour Rosa, as well has suggested routes to bypass the affected downtown areas. Better yet, bike in!

At 11:30am, the peloton arrives, streaming in on Third Street headed east. They’ll pass Courthouse Square and the Sonoma County Library, turn around at Brookwood and head back downtown via Fourth Street for two final laps around downtown, the historic St. Rose District, and Railroad Square. There’ll be fewer spectators watching the left turn way over at Ninth and Wilson—but that’ll be one tight turn at top speed, folks. NBC Sports Group  will cover the Stage 8 race live, starting at 10am Pacific Daylight Time, and fans can keep up-to-date via Tour Tracker.

At the race, check out the official and unofficial after parties. Santa Rosa’s Trek bicycle store sponsors an after party with Riders with the RadioShack-Leopard team ($20-$25). Along the final lap route, both Third Street Aleworks  and Russian River Brewing  offer cool, refreshing and brewed-on-the-spot microbrews, excellent pizza and lunches. Just remember what the experts say: Forget about crunches if you’re concerned about maintaining, or at least making some kind of progress towards that athletic, flat belly. Cardio activity like cycling will get you there. Probably more than 750 miles of cycling.

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