Those poor cyclists.
The competitors in this year's Amgen Tour of California are going to roll right past dozens of wineries but won’t be able to stop for a single sip.
In fact, during the scenic portion of the race that runs through San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, the bicyclists will ride past several interesting sites — but will only get to observe them at roughly 25 mph.
“This is one of the most scenic routes on this year’s tour,” said Jim Birrell, race director for the Tour of California.
More than 140 competitors will compete in this year’s race — the 10th annual Tour of California — which begins Sunday. The eight-day race, covering 724 miles of California roadways, stops in San Luis Obispo County on Wednesday for Stage 4.
Wanting to get a feel for the route — which also makes for a great day cruise — Tribune photographer Joe Johnston and I recently drove the 107-mile stretch, which features downtown thoroughfares, coastal views and rugged terrain.
“The topography of this stage has kind of got everything,” Birrell said.
Tour officials choose routes that are scenic, Birrell said, but also competitive. They want to minimize the impact on local traffic at each stage but also offer variety from the other stages.
Getting tips from local bike shops and bicycling pros, they’ll often take suggestions before mapping out the routes and working with local communities for approvals.
You don't have to be a professional cyclist to enjoy the sights of the Amgen Tour of California's 2015 Stage 4 route. Get in your car and use our handy map of the route through San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, with information about noteworthy stops along the way. Click for a larger map »
The starting line
This year’s Stage 4 route begins at a familiar place — the Pismo Pier, which is where cyclists took off during the fifth stage of last year’s race.
From Pismo, the route heads toward Highway 1 through Grover Beach and Oceano. If you cruise the route before the race, stop by the Southern Pacific Railroad Station, which was in use between 1904 and the 1950s. The old depot has lots of historic railroad items.
Driving up the Nipomo Mesa in a car is no problem. But for the cyclists, it’ll be the first steep stretch of Stage 4.
“Hills are always pretty tough, no matter how good you are,” said Geoffrey Curran, a rider with the Axeon Cycling Team.
The cyclists don’t typically ride the routes ahead of time, said Curran, of Orange County. So they have to rely on detailed maps or tips from cyclists who have ridden the route before.
Parts of Stage 4, Birrell said, have been used by pros to train in the past.
After passing the Phillips 66 oil refinery, the route heads into Guadalupe. With its colorful old buildings and scenic backdrops, Guadalupe seems like a perfect place to film a movie. It was recently featured in a Super Bowl commercial, but if you blinked, you might miss the shot of the Royal Theater, a 400-seat venue built in 1939. The vacant art deco theater is currently owned by the city, and recently there have been discussions about renovating it.
Nearby is the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, where you can learn about the dunes and see artifacts from Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” filmed in 1923.
We might have stopped by King Falafel for a bite to eat, but it was still pretty early. So we marched along toward Orcutt. The road to Orcutt is pretty straight, cutting through produce fields.
Cyclists can get lost in thought during these stretches, Curran said.
“It can get a bit boring,” he said. “Winding roads are just more interesting.”
Founded as an oil town, Orcutt is a blip on the tour, but the Old Town Market is a quaint throwback, with a deli and plenty of wine offerings.
Heading for the hills
From Orcutt, the route takes a couple more straight-aways before it connects to Foxen Canyon Road, which is where the road begins to offer more variety.
“I love Foxen Canyon Road,” Birrell said. “That’s just gorgeous.”
This stretch is loaded with wineries, so it offers a scenic wine tasting trip. You’ll also find the quaint Garey Store & Deli, known for its tri-tip.
Yes, there is a town called Garey, and — as you can see on the storefront — 68 people live here.
A little further on Foxen Canyon, you’ll encounter the century-old Sisquoc Store. It’s currently vacant, and a real estate agent is pitching this place as a perfect stop for cyclists and locals. If you don’t want to shell out $275,000 for the investment, at least peek in the windows for a look at yesteryear.
As Foxen Canyon continues, you’ll see mountains as you approach Tepusquet Road. A little way past Cambria Estate Winery, the road, bordered by oak trees, starts getting curvy as it gradually climbs.
“The biggest thing about winding roads is being in the right place at the right time,” Curran said.
In winding sections, he added, cyclists want to be at the front of the pack because narrow roads will make it difficult to pass anyone.
Before a curvy stretch, he said, cyclists will usually feel a bit of tension.
“You know there’s something coming up, and you can feel everybody start to move,” he said.
There’s a nice little bend around the 12-mile marker, reaching the top of Tepusquet, with a little turnout for race fans. Photographer Joe Johnston says this would be a nice place to stop and take photos of the competitors as they race around the curvy road. The views from the top are also photo-worthy.
After the scenic 15-mile drive on Tepusquet, the route connects with Highway 166, a faster but still pretty canyon thoroughfare that will lead travelers back to San Luis Obispo County — and more wineries.
Cyclists will likely see a good crowd in downtown Arroyo Grande before heading toward southern San Luis Obispo. The Octagon Barn there could make for a nice photo backdrop as cyclists whiz past.
From there, the route cycles back to the beach.
While competitors want to stay focused, Curran said, they do take in their surroundings.
“Riding by the ocean is always nice,” Curran said.
In 2013, Avila Beach was the site of a dramatic finish, when Germany's Jens Voigt sprinted ahead with three miles to go, winning the stage.
This year’s finish line in Avila Beach, which ends uphill at Front and San Antonia streets, could see more drama, Birrell said.
“We’re probably going to see another sprint finish,” Birrell said.
While the cyclists will continue to the Stage 5 in Santa Barbara the next day, you might want to stick around and catch some of those wineries you missed.
About the race
Stage 4 of this year’s Amgen Tour of California begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Pismo Beach Pier. It spans 106.9 miles and features a 5,200-foot elevation gain. The stage will finish in Avila Beach, at Front and San Antonia streets, at roughly 3:50 p.m. The finish line festival in Avila runs from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.