Bill Oetinger guest writer always brings keen insight into
the cycling world. Today Bill takes a flyer at a fantasy for the bike crazy
tifosi of California as he dreams the ultimate bike fantasy: three week World
Class Grand Tour in the Golden State.
It’s almost springtime again, and that means fans of
bicycle racing are emerging from months of hibernation, hungry for the first
real races of the year. Cyclocross and six-days races are all well and good, and
my hat’s off to those who ply these esoteric trades during the dark side of the
year. But most of us, right about now, are starved for real road races,
featuring our favorite first division teams, replete with all those big names we
know and love, from Armstrong and Astarloa to Zabel and Zulle.
Ever since the last leaves fell in Lombardia, and all
through the winter, we have been on a slow drip feed of racing rumors and
murmurs: riders transferring to new teams; new teams morphing out of old teams;
rider and team agendas announced for the coming season...tantalizing tidbits to
tide us over.
As winter wanes, we begin reading results from far flung races in antipodal
places...Australia...Malaysia...Argentina. Finally, like flocks of migratory
birds, the harlequin horde of the pro peloton begins to gather again in Europe,
and we are able to sink our greedy little tifosi teeth into those first tasty
morsels of the coming feast: Ruta del Sol, Tour Méditerranéen, Giro della
Liguria...can Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo be far away?
Racing in Europe: there is no denying that this is the
mother lode for cycling. Nothing else even comes close. We in North America
might wish it were otherwise, but a little logistical hurdle known as the
Atlantic Ocean, plus a century of cultural divergence in sporting interests have
made it the way it is. For the foreseeable future, we on this side of the pond
are going to be settling for second or third best when it comes to major cycling
It is not my intention to denigrate the American racing
scene, nor the many excellent riders who toil here. We are fortunate--and
grateful--to be able to see many great races, in all parts of the country. In a
few cases--the national championships in Philadelphia and the T-Mobile Grand
Prix in San Francisco, for two good examples--the crowds rival those of the
major races in Europe. But no one is going to try and make a case that races
here are on an equal footing with the big, epic races in Europe: the one-day
classics and the grand tours. Even the second-tier stage races in
Europe--Paris-Nice, Tour de Suisse, Dauphiné Libéré, are more prestigious and
more substantial than anything over here.
I’m as excited as anybody that the USPS juggernaut will be
participating in the Tour of Georgia this spring. And I’m equally excited about
the prospects for the new ten-day United Tour of Texas, slated to begin in 2005,
and promising to be the richest race in America. (Never mind that the total
prize pool for this richest of all races is equal to what maybe the fourth place
finisher might take home in any run-of-the-mill golf tournament.)
I hope both events thrive and prosper, and that more and
bigger stage races follow in their wake. But still, it’s a far cry from the
manic masses on the Alpine cols or the lunatic fringe along the sections of pavé
on Paris-Roubaix or thronging some mur in a Belgian forest. Watching the crazy
crowds on the Fillmore wall of the SF Grand Prix gives us just a teasing little
glimpse of what it might be like to see the real deal here...just a one-day
sampler of how cool it could be. Doesn’t it make you want to have more of the
What would it be like to have an authentic, world-class
Grand Tour in our backyard? (With all of the best teams and all of their team
leaders committed to winning.) I’m sure I’m not the only bike nut who has
fantasized about this. Just for the heck of it, while we wait for the really big
races to start showing up on OLN in a month or two, let’s play make-believe
here: let’s imagine what it would be like to have an annual Grand Tour in
California...a fourth marquee stage race on a par with the Giro, Tour, and
On some levels, this is going to take a lot of imagination.
But it’s just a fantasy, so we can be as freewheeling with our fancies as we
please. Let’s begin by pretending the Atlantic Ocean isn’t there, or at any rate
doesn’t impede the free flow of world-class teams and talent, and fans between
our stage race and all those other big events.
Next, let’s imagine there is a 13th month in the year,
wedged in, say, between July and August. That’s the window we need to give our
poor racers time to recover between the Tour and the Vuelta.
There is hardly enough time between the grand tours as it is, at least if you
listen to the current crop of riders; very few of them do even two of the big
stage races anymore, let alone three. So in addition to putting another month of
mellow weather into the summer calendar, and a pair of fresh legs on each rider,
we also need to give these guys some serious motivation to do our tour.
Two things will do that: prestige and money.
If all the rest of this were solid reality and not a
daydream, I can assure you the money would be there; lots of it...enough to
tempt the best pro teams. Sponsors would be climbing all over each other to pay
the bills and bask in the reflected glory of the event. Cities and towns would
be vying for the privilege; no, paying for the privilege of being a ville
d’étape...a start or finish line venue for a stage.
But still, in addition to a big pot of gold at the end of
our rainbow, we would need the prestige, the international cachet of being one
of the really, really big prizes in all of sports. So let’s imagine that our
stage race has been around for most of a hundred years, growing bigger and more
important over that span of time.
Let’s imagine that cycling in America never lost the
popularity it had in the days of Major Taylor and Bobby Walthour; that it still
draws more spectators and generates more passion and publicity than baseball.
(Cycling in America did that, you know...back in the early years of the 20th
century. Back when the Tour de France was just a twinkle in the eye of Henri
Desgranges, bike racing was the biggest sporting draw in the USA.)
So, for the purposes of this fantasy, we will roll back the clock a hundred
years and rewrite history so that bike racing remains the big deal it had been
then, and that all the years in between will be filled with the same epic tales
and heroic feats that make the grand old races in Europe so mythic.
Are you still with me here? Okay so far?
If you’ve bought into my fantasyland premise up to this point, it gets easier
from now on. But wait a second, some of you are saying: what was that you said
back there about a stage race in...California...?
Isn’t this a national grand tour?
Well...no, it’s not!
Remember, this is my fantasy, and I live and ride in California, so this is
where I want my stage race to be. Besides, it makes sense this way, to me
anyway. The United States is way too big to host a three-week tour that has any
hope of making a big loop all the way around the country, as the Italian,
French, and Spanish tours do each year. Besides, who would want to see endless
stages slogging away across the vast, flat nothingness of the Midwest? If you
want that, you’ve got RAAM.
In terms of total area, California is slightly smaller than
France or Spain, but a good deal bigger than Italy. Add in the occasional foray
into the neighboring “countries” of Oregon or Nevada, and its right in the same
ballpark as the other Grand Tour nations as far as overall size goes. And it
certainly matches up well in terms of great scenery, interesting roads, and
challenging topography, not to mention having enough population centers to
provide for both logistical support and a significant spectator pool. And with
all due respect to Georgia and Texas, it beats the pants off either of those
states in all these departments.
Just think of the tour stages we could have here! First
off, you’ve got climbs and cols in the Sierra to match anything on any of the
Euro-tours. Imagine a mountaintop finish at Whitney Portal or Bristlecone....yeeow!
Or how about crossing Tioga Pass (9200 ft.) midway through a stage and finishing
up with a field sprint in Yosemite Valley?
But why stop there?
Ever been up to Hearst Castle? Remember that wonderful, winding road up the
mountain to get there? What a great mountaintop finish that would make! And it
certainly wouldn’t all be stages for the climbers: after that finish at Hearst
Castle, bed the tour caravan down in San Simeon overnight, then do the length of
Big Sur as the next stage, finishing up with the 17-mile drive and then a sprint
finish along Cannery Row in Monterey. Then send the herd up through the Santa
Cruz mountains to San Francisco. Or…on the day before Hearst Castle have a
mildly uphill sprint finish to the Queen of the California Missions in Santa
Imagine the stages you could run in the mountains of
Southern California. You Bay Area folks may not know these roads, but the hardy
bikers in San Diego and LA will understand what I’m talking about when I suggest
stages visiting places like Palomar, Idyllwild, Oak Glen, Big Bear, and the
Angeles Crest. Epic stuff!
And we haven’t even considered the venues north and east of
San Francisco. Just in the immediate Bay Area counties, you have enough
possibilities to last you through several tours, rarely repeating a thing.
Go even further out into the hinterlands, and the supply of cool roads and
challenging stages is virtually inexhaustible. Lake Tahoe...Lassen...Mt
Shasta...Avenue of the Giants in the Redwood forest with trees towering over 30
stories high...the Lost Coast...
My fantasy does have one reality-based caveat though: I
like to assume that any given stage would satisfy all the logistical
considerations inherent in putting on a really big event, and that means enough
room and infrastructure to host a significant finish area, and enough nearby
accommodations to house and feed all the teams and support personnel...no small
That leaves some of California’s most remote corners as somewhat problematic, at
best, in terms of hosting a stage. But any number of stages on the Euro-tours
end in far off, obscure, primitive places; Zoncolan and l’Angliru come to mind
and the organizers manage to get everyone off the mountains and down to hotels
and hot food eventually.
It’s doable, for sure. If all the suppositions upon which
this tour is based were fact instead of fantasy, it could be and would be one
helluva stage race.
Unfortunately, the fantasy foundation of our event is a
towering, tottering house of cards, and I can’t quite see past the fantasy to
whatever it would take to make it real. Perhaps some others with more vision and
more resources can make it happen someday. Lord knows, I never thought I would
see crowds--and race fields--as deep as we have seen at the San Francisco Grand
Prix. (San Francisco GP draws 500,000 spectators yearly) It’s still a piddly
little event compared to 20 stage Grand Tour, but it’s a step in the right
courtesy of Bill Oetinger and www.bikecal.com
Not so long after Bill wrote this article on May 24, 2004
an announcement was released to the Press:
ProCyclingTour.com | State Endorses Week Long Tour of
The new event is expected to be part of the Pro Cycling
Tour, along with the T-Mobile International in San Francisco, the BMC New York
City Championship, and the Wachovia Cycling Series in Philadelphia, and will be
run by Threshold Sports LLC and California Pro Cycling.
Former LA mayor (and state Secretary of Education) Richard
Riordan will oversee the project for the state and serve on its advisory board.
California Pro Cycling, the company that will organize the
event was formed and funded by business executives with a passion for cycling.
According to their president, Ken Bishop, the company has been planning the
event for nearly two years: “The United States needs a high profile
international stage race and California has the terrain, scenic beauty and major
media markets that will make this one of the biggest annual sporting events in
the world in California’s tradition of hosting world class events like the
Olympic Games, World Cup Soccer, Breeder’s Cup and more, ” Bishop said. It seems
this is bad news for the increasingly successful Tour de Georgia, since there's
never been room on the US schedule for more than one big-name stage race.
State endorsement and seed financing from California Pro
Cycling will help launch the effort to secure interested corporate sponsors and
media partners, an effort that will continue until the $5 million required to
stage the event is raised. “The interest level from sponsors is quite high”,
said Bishop. “We are optimistic about securing funding to launch the event in
2005 or, at the latest, Spring 2006.”
Is it just Bill’s fantasy or are we on the way to a new
three week world class tour in the future for the cycling crazy state of
Bill’s comments are heartily endorsed by this tifosi and
the editors of Daily Peloton we have only one request…can we call it the Giro d’
California, or even the Vuelta e’ California?
More articles by Bill on the Daily Peloton:
"Inyo Face" A description of the world Class
climbs in the Eastern Face fof the Sierra Nevada Mountains:
"How to be a Happy Climber" Bills insight into making it up the tough
"Thats Why they Make the Big Bucks" A personal favorite of mine! Bill
finds a way to explain just what separates a Professional Racer from a talented
amateur in terms anyone will explain and none can deny.