14 YEARS OF GOLDEN MOMENTS: A LOOK BACK AT THE TOUR OF CALIFORNIA

Taking a sentimental look back at the Amgen Tour of California

By Zap

The statement announcing the cancellation of the Tour of California from promoters Anschutz Entertainment Group, while unfortunate, was not terribly surprising. In fact, for some veteran race watchers, it was long overdue. Despite having no shortage of picturesque and historical race venues throughout the state, this was California, after all. And no matter how bright the sheen of the Golden State, regulation and the threat to traffic flow often conspire to the detriment of any outdoor activity that involves the public highways and byways. We are a content and happy lot here, but block off a few roads and make it hard to get to the mall and we see red!       

As many relationship-ending notices read, it began with plenty of good things to say about all the players involved and the good times had. But then came the crux of the missive—after 14 years of some dramatic racing, the race had “become more challenging each year to mount the race.” As such, for the year 2020, the Golden State would not be hosting some of the world’s best teams and riders. 

SUN, SHOPPING AND EPO

Despite the state’s renown for sunny weather, the race was initially held in February where some frightfully cold and wet stages would rival the misery of Europe’s worst weather. Soon enough, the race was moved to May where it would anchor itself as a proper run-up to the Tour de France. For the top riders, like Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan, a two-week stay in California could not only ensure good training for July but also countless shopping opportunities! 

The 2007 circuit race in Long Beach included much of the same course used by the Long Beach Gran Prix car race.

Although there were other American races that qualified as a points-collecting stop on the UCI calendar, the Tour of California was the most celebrated, eventually earning WorldTour status. However, even before the first stage started, the race had attained a level of notoriety, owing to the title sponsor Amgen. Remember, these were the days when all things Lance Armstrong and doping still permeated cycling headlines, and the fact that Amgen was a major producer of erythropoietin (aka EPO), which everyone knew was a successful doping agent for athletes as it was a red-blood-cell booster for cancer patients.

All it took was one visit in 2018 for Quick-Step strongman Fernando Gaviria to claim three stage wins.

While there were some venues that truly brought out the best in the geography, racers and spectators alike (the time trial in Solvang was one of the best!), there were others that took the riders and team cars through truly desolate, Podunk towns. The cost to the towns was also substantial and not always a good investment. I once asked a Santa Rosa city manager what the comparison between the pro race and Levi’s GranFondo was, and she was adamant that there was none. “The Tour gets lots of publicity, but the pro riders come to town, ride and leave. With the GranFondo, we get families that come to town, shop and eat out; the Gran Fondo is much better for the city.” 

American fans were thrilled by the effort shown by USA Cycling’s young composite team in 2019.

Now two years on without the race, we thought to look back at some great moments before they were forgotten about entirely. It’s unfortunate that despite the popularity of cycling in America, the rise and demise of the Amgen Tour of California likely marks the last time our shores will host a bike race of such grand proportions. But, it never hurts to keep our fingers crossed!

A doping controversy followed Alberto Contador to the race in 2011.

THE KINGS OF CALIFORNIA

2006: Floyd Landis, Phonak

2007: Levi Leipheimer, Discovery

2008: Levi Leipheimer, Astana

2009: Levi Leipheimer, Astana

2010: Michael Rogers, HTC

2011: Chris Horner, RadioShack

2012: Robert Gesink, Rabobank

2013: Tejay van Garderen, BMC

2014: Bradley Wiggins, Sky

2015: Peter Sagan, Tinkoff-Saxo

2016: Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx-
Quick-Step

2017: George Bennett, LottoNL-Jumbo

2018: Egan Bernal, Sky

2019: Tadej Pogacar, UAE Emirates

THE QUEENS OF CALIFORNIA

2015: Trixi Worrack, Velcro SRAM

2016: Megan Guarnier, Boels Dolmans

2017: Anna van der Breggen, Boels Dolmans

2018: Katie Hall, United Healthcare

2019: Anna van der Breggen, Boels Dolmans

Not all of Mark Cavendish’s time spent in California was as carefree as he would’ve liked.

LEADER-JERSEY LEADERS

Levi Leipheimer: 22 days (2009: 7; 2008: 5; 2007: 8; 2006: 2)

Tejay van Garderen: 10 days (2019: 4; 2018: 2; 2013: 4)

Peter Sagan: 8 days (2019: 1; 2016: 1; 2015: 2; 2012: 4)

Bradley Wiggins: 7 days (2014: 7)

Julian Alaphilippe: 6 days (2016: 5; 2015: 1)

California’s picturesque coastline played a big part every year the race was run.

MOST STAGE WINS

Peter Sagan: 17 (2019: 1; 2017: 1; 2016: 2; 2015: 2; 2014: 1; 2013: 2; 2012: 5; 2011: 1; 2010: 2)

Mark Cavendish: 10 (2016: 1; 2015: 4; 2014: 2; 2010; 2009: 2)

Levi Leipheimer: 6 (2011; 2009; 2008; 2007: 2; 2006: 1)

Juan José Haedo: 5 (2008; 2007: 2; 2006: 2)

Fernando Gaviria: 3 (2018)

Three-time winner Levi Leipheimer excelled in his home-state race.
Peter Sagan truly enjoyed coming to California.
The Amgen Tour of California gave American cycling fans their best chance to see the Euro star power up close.
Although frequently the bane of many a cyclist’s daily routine, the open road races wouldn’t happen without the aid of Johnny Law.

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