On the Tour of California

Saturday, 14 May 2011

I feel for any race organiser trying to put an event on at the same time as the Giro d’Italia. How you you compete?

The answer is you don’t. Instead of wild climbs and off-road riding the Tour of California is a more classic kind of race. Many riders are wary of doing the Giro but California is much more approachable, even with the jetlag and travel involved.

$$$s
There are other reasons to make the trip too. The US is the world’s largest consumer market and pro cycling is all about promoting goods and brands. These two imperatives will meet in California. Indeed several US teams exist thanks to this race, the media coverage gained from participating in this race is the deciding factor for some sponsors. The French squads do something similar, the prospect of the Tour de France is the deal-clincher for the likes of Europcar, Cofidis and Saur.

But you can’t compare the economic effects of the Tour of California with the Tour de France. But this is a race that should grow and grow. Only it’s not without its problems. Above all it’s losing money. The organisational costs are high and the promoters are running at a loss for now as they struggle to find backers for the race. I find this a worry.

After all the US deserves a big stage race and California has the advantage of varied terrain, several large cities and more. But it’s also got had a significant budget crisis and this means local municipalities are finding it hard to fund this race.

Away from the shadow of Armstrong
Like it or not Lance Armstrong’s raised the profile of the sport in the US. But increasingly his image resembles a bell curve that once rose but now it’s on the slide. Only this week stories told of how several government agencies, from the Department of Justice to the Internal Revenue Service and more are working with the FDA investigation. Even if we put this aside, Armstrong is gone as a rider, he retired for good earlier this year. New names are need. But if the French are still waiting for Bernard Hinault’s replacement, the Tour of California will see guys like Teejay Van Garderen, Ben King, Matthew Busche and Andrew Talansky and others present.

That said, for all the new names watch out for Floyd Landis. He’s said he’s going to make an appearance and deliver a press conference designed to provide further embarrassment for certain officials after they announced plans to sue him.

For the fans
Yes you can have this race for economic reasons, it can showcase new names but the best thing is that fans of cycling in America have something at home. Clearly it’s not local if you live in another state but, hey, an internal flight is way easier than jetting to Europe. We’ve seen all manner of fans beside the road, dressing in various costumes and outfits in a tribute to the race. Even the TV coverage is different as there will be English-speaking crews on the race for interviews and comments.

Summary
It can’t compete with the Giro but the race matters. Whilst it sometimes feels some are trying to shoehorn the sport into places in the world where many don’t appreciate it, this is a race that should work on every level thanks to the fans, the interest of sponsors and motivated riders alike.

Finally for all the talk of snow around Lake Tahoe, note that snow is forecast for the Alps too.

Oliver May 14, 2011 at 8:15 pm

It wasn’t always the case that the ToC was scheduled during the Giro. That was the organizers decision, and it never seemed to make any sense to me…. And remember one of their original sponsors? The makers of EPO ! One year (or was it more than one year?) they even went as far as doing away with testing for EPO during the race… If irony and hypocrisy didn’t kill it, timing might, and that’s a shame. Meanwhile a thrilling finale at the Giro today…

Jones May 15, 2011 at 1:44 am

The move to May has been successful. The rider lineup is as strong or stronger than the Giro. Unfortuntely, pro cycling remains minor league in the US. So, it’s hard to see how this event becomes profitable and thus sustainable. It doesnt help that many of the stages don’t involve most popular areas and population centers. I don’t believe the supposed figures of 2M roadside viewers and Bob Stapleton’s boast that 500K may watch the Mt Baldy stage is laughable.

Oliver May 15, 2011 at 3:57 am

@Jones: you write that the lineup of riders in the ToC are “as strong or stronger than the Giro.” That’s so patently false, it is bordering on silly.
The ToC (btw, toc means “cheap imitation”or “fake” in French!!) is basically a second rate event, now more than ever since Lance retired –I think that’s an open secret, except perhaps in the minds of the organizers, their pr folks and a few misguided us fans. Let’s get real here!

Jones May 15, 2011 at 4:33 am

Oliver, I also questioned the move to May and going against the Giro. But, they’ve proven they can get top riders. The 9 pro tour teams at ToC stack up well against the squads the same teams sent to the Giro. And, they have at least as strong group of riders as they had when the event was in February. It also has allowed for a better route, though still not what it could be. So all in all, its proven to be the right decision. Regardless, it’s still a second tier event, at best. It’s not because of the quality of the riders though. It’s because other than Levi l., the very best riders are there mostly for training.

Twisted Spoke May 15, 2011 at 7:32 am

I think the TOC has been very smart the last few years to pitch their event as the better TDF tune-up than the Giro. Zomeganan keeps making his race harder and harder, so much so that it’s almost impossible to ride well in the TDF afterwards. So Califronia becomes the stage race you do to build form for the tour without killing yourself.

Oliver May 15, 2011 at 3:27 pm

@Twisted: let’s see how Clentador does in the Giro and on the Tour — if he wins both it should put to rest the notion that the Giro is not good prep for the Tour…. Doping issues notwithstanding, of course :-)

Larry T. May 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm

The only problem with ToC is that it’s not much of a RACE. If they make it too hard the California vacation/pre tour training race aspect goes away, but the way it’s been for the most part since its inception is more of a parade so fans in CA can see the big stars. It will NEVER be any bigger than say, the Tour de Suisse. I wish they could find a better place on the calendar for it instead of conflicting with the Giro..but I claim no objectivity here as a passionate and unabashed fan of La Corsa Rosa. The British commentators on Universal Sports Giro broadcast basically called the ToC irrelevant – I wouldn’t go that far but I don’t pay much attention to it, but might if it was held in a different time period.

ColoradoGoat May 16, 2011 at 4:28 am

I have wondered why they do not link now the ToC, ToU and (Whatever they are calling the Colorado Race) into a 3 week race period as prep for the Worlds. Each race will stand on its own (which I think a lot of riders would appreciate).

Start in California, then Utah and Colorado. Why? It can allow the ToC to spend its time in the main cities, without the need to go to mountain stages which do not attract the crowds. The ToH and Colorado can focus on mountain stages as well as TT’s etc.. Foreign teams can travel here, and further justify the trans-Atlantic travel costs by getting 3 weeks of racing. If you want to prepare for the worlds, these races are a better mix than the Vuelta, and better than other options (Tour of Poland). By making it 3 weeks, it better justifies the cost/benefit of the racing for a team.

Arnold May 16, 2011 at 6:26 am

The locations of so many ToC stages is perplexing. So many stages take place are out of the way, far from population centers, and guarantee that only the most die hard cycling fan will notice. Even last year’s TT in downtown LA was on a Saturday, which anyone familiar with LA knows is going to be like a ghost town. If it had been held in Santa Monica, the course would have been packed. And, the route could have been beautiful, as well. This year: SF – nope. LA – nope. SD – nope. All I can guess is that the more attractive locales have enough going on to not need the race. Therefore, they aren’t willing to pay the costs. I wish the cycling media would get the story behind the sub-par route selection.

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