Expansion, inclusion, intrusion: Five notable stories on the Amgen Tour of California

What started as a cycling race along some of California’s western cities has become the sport’s premiere event in the United States.

The Amgen Tour of California kicks off its 14th year in 2019, a 777.6-mile course that has 13 host cities, including a starting point Sacramento and the final podium in Pasadena.

This is the sixth year in a row that the race visits the capital city, including four starts during that run.

Over the years, the race has expanded, stopped in new cities, become more inclusive – and even seen its share of drama.

Here are five notable stories going into this year’s event:

5. Cycling through Sacramento

When the race begins Sunday in Sacramento, it will be the 11th time the race has traveled through the capital city. The number of appearances in the city is second only to San Jose, which has 12 and is not on this year’s schedule.

Sacramento served as the race prologue in 2009 and has been an early-stage finish point four other times.

This year’s Stage 2 begins in Rancho Cordova. Other local cities that have had the tour visit include Auburn (1), Davis (2), Elk Grove (1) and Folsom (3) – as well as nearby Lodi and Stockton.

4. Not just for men

For the first nine years of the event, only a large-scale men’s race was held.

That changed in 2015, when the Amgen Tour of California offered its first four-day women’s competition. In previous years, beginning in 2008, women competed in a criterium or a time trial.

This will be the first year the women’s stage race, which has varied between three and four stages, won’t be held in Northern California. The three-stage 2019 route goes through Ventura, Ontario, Mount Baldy and Santa Clarita before ending in Pasadena, as the men’s event does this year.

Since increasing the stages in 2015, the women’s race has ended in Sacramento.

3. Landis gets it rolling

The Amgen Tour of California took off in 2006, an eight-day event beginning in San Francisco and ending in Redondo Beach.

It was also a big year for American rider Floyd Landis. The Pennsylvania native won Stage 3 of this race en route to keeping the overall lead and topping the podium in Southern California.

He had three other event victories that year, including the Tour de France, widely considered the sport’s premiere race. However, his doping admission would cost him that crown.

While that title was stripped, Landis’ name remains in Tour of California records.

2. Leipheimer’s legacy

In the history of the race, there’s been only one repeat champion – and that man took it three consecutive years.

Levi Leipheimer won the second edition of this event in 2007, then followed it with two more titles.

The American rider had another podium finish in 2010, but he was third behind Michael Rogers of Australia and U.S. cyclist David Zabriskie.

Leipheimer finished second to American rider Chris Horner in 2011.

Despite the multiple overall titles, he only has six stage victories in the race, ranking him third behind 2015 champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia (16) and British rider Mark Cavendish (10).

1. Armstrong becomes a victim

Sacramento had just hosted a prologue to begin the fourth year of the race, but one of the most recognizable names in the sport was in the news for an unfortunate event: His one-of-a-kind bicycle was stolen.

Lance Armstrong – the American cyclist who won seven consecutive Tour de France titles before they were stripped as a result of a doping investigation – reported that someone took the black-and-gold time trial bike, valued at more than $10,000, from his team’s van, which had been parked downtown in February 2009.

Police turned their attention to the theft of his bicycle and three others.

“This is not just a property crime,” Officer Konrad Von Schoech, a city police spokesman, told The Bee at the time. “These bikes are in the thousands and thousands of dollars. This is definitely different. This is a high-profile victim, during a high-profile event, and a high-value object.”

An unidentified man brought the bicycle to the Sacramento Police Department four days later, according to Bee reports. He was not a suspect in the theft.

Armstrong – who came out of retirement to compete in the Tour of California and won the Most Courageous jersey for the prologue – offered a reward for the bike but police said the man didn’t ask about it.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Noel Harris is a sports reporter for The Sacramento Bee, with a focus on the Kings. He’s been in professional journalism for more than 18 years. His roles have included sports editor at The Modesto Bee and news editor at two smaller California newspapers, as well as online producer and copy editor.