BY MIKE GRIFFITH, Californian staff writer
Lance Armstrong has never walked the streets of Bakersfield, but on May 20, 2010, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France will be riding through them.
The 16 host cities for the 2010 Amgen Tour of California professional cycling race were announced on Thursday and Bakersfield will host the finish of stage 5, which starts in Visalia.
AMGEN TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
Stage 1: May 16 -- Nevada City to Sacramento
Stage 2: May 17 -- Davis to Santa Rosa
Stage 3: May 18 -- San Francisco to Santa Cruz
Stage 4: May 19 -- San Jose to Modesto
Stage 5: May 20 -- Visalia to Bakersfield
Stage 6: May 21 -- Pasadena to Big Bear Lake
Stage 7: May 22 -- Los Angeles (individual time trial)
Stage 8: May 23: Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village, Augora Hills
Bakersfield organizers hope to have the stage finish at Bakersfield College, with two circuits of the China Grade Loop/Alfred Harrell Highway ascent/decent of the bluffs as the finishing touch.
Armstrong, who finished third in the Tour de France this year, defending race champion Levi Leipheimer and other top riders used Twitter to announce their participation in the race.
Armstrong and his new American-based RadioShack team will use the Tour of California as major preparation for the Tour de France instead of the Giro d'Italia, which is taking place over the same time period.
Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall and other dignitaries made the official announcement at 10 a.m. at The Park at River Walk, but the news had been released through electronic notifications a half-hour earlier.
No matter, it was a party atmosphere at the park, compete with dozens of local cyclists.
"It's going to be a special day here in Bakersfield," said Mayor Hall, a sentiment echoed by all the dignitaries. "The largest cycling race in the country, populated by the best riders in the world, will be coming to our great city of Bakersfield. There are few events, sporting or otherwise, in Bakersfield that matches the amount of global notoriety our city stands to receive from the Tour of California."
The Tour of California had previously been held during February, but weather during that period eliminated the use of mountain stages.
"This race is America's answer to the Tour de France," Kerry Ryan, chairman of the Bakersfield Sports Foundation, said. "This is America's largest cycling race. This is the highest level of cycling Bakersfield will ever see. It doesn't get bigger than this."
Ryan, who is working on possible routes for the stage, wanted to take those elite cyclists on a punishing mountain ride out of Springville, up over the Cedar Slope area, and down the Western Divide Highway into Kern County with various options for getting to Bakersfield.
But with a difficult mountain-top finish already planned for stage 6 -- a climb from Pasadena to Big Bear Lake -- organizers asked Ryan to ratchet down the difficulty and distance.
"We still have to calculate how much climbing we want them to do," Andrew Messick, President of AEG Sports, said of Visalia-to-Bakersfield stage.
So Ryan has proposed two courses and expects those to be scrutinized and changed over the coming weeks.
"I was on the phone with the people (Wednesday) for 30 minutes just talking courses, intersections ... some of the course requirements get down to road widths, things you don't think about," he said. "There's a lot that's going to influence the final course selection."
But what Ryan would like to see is a stage length of about 120 miles with around 8,000 vertical feet of climbing as riders wind their way around the Woody/Glennville area and take in the Round Mountain Road loop before hitting China Grade Loop and the drive toward BC.
"I want as much climbing as I absolutely can get," Ryan said.