Editorial: Let’s not spin our wheels, now

It was a thrilling ride while it lasted, but it looks like it’s time to say so long to the Amgen Tour of California — at least for now.

As reported in Wednesday’s Tribune, it appears the cycling race will bypass the Central Coast next year for a more inland route through the Central Valley communities of Modesto, Visalia and Bakersfield.

Sure, we’re disappointed, and a little puzzled. For natural beauty, climate and charm, we believe the Central Coast is hard to beat. And that’s not just our opinion. At the risk of wearing our hometown pride on our sleeve, we respectfully point out that there is a reason Valley residents come to the Central Coast en masse to vacation — and not vice versa.

But let’s put this in perspective. This pro cycling race should be around a long, long time, and the route could change again to include SLO County in future years.

In the meantime, we should focus on other opportunities to attract visitors to the Central Coast.

One stands out in particular: The county Visitors & Conference Bureau is working with Sunset magazine to create a high-profile food and wine event here in the fall of 2010. Santa Margarita Ranch would be the main venue of an event featuring demonstrations by celebrity chefs, winemaker dinners and samplings of local food and wine.

Events associated with Sunset magazine have proven extremely popular, and it’s expected that a food and wine celebration here could draw as many as 10,000 to 12,000 out-of-town visitors. Even if attracts only half that many — 6,000 — that will still generate an estimated $1.5 million for local businesses.

No, it’s not a pro cycling tour, but such an event should draw a far broader audience — one that will be especially interested in trying local restaurants, markets, wineries and other ag venues.

The VCB is confident that the event will take place, though it does need sponsorships from local businesses, cities and — because this is a regional event — from neighboring counties.

We strongly urge support for what could become an annual, premier event for our region.

Instead of spinning our wheels over loss of the Amgen Tour, here’s a chance to go down an exciting new road. We should take it.