Mixed reaction to Santa Rosa skipping 2014 Tour of California
Published: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 6:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 6:39 p.m.
When the newly born Tour of California arrived in 2006, its breakout moment by many accounts was the second-day reception in Santa Rosa, where 35,000 people packed downtown to watch 127 of the world's top cyclists finish an 81-mile stage that started in Sausalito.
From atop parking garages, hanging from tree limbs or jammed together on city sidewalks, roaring fans ushered in what has become the biggest professional bike race in the country.
And Santa Rosa has kept it coming back, seven out of the last eight years, including host roles for two signature stages — the 2012 overall start of the weeklong race and the overall finish this year. Even through several years of drenching rain, the thick crowds never thinned.
So it was no small thing when city officials announced Friday night that Santa Rosa — seat of Sonoma County, and now an internationally known cycling destination — would not be submitting a bid to host a stage of the tour next year.
VeloNews, a national cycling website, gave the story top billing Saturday: “Must Read: Santa Rosa skips 2014 Tour of California.”
Reaction from cycling enthusiasts was swift. Some voiced understanding for the move, which city officials said was driven by donor fatigue and need to reevaluate how Santa Rosa might participate in the future after a big organizing effort the past two years.
Aside from Paris, “no town in France gets the Tour de France every year,” said Gary Wysocky, a Santa Rosa city councilman and avid cyclist.
Host bids for the 2014 Tour of California were due Friday. Santa Rosa's decision not to compete was made by city executives, local organizers and sponsors. Wysocky said he was comfortable with it.
“It's not like it's going away forever,” he said.
Others lamented the looming no-show, citing the Tour of California as one of a growing number of cycling events that have put Sonoma County on the sport's map — and drummed up millions of dollars in nearly year-round business for local shops, hotels and restaurants.
“It's a shame,” said Grant Taggart, 34, of Santa Rosa. He said the race and other events have “legitimized Sonoma County has a cycling haven.”
The news filtered out on another big weekend for local bike events. On Saturday, 600 riders participated in the fourth annual mountain bike race to benefit Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa. Today, bike makers, vendors and fans are set to gather from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in downtown Santa Rosa for the Sonoma County Bike Expo.
Along with Levi Leipheimer's GranFondo, the annual recreational ride that draws thousands of riders to the county every fall, the Tour of California has become a signature local event. It has generated an estimated $20 million in economic activity for the region over the past eight years.
The only gap for Santa Rosa came in 2011, but it helped lead to more prominent roles for the city as the start and finish host in the past two races.
Santa Rosa officials said the decision not to compete for a stage in 2014 was discussed for months. It was made about a month after this year's event rolled through town in May, they said, though not disclosed publicly until Friday night.
The cost of the event — local organizers raised $325,000 for this year's finish and $540,000 for the start in 2012 — was a prime factor, said Raissa de la Rosa, the city of Santa Rosa's economic development specialist and co-chairwoman of the local organizing committee.
The donations cover lodging and food for more than 1,000 people traveling with the race, including riders, plus infrastructure, law enforcement, public works and utility costs. The money has come from local charities, individual businesses and business groups.
After two high-profile years, going back to those sources to support what may have been a lesser role next year would have been difficult, de la Rosa said.
A break could help the city make future plans and possibly take a new role in the race. It has yet to host a time trial, cycling's individual race against the clock in a multi-day event.
“The beauty of this race is it looks seamless. There's a lot of work in that,” de la Rosa said. “We want to see what our options are in terms of what we could accommodate if we look at it differently.”
Tourism officials echoed those comments.
“How do we want to continue this partnership?” said Brad Calkins, executive director of the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau, one of the race's key local supporters. “Everyone is still coming off the highs of the overall start and overall finish. What's next? How do we position ourselves for the future?”
Other sponsors confirmed that donor fatigue was a factor in the decision.
“It's definitely harder to go back and ask for money from the same people over and over again,” said Carlos Perez, co-founder of Bike Monkey, which puts on Levi's GranFondo, the Annadel mountain bike race and other events. The GranFondo has donated $240,000 to local Tour efforts since 2010, an investment that Perez said had paid off, to a point.
“The race has had a good run and we got a lot out of it,” he said, of the exposure given to the county and its cycling community. However, he said. “it's not so new and fresh any more. The crowds have plateaued and the city of Santa Rosa has worked so hard to put it on. A break would be really good for them.”
For his part, Perez hinted at discussions of a new, locally branded cycling event of some kind, one that could have less constraints on sponsors than the Tour of California.
“We have to go back to the drawing board and see what really brings interest to Sonoma County,” he said.
Officials with AEG Sports, the Tour of California's owner and operator, did not return calls for comment. Amgen, the Thousand Oaks-based pharmaceutical giant, is the Tour's main sponsor.
At the finish line of the Annadel mountain bike race Saturday, cyclists debated the extent of the loss.
“It's a bummer. Santa Rosa was always one of the best shows,” said Kristin Drumm, 44, of Novato.
But the region's many organized recreational rides and races always have been more important for cycling than a one-day professional spectacle, others said.
“I'd rather have an event that I can participate in and that's for a charitable cause,” said Bill Singer, 47, of Santa Rosa.
Jim Keene, a veteran cyclist and co-owner of Santa Rosa's NorCal Bike Sport and the Bike Peddler, said such events are vital for the area's reputation and “pure gravy” for local businesses.
“I would be crushed if we lost the GranFondo,” Keene said. The benefit ride, initiated by Leipheimer, a Santa Rosa resident and former professional cyclist, is now in its fifth year and set to host about 7,500 riders on Sonoma County roads Oct. 5.
Other vendors said they have been grateful for the Tour of California's long association with Santa Rosa. Giving it up for at least a year will allow others to bask in the glow.
“We're kind of spoiled because not many towns get that kind of high-caliber event every year,” said Phil Heydorn, service manager at Santa Rosa's Echelon Cycle & Multisport, also a Tour supporter. “If you have something every year, maybe you don't see the value in it. Maybe this will spur the drive to get it back again.”
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