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Auburn eyes Lance Armstrong, Amgen Tour of California bike race visit

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The thought of cycling superstar Lance Armstrong and the Amgen Tour of California rolling through Auburn, jockeying for position on Highway 49 at the American River Confluence or crossing in a colorful clump over the Foresthill Bridge with helicopters hovering above is creating some strong local buzz. With reports last week that race presenter AEG Sports is still deciding on the route for the Sacramento-area leg of the tour on Feb. 14, the foothills in and around Auburn is being seen as a good fit by the cycling community Adding to the buzz is the presence of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who is out of retirement and planning to use the California tour as an early season tune-up. Auburn’s Brad Kearns, author of the book “How Lance Does It: Put the Success Formula of a Champion into Everything You Do,” said Armstrong’s input will play a key role in route selection and the local one would prove a good choice. Kearns, a triathlon event organizer and former world-class triathlete who competed against Armstrong, said he has contacted Armstrong’s manager to lobby for a route in the Auburn area that could give cyclists some challengingly steep stretches of road. “They’ll make accommodations for the stars,” Kearns said. “These guys are entertainers and they have to consider the athlete’s wishes. In Lance’s case, he is the boss. He’ll be in the loop picking the course.” Armstrong already knows the Auburn area. Three years ago, he was seriously considering Auburn as his training camp base, Kearns said. A local house had been lined up but then-fiancée Sheryl Crow beckoned in Los Angeles, killing the foothills training base idea, he said. “What we have here rivals anything in the tour for duration and difficulty of climbs,” Kearns said. Ideally, Kearns said he could see Auburn actually playing host to a start and sending cyclists deep into the mountains along Iowa Hill Road and Mosquito Ridge Road. One climb from Lotus to Georgetown rises 2,100 feet over 10 miles. Another, the 18-mile Iowa Hill climb, is part of a 70-mile circuit from Auburn on beautiful, deserted roads, with a smooth, fast descent before a 30-mile leg back to Sacramento, he said. At Victory Velo bicycle shop in Downtown Auburn, sales manager Oliver Bell said he envisions cyclists crossing the Foresthill Bridge over the scenic North Fork American River canyon, after traveling up Salmon Falls Road from Folsom, passing through Cool along Highway 49 and dropping into the American River Canyon along Old Foresthill Road. The tour could make a fast-paced return to Sacramento along Auburn Folsom Road or stretch into the scenic rural countryside over Mt. Vernon and Wise roads to Lincoln, he said. Bell said the tour isn’t looking for any major climbs the first day because that could stretch out the pack too far and leave a leader to chase too early. Bell said the local community would be vying with cities to the south like Jackson and Placerville for a piece of the Amgen Tour of California route. But the effort would be worth it as perhaps hundreds of thousands of spectators line the route, bringing business to the local area and adding more cachet to the area’s favorite biking roads, he said. Bruce Cosgrove, Auburn Chamber of Commerce executive director, said Wednesday that a Tour of California route in and around Auburn is a natural tie-in with the community’s status as Endurance Capital of the World. “We absolutely see it as a great opportunity for us as a community and want to work to make it possible,” Cosgrove said. “The fact that Lance Armstrong came out of retirement is going to add to this ride and it would be foolish not to try to take an active role.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.