Tour of California organizers explain why race is skipping Central Coast

A new route and a spring time slot are among the reasons officials organizing the 2010 Amgen Tour of California gave Thursday for skipping San Luis Obispo County. However, tour organizers say, the professional cycling event may be back.

“We had a great experience in San Luis Obispo in years past and earlier this year in Paso Robles,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG, owner of the race. “And we want to have a routing that gets us there again.”

This Tour’s challenge, he said, was the desire for a mountainous terrain. Organizers moved the race from winter to spring in part so cyclists could travel the Sierra Nevada range without being pelted with rain or snow. The date change also means the Tour coincides with training season for the Tour de France, the sport’s premier race, which occurs in July.

Paso Robles civic and business leaders were disappointed but will consider applying for 2011, police Chief Lisa Solomon said.

When Tour officials alerted Solomon’s committee about the change to May, they collaborated on ways to make it work because of the Paso Robles Wine Festival. The Tour would have rolled in a few days before the wine event.

“I was already brainstorming of ways we could partner with it,” said Stacie Jacob, executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, which runs the festival.

But the Tour had concerns with hotel availability and road access, Messick said.

“We have a thousand people we travel with every day …” and running into a longstanding event would have affected that, he said.

“We don’t want to think of it as the wine festival is the culprit,” Messick said. “We did receive their support as we did from the city. Even with the best intentions of everybody, it comes to all the things we need to get done.”

Also, when AEG selects a stage town, it requests meal and hotel discounts.

Businesses liked that in the winter, when things were slow, Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce President Mike Gibson said, but hoteliers might not want to offer half-price rooms for the Tour when they could get full value from other visitors in spring.

Still, community partners rallied to support a May stage, Solomon said, and the committee was somewhat surprised Amgen didn’t pick Paso Robles.

However, it didn’t come as a total shock, given the race’s more inland route, Solomon said, and its move to larger markets where there is more exposure for the Tour’s major sponsors.

San Luis Obispo didn’t apply for 2010 because of budget concerns, city officials said. The city hasn’t decided whether it will apply in 2011.