California will provide the stunning backdrop for the inaugural Amgen Tour of California, a professional cycling race modeled after the Tour de France. From Feb. 19 to 26, 16 teams from around the world will compete across 600 miles of scenic California roadway from San Francisco to Redondo Beach.
The world's number-one ranked Team CSC, Tour de France champions Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, and Health Net presented by Maxxis, winner of USA Cycling's 2005 National Race Calendar, will lead 16 of the world's top cycling teams in this eight-day stage race sanctioned by UCI (Union Cycliste International) and USA Cycling.
Between the opening prologue in San Francisco and the finale in Redondo Beach, the race will visit ten host cities for official stage starts and finishes, while the many communities along the route have the opportunity to witness the excitement of elite bicycle racing. Host cities for the eight daily stages include: Sausalito, Santa Rosa, Martinez, San Jose, Monterey, San Louis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Thousand Oaks.
"The level of competition coming to the inaugural Tour is unprecedented in the United States and rivals any race that was held worldwide last year," said Bob Colarossi, managing director of AEG Cycling, the race's owner and operator. "We have invited the best teams that the world has to offer to compete on an outstanding course. We are particularly thrilled that so many Californians will have the opportunity to line the race course and experience firsthand the thrill of cycling at this level."
"The Amgen Tour of California is an event that attracts our style of racing -- we like to ride aggressively and show some spectacular cycling," said Bjarne Riis, manager of Team CSC. "The organizers have put together a really challenging route that suits the riders we will bring. Naturally, we have very high ambitions for this race. We have always enjoyed racing in the States and we look forward to a great week in California in February."
Split evenly between teams who compete on the UCI Pro Tour and those who race predominately in the United States, the field of 128 athletes will be among the most internationally diverse and accomplished group of cyclists ever assembled for a professional stage race on American soil.
"The commitment of eight UCI Pro Tour teams to the inaugural Amgen Tour of California is a tremendous testament to the caliber of the event and its future as a world-class stage race in the United States," said Gerard Bisceglia, chief executive officer of USA Cycling. "Secondly, it provides sports fans a rare opportunity to see so many top American cycling pros compete on their home soil against a strong international field."
AEG estimates that more than one million spectators will line the route, with millions more tuning in to ESPN2 and other broadcasts daily to watch the event.
Prologue: Sunday, Feb. 19
At 10 a.m., riders will open the competition with a short, intense Prologue through the streets of San Francisco. Starting by the Ferry Building at Pier 1, the 1.9-mile course will run along the Embarcadero until making the sharp left onto Bay Street that will bring the riders up the tight and steep climb through Telegraph Hill to the finish at Coit Tower.
Stage One: Monday, Feb. 20
With the start on the Marin side of the San Francisco Bay, Stage One will cover roughly 84 miles from Sausalito to Santa Rosa. On its way up Highway 1, the course will run through the Marin Headlands, flanked on both sides by national parkland, before leaving the Point Reyes National Seashore for the race's first sprint competition line in Point Reyes. After crossing into Sonoma, spectators can watch the race for the stage win unfold as the field completes three laps of a technical finishing circuit in downtown Santa Rosa.
Stage Two: Tuesday, Feb. 21
The race will next turn south toward two decisive days in San Jose. After neutral parade laps in the start city of Martinez, the stage is a hilly ride through the East Bay that will bring the race over its first significant climb. Coming 22 miles before the finish line in downtown San Jose, the Sierra Road climb east of the city center will be the first Category One (highest ranked in order of difficulty) ascent in the King of the Mountains (KOM) competition.
Stage Three: Wednesday, Feb. 22
A 17-mile individual time trial on the outskirts of San Jose will test the cyclists on an undulating course along the Chesbro and Calero reservoirs.
Stage Four: Thursday, Feb. 23
The Queen Stage of this year's race begins in Monterey and follows scenic Highway 1 where the mountains run into the Pacific Ocean. At 130 miles, this is the longest stage of the 2006 race and will test the riders on consistently hilly and technical terrain. The six-hour day will see the athletes go through the community of Big Sur and past Hearst Castle before shifting inland toward the finish in San Luis Obispo.
Stage Five: Friday, Feb. 24
Starting in Mission Plaza in San Luis Obispo, Stage Five to Santa Barbara will follow the central coast until the sprint city of Guadalupe, where the field will leave the flatlands and head east to the Santa Ynez Mountains via the Solvang area. The riders will then face the four-mile Category One climb to San Marcos Pass before descending to a beachfront finish in Santa Barbara.
Stage Six: Saturday, Feb. 25
This shorter stage with a hilly profile from Santa Barbara to Thousand Oaks features four KOM climbs in the 80 miles that precede three laps of a three-mile circuit in Thousand Oaks, which will cover the stage's final ten miles before finishing at title sponsor Amgen's corporate campus.
Stage Seven: Sunday, Feb. 26
The race will culminate with a circuit race in Redondo Beach. The stage will be active as the riders compete on ten laps of a 7.65-mile circuit along the Redondo Beach Esplanade and through an intermediate sprint line in Riviera Village before returning to the start/finish line on Harbor Street.