Tour of California returns to Sacramento in 2014

After a two-year absence, one of the world’s premier cycling events is returning to the Sacramento region, offering tens of thousands of fans the chance to see top international riders pedaling past the Capitol and racing over bridges in Folsom.

The eight-day 2014 Amgen Tour of California, America’s largest professional road race and its answer to the Tour de France, will start May 11 in downtown Sacramento and include a May 12 time trial featuring cyclists crossing Lake Natoma and streaming through Historic Folsom.

“Sacramento is going to be on the world stage again,” said Steve Hammond, CEO of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, as Amgen Tour officials announced Tuesday that the first two stages of the May 11-18 race will be held in and around the capital city.

Amgen Tour executive director Kristin Bachochin said the event would provide “an international postcard” showcasing “the incredible sights” of California, starting with the capital region.

The last time the Sacramento area was included in the event, some 50,000 fans attended the race locally in 2011, generating an estimated $3.7million in hotel and restaurant business.

This time around, race officials predicted Tuesday, the earnings are expected to more than double that. The Sacramento Sports Commission, which is run by the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Amgen Tour will generate 2,790 nightly hotel room bookings and estimated economic earnings exceeding $8.4million. The race is expected to attract up to 70,000 spectators for the Folsom and Sacramento events.

As promotion for the eight-stage race kicked off, professional cyclist Freddie Rodriguez of Berkeley, a four-time U.S. professional road race champion, led dozens of riders from the Rainbow Bridge in Folsom, down the American River Parkway trail and finally to a crowd of media across the street from the Capitol.

He took a microphone to extol a cycling event as challenging as the spectacular California scenes it will pass through. After the Sacramento and Folsom stages, the Tour of California will include a treacherous stage from San Jose to Mount Diablo State Park, followed by coastal treks from Monterey to Cambria and from Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara. The race will continue in Southern California with a stage from Santa Clarita to Mountain High with concluding stages in Pasadena and Thousand Oaks.

“I’ve done the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia ... and you come to California and it’s just as competitive as over there,” Rodriguez said. “This is an opportunity to bring the top level of cycling to California. That’s what the fans come for. They want to see the pros – the top guys racing on the home turf.”

After the promotional ride Tuesday, Rodriguez also offered some particular promotion for the American River Parkway and the rustic beauty of the region hosting the first two stages.

“It was amazing. We just rode ... on the American River trail,” he said. “When the race comes, ride your bike out to Folsom. It’s beautiful.”

Folsom Vice Mayor Jeff Starsky said the city is excited by the economic infusion from tourists packed into local hotels and restaurants. He said the event also will show off a community full of bike paths, where cycling is a way of life.

“This is a tremendous thing for Folsom,” Starsky said. “We are a cycling community. We have 35 miles of trails. ... We are delighted to have this.”

The return of the Amgen Tour marks the second major sports encore for the Sacramento region. The five-day 2014 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships will be held in June at California State University, Sacramento, officials announced last month. The last time Sacramento hosted USATF’s premier outdoor event was in 2004, when the Olympic Trials were held at the same venue.