Amgen may detour out of SLO County

For the first time, the Amgen Tour of California professional cycling race will likely skip the Central Coast in 2010, meaning no stage finishes in San Luis Obispo or Paso Robles, which were on previous routes.

And next year the race will be held in the spring, not in the winter as has been the case since the first race in 2006.

Although an official announcement is expected Thursday from race owner AEG, Solvang city officials confirmed Tuesday that their town has not been selected for next year’s competition. For several years, Solvang has been the scene of the hotly contested time trial and as such was highly popular with race fans. Clovis and Fresno, included in the 2009 race route for the first time, also have been left off for 2010, according to the Fresno Bee.

Paso Robles City Manager Jim App said the city wouldn’t know if it’s on the official route until Thursday.

“We knew going into this there was no guarantees,” he said. “But we had an opportunity last year, and we grabbed it. If we get it again, that’d be great.”

The Solvang and Fresno announcements match up with an unofficial race route posted on a Berkeley-based cycling Web site www.steephill.tv. It said the race will begin May 16 in Nevada City, make its way to Santa Cruz on May 18, then take cyclists inland to Modesto, Visalia and Bakersfield, before finishing in Southern California on May 23.

The absence of the race would be a significant loss for local tourism, said John Summer, executive director of the San Luis Obispo Visitors and Conference Bureau.

“Anytime we have a major event featured in this county, it is certainly a plus for us because it puts a radar on the county,” he said. “People are exposed to it.”

In 2009, wine industry officials in Paso Robles held signs welcoming riders to wine country so it could be captured on television when the city hosted its race stage for the first time. Mayor Duane Picanco said the Amgen Tour was probably one of the biggest events the city had seen in years. Thousands of spectators filled the downtown and several other North County spots on race day.

Summer said he would be curious to know why Amgen would decide to bypass the area.

“It’s a shame, really, if part of the intent of the race is to go through some of the more beautiful parts of the coast,” he added.

A three-year contract wasn’t part of Paso Robles’ 2009 agreement with AEG, App added, as San Luis Obispo had secured since the race’s inception in 2006.

While the date change is not confirmed, in an Oct. 1 article posted on Cycling News’ Web site, AEG president Andrew Messick announced the race would now overlap with Italian cycling event Giro d’Italia. That event is one of the “Grand Tours,” cycling’s top races, and would likely siphon European riders away from the Tour of California.

“We talked about possibilities in April, May, June and even November, but we always wanted to be in May,” Messick told Cycling News, so riders can better prepare for the Tour de France, the sport’s premier race, which occurs in July.

The possibility of the tour coming through in May had some North County businesses concerned, Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce President Mike Gibson said. They preferred early winter, when business was slow.

When AEG selects a stage town, it requests discounted meals for the cyclists and cheaper hotel rooms in bulk.

“In February hoteliers and businesses were more inclined to be that way,” Gibson said. “But in May, the hoteliers will be busy. I don’t think they’ll be as inclined to sell half-price rooms when they could get full value that time of year.”

The city also has a lot going on then, such as the Paso Robles Wine Festival.

However, businesses still had high hopes for the long-term effects the race could have had on the city’s exposure, according to a post-race survey the chamber released earlier this year. Nearly 83 percent of businesses said the race was a wise investment in building future tourism, and almost 87 percent wanted it back.

Staff writer Sona Patel and managing editor Tad Weber contributed to this report.