Ask the Pros: Could the Tour of California be a Grand Tour?

If you haven’t checked out my week’s preview of the Tour of California, you can find a link here.

Every year the Amgen Tour of California comes to town, it seemingly outdoes itself from the year before.

With more stars, better routes and bigger coverage, is eight days of racing still enough?

I have always dreamed of a Grand Tour bringing us the same three weeks of racing in the Tour de France to our Golden State. There are so many fantastic places to ride in California and the TOC only touches a few of them.

Factor in that so many cycling crazy fans come out to support this race and you start to think there’s a slice of reality to this idea.


 Just imagine a stage finishing at the Hollywood Sign or Griffith Observatory

I could postulate on this forever, but why not ask someone who knows more about this than me? Okay, if you’re reading this, then you probably qualify.

So to narrow the field, I went a step further and asked the people who know the most.

Phil Gaimon(Cannondale Pro Cycling) and Kiel Reijnen(Trek – Segafredo) are not only both veterans of the TOC, but will be follow combatants starting this Sunday.

Also joining the roundtable are TOC alumnus Neil Shirley still lives and breathes cycling as editor of Road Bike Action Magazine and The Hollywood Reporter’s features editor Peter Flax knows a thing or two from his days as Bicycling’s editor.

1. How would a Grand Tour in California sell cycling in the states?

PG: I think like the definition of a Grand Tour is one of those three that exists already. Again, the whole tradition thing. But cycling in the news and the media is always good. People see us racing along the ocean, they think it might be fun to go ride there. I didn’t know bike racing was a thing until the Tour de Georgia went through my neighborhood.
PF: It would send a message that the riding here is truly world class. California has climbs and scenic beauty that rival the very best of France and Italy, but we obviously lack the tradition. A Grand Tour would be a giant step toward remedying that.

NS: For one, it would of course not only put California on the world map as a true player in the sport, but America as a whole. Even bigger than that, in my opinion, is what it would do here at home for the non-cyclist’s understanding and appreciation of the sport. And think about how many schools and playgrounds the race would pass by over those 21 days…every kid that experienced some aspect of the event would change their dreams from being a professional baseball player to wanting to shave their legs, wear lycra, and obsess over 5% body fat.

KR: Grand Tours cover a lot of towns and a lot of roads. Sometimes there is no better way to introduce people to a sport than bringing it to their back door. TV coverage also tends to boost tourism and cycling tourism in areas that are showcased by the race. Plenty of towns would benefit by having the race come through.


I’m happy Phil will be putting the hurt on other pro riders and not me.

2. Does California have the terrain and roads to put on an exciting race year after year?

PG: Yes

PF: For sure, especially if the race happened late enough for the Sierra to be in play.

NS: The amount of varying terrain and roads in the state could undoubtedly support it. We have deserts, forests, mountains, a whole lot of coastline, and plenty of everything between.

KR: Absolutely, the riding in CA is second to none and it is a huge state, the size of many European countries. So if they can do it, we can do it.


3. Could an expanded Tour of California be better than any of the other Grand Tours?

PG: All other things being equal, sure, but Europe likes pro cycling more. There’s so much tradition and history behind Grand Tours, it would take a long time to establish something that attracts top riders. I’ve been saying that the first grand tour to make shorter stages so it’s a close race and people want to watch would do well, but it seems like more of a macho “My grand tour is harder than yours” contest.

PF: I don’t think the goal is to be better — the Tour de France and Giro d’Italina and the Vuelta de Espana so such rich histories that should be celebrated. The point is to add something that could evolve into a new legend.

NS: We’ve already seen from other races like Tour of California and San Francisco Gran Prix that we have the fan base that can support cycling in select areas. SFGP had half a million people crammed into a 30k (30km?) loop– it was absurd! So, I think we could have a unique and high quality event, but without the same rich cycling history enjoyed by France, Italy, and Spain it would simply be different over here. Could we get to the same level of attendance and financial support? I’m sure we could, but it wouldn’t happen overnight.

KR: I don’t know if the goal is to be better so much as adding something different. Something new and exciting. We don’t have the history that the other grand tours have but not having that history also give us the freedom to ignore the “rules” that historical races are bound to. I think it would be a mistake to follow the formula exactly. We might be better off reinventing what qualifies as a Grand Tour.


The Gold County & Sierras could provide at least a full week of action!

4. What parts of the state that are normally neglected would you like to visit?

PG: I want to race through that Redwood tree. They spread it around well. California is geographically smaller than France, but there’s plenty of land.

PF: Man, there are so many spots! To see a pro peloton ascend Tioga Pass in Yosemite — mind-blowing! I also love the idea of a finish on top of Mount Tam for symbolic reasons.

NS: The Tour of California has never gone further north than Sacramento, and there’s some fantastic riding between there and Oregon. We could do a cross-border excursion and have a mountain stage in the Siskiyous, then follow that up with a mountain time trial up to the ski resort on Mount Ashland. How about Mammoth area? Once you really start looking there are so many places that would blow people’s minds!

KR: Yosemite. National Parks Rule. Also getting further North than Sacramento would be cool up by the Oregon border.


5. Why would a Grand Tour in California not work?

PG: Money. European cities and sponsors are willing to fork over the cash because they thing pro cycling is cool, and most Americans see it as more of an inconvenience.

PF: Yeah, money is an issue. In European tours, towns that host a start or finish pay good money for that privilege. That model would be difficult to replicate across California. Also, the schedule is an obvious problem. Italy, France and Spain already have laid claim to May, July, and September, surrounded by a full calendar of racing. Most of the new races that have gained traction in recent years are Southern Hemisphere races in January or February. When the Tour of California used to be held earlier in the year it was a soggy affair.

NS: The Tour de France has been around for over a hundred years, it’s just one of those things that happens every single year without question. Trying to start that kind of tradition from the ground floor would be difficult. Economic stability would be very tough since all you have to do is look at our history of week-long stage races in the US over the past decade that are now gone– Tour de Georgia, Tour of Missouri, and USA Pro Challenge. I hate to wonder what might happen to the Tour of California the first year Amgen decides to move on from title sponsor.

KR: Plenty of reasons, but that shouldn’t stop us from dreaming.

TOC_Staples Staples Center hosted the ATOC during the busiest sports weekend in LA History(& the Kings won the cup)

6. If there was one place you would want a stage to end(screw the logistics), where would it be?

PG: Top of Mt. Hollywood. Or the bottom, because I know that descent real well.

PF: Revolucion in Tijuana would be cool for the multicultural symbolism. I also think the Tour of California always sticks Mount Hamilton in a stage that ends in San Jose, but ending a stage at the observatory would be a totally different thing. And lastly, up at Keys View in Joshua Tree — just because i think TV viewers around the world would be blown away by the otherworldly scenery.

NS: A prologue on Catalina Island to kick things off for sure! Then there would also need to be a summit finish at Bristlecone Forest in the Eastern Sierras so we can see how the Euros like climbing above 10,000 feet!

KR: On a dirt road in Redwood National Park after riding along the coast all day.