SLO County gears up for Amgen Tour of California bike race

Amgen Tour of California cyclists are seen south of San Simeon in 2007.
Amgen Tour of California cyclists are seen south of San Simeon in 2007. The Tribune

San Luis Obispo County will once again be showcased as 128 elite cyclists ride through the area in this week’s Amgen Tour of California race.

And tourism officials in Cambria and Pismo Beach — the county’s two host cities — are planning a series of events to attract sightseers, boost local hotels and other businesses and draw attention to their communities on an international stage.

“We would like to have them, of course, all go home and invite their friends and come back and vacation here,” said Suzen Brasile, executive director of Pismo Beach’s Conference & Visitors Bureau.

In addition, Tour officials have reassured Cambria residents that they are taking various steps to reduce impacts to the town’s depleted water supply.

The Tour of California’s ninth year starts today in Sacramento. Riders will cover more than 720 miles in eight days of racing from Northern California to Thousand Oaks.

Riders start the fourth stage Wednesday in Monterey and end at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cambria at 3:51 p.m., covering 102.6 miles down the Big Sur coast.

Thursday’s stage starts at the Pismo Beach Pier at 11:45 a.m. and ends 107.4 miles later in Santa Barbara.

Both communities are shelling out thousands of dollars to host a stage, but their costs are estimated to be far less than what other cities in San Luis Obispo County have spent in previous years.

The Cambria Tourism Board agreed to spend up to $30,000. That cost is similar to what Avila Beach paid last year. Organizers say they’re confident all the media coverage will help put Cambria into travel plans of race enthusiasts, many of whom may see and learn about the scenic community for the first time.

“It’s all about the publicity and exposure,” said Mary Ann Carson, executive director of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce. “We’re investing in the future.”

Pismo Beach is spending about $50,320 from the city’s Lodging Business Improvement District, mostly toward hotel rooms, hospitality and meals. In addition, Pismo Beach will spend an estimated $7,500 out of its general fund toward police and public works staff time, and city services including portable toilets, recycling and garbage pickup, said Nadia Feeser, the city’s finance director.

Both communities are paying substantially less than the approximately $100,000 it cost San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles to host the race in previous years.

Finish in Cambria Wednesday

In Cambria, the finish will take seconds, but preparations for arrival of the world-class, spandex-wearing athletes and their fans have been going on for months.

“We’re throwing a party for the world to come to Cambria, and we need to put on our best face,” said Charlie Yates, co-chair of the Tour 4 finish and Cambria area general manager for Pacifica Hotel Co.

“We’d love for people to come early, spend the afternoon and then go to the East Village and party with us that night.”

About 4,000 people are expected in Cambria for the conclusion of the Tour’s fourth stage. That’s a smaller crowd than is typically in town for the Lions Club’s annual Pinedorado parade, but still a bunch of people, said Guy Savage, San Luis Obispo County assistant administrative officer and co-chairman overseeing the Tour’s visit to the county.

A bike valet will be based at the parking lot of the new Cambria library, 1043 Main St., across from the Veterans Memorial Building. Nearly 100 volunteers are set to act as combination security-and-safety officials and mobile chambers of commerce.

The hardest job, according to volunteer coordinator Susan McDonald, will be to keep pedestrians and vehicles off the race course, “because the racers are expected to fill Main Street, sidewalk to sidewalk, doing about 45 mph.”

The Sheriff’s Office will have vehicle, bike and foot patrols there.

“We believe the Amgen Tour is a good thing for the county and for Cambria,” Sheriff Ian Parkinson said Tuesday. He said his office is doing everything it can to minimize impacts to the town.

“The race will finish,” said Cambria volunteer Bob Kelley, “with about 90 riders sprinting at 35-45 mph, shoulder to shoulder and curb to curb, from the Shell station to the Vets Hall.”

The stage winner will receive a custom glass sculpture donated by artist Eric Dandurand, owner of the Cambria Glassworks gallery in Harmony and Cambria.

Water concerns

Organizers have made adjustments in an attempt to minimize impacts on Cambria’s dire water supply situation. Amgen aims to use “zero Cambria water,” Savage said.

Organizers are bringing their own supplies, and forgoing some customary practices. For instance, Savage said, they’ll use sand or cinderblocks, instead of water barrels, as ballast for tents.

On race night, as many support personnel as possible will stay in Pismo Beach or Santa Barbara lodgings rather than on the North Coast.

Staffers at the Cambria Community Services District estimate the town could run out of water by late summer. Residents and businesses are under stringent water restrictions and can be slammed with stiff surcharge penalties on any water usage above their allocation. Most people have buckets in their sinks and tubs, are flushing and showering less often and are limiting their use of washing machines, dishwashers and garbage disposals, among other equipment.

Encouraging more people to visit Cambria at this time and using more of the town’s limited supply of water in restaurants, motels and restrooms didn’t sit well with some people.

Claudia Harmon Worthen, chairwoman of the North Coast Advisory Council, but speaking for herself and others who share her opinions, said in an email that, “with our Stage 3 water crisis, we should have canceled hosting staging Amgen. The Chamber of Commerce and the tourist boards need to start showing restraint until we have a permanent and reliable water source.”

Party on Pomeroy in Pismo

About 28 percent of Pismo Beach’s 1,895 hotel rooms will be occupied by riders, course marshals and other Amgen support staff, city officials said.

The city’s lodging funds are helping to pay for about 569 hotel rooms. About 40 rooms were used for site visits before the weeklong Tour. Local tourism officials have planned events Wednesday evening to celebrate the Tour, even though the cyclists won’t head out of town until midmorning Thursday.

Those attending a block party celebration from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Pomeroy Avenue can sign tablecloths welcoming the cyclists, and two local preschools are creating sand dollar necklaces for the riders, Brasile said.

“It’s adding a small-town flavor for the whole thing,” she said. Brasile said there should be plenty of parking for people wanting to watch the race start at 11:45 a.m. Thursday, though spectators are encouraged to arrive early or ride their bike (a free bike valet is available).

The cyclists will start Thursday’s stage race to Santa Barbara on the Pismo Beach Pier — lining up just past the first diamond — which will ensure a memorable, if bumpy, start.


Millions of race enthusiasts worldwide are expected to watch the Tour of California race on TV on NBCSN from 2 to 4 p.m. and 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. throughout its run. They can also watch through a free Tour Tracker Online app available at http://amgentourofcalifornia.com.