Welcome, Tour of California bike race! Now pay up to ride our roads

jtarica@thetribunenews.comNovember 30, 2012 

It filled me with exceeding joy this week to learn that once again a bunch of dudes with shaved legs and spandex short pants will be huffing and puffing their two-wheelers through our pretty little county, closing roads, demanding attention and otherwise creating manufactured chaos for the better part of 12 or 13 hours, at least.

The Tour of California is returning in May after a one-year hiatus, and zippity-do-dah, how excited am I?

If you remember my column on the inaugural San Luis Obispo Marathon, you know I have a certain dislike for big old street races.

This is because they 1) take up all kinds of civic resources, 2) impose on our calm, daily routines and, most of all, 3) scatter about all these fitness do-gooders who tend to go around flaunting their physical exceptionalism while modeling headbands, munching on Powerbars and comparing the mile times they chart diligently on the iPods Velcroed to their biceps.

Then they take shots of wheatgrass while debating whether the drafting strategy of Team Frito-Lay was better than that of Team Jose Cuervo.

All of this makes me look bad — or at least marginally inferior — as I more often prefer riding a couch than a bike. So you can understand my dismay.

Anyhow, this time the Tour will advance on our border from the south after a start in Santa Barbara.

I can already picture the likely route, which presumably will take the peloton through the greater Guadalupe metropolitan area, past the cockfighting ranches of the Nipomo Mesa, up into and out of Pismo Beach without a stop at Harry’s Bar, and onto a dead-end road that will eventually deposit the cyclists and their substantial entourages onto tiny but scenic Front Street in Avila Beach, where everyone can gasp for air, enjoy a shaved ice and, local organizers hope, spend the next three days filling hotel rooms and playing golf while the traveling road show packs up and heads to San Jose.

There you have it, your 2013 Amgen Tour of California.

This year’s route came to be after cities far larger than Avila declined the opportunity to spend lots of money catering to the event’s needs.

Back in the beginning, the Tour was a novelty, so San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles hopped on the bandwagon and pitched in thousands of dollars for the honor of hosting stage ends.

Now, after having gone through the experience a few times, they seem not quite so loose with their pocketbooks, and to that, I say bravo, because this is the way it should be, with the sponsor, not our local municipalities, shelling out the dough.

Frankly, Tour organizers need us far more than we need them.

If we were Visalia, this would be a different story. But we are not Visalia, and we do not need to search out overly desperate and expensive ways to lure tourists to our shores when the shores do that pretty darn well themselves.

Think about it. Among all of the possible locations the Tour of California may visit in a given year, SLO County should always be near the top of the list, for a number of reasons.

First, we are centrally located along the coast at the southern end of Big Sur. Any race going up and down the state needs to go through its midsection, and where would you prefer? San Luis Obispo or Lemoore? The middle of somewhere or the middle of nowhere?

Second, being a rural area with no huge urban centers, we are easy to deal with. We don’t have congested highways. We don’t have lots of people. But we do have many, many miles of gorgeous open roads.

Third, those gorgeous open roads wind through all kinds of unique, picturesque towns. If I were a tour organizer, I could blink and think up several as-yet-unused-but-enticing stage ends on the Central Coast.

The Embarcadero in Morro Bay. Price Canyon Road into Pismo Beach. Ocean Avenue in Cayucos. Main Street in Templeton. The West Village in Cambria. El Camino Real in Atascadero.

All of these could suitably accommodate the Tour and with far better access than Avila.

That is, except for one thing: money.

Which leads us back to that corporate biotech behemoth and why, going forward, local towns and cities should play hardball when these requests roll in.

Hey, Amgen, you want to pitch your finish line on the Central Coast?

Fine. Pay up. For the whole tab.

If not, that’s OK, too. Enjoy Bakersfield.

We’re happy to have you visit (despite my ranting otherwise), but we expect you to use your credit card, not ours.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at jtarica@thetribunenews.com.

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