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Our View: Tour stop or not, Auburn must get wheels in motion

Our View
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If Auburn is lucky enough to earn a piece of the action in the 2011 Tour of California cycling event, it better take full advantage. Instead of a jumbotron television and a 20-minute sprint through town, how about a two-day festival of rides and races through Old Town and Downtown, using the successful Auburn Criterium as the foundation? Instead of a rolling road closure that shuts the city down for an hour, how about an official Tour of California bike loop with enhanced bike lanes and mile markers? Instead of a street fair, how about an all-day cycling conference with exhibits and educational seminars? Let’s think a little bigger. We may have to. Recent news that Lake Tahoe tourism officials are making a strong bid to host not just one, but two stages of the weeklong race next May doesn’t appear to deter local race advocates hoping for a return engagement in May 2011. Auburn leaders feel the city worked well with Amgen Tour officials in completing this year’s ride through the city, and believe their planning acumen and volunteer recruitment puts the city in good standing for an encore. But just as Interstate 80 paved the way for a successful Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley 50 years ago, Tahoe again threatens to steal some of Auburn’s thunder. It’s no secret that AEG Sports, the tour’s organizer and promoter, is interested in adding Lake Tahoe to the mix. Circling the lake would, ironically, take a “California” event into Nevada, but would deliver stunning imagery, a challenging ride and even an element of mountain weather should a late spring snow fall on the riders. One also can imagine thousands of cycling fans lining the narrow edges of Highways 89 and 50, waving flags and clanging cowbells. And the peloton rolling through Stateline is bound to bring up a few more gamblers than the beleaguered strip is seeing now. Such a stage makes sense. A second stage from North Lake Tahoe to the Gold Country makes sense as well, especially if the finish line is in Auburn. Bringing the Tour caravan to Auburn and starting the second stage here would be another ideal option. Auburn proved to AEG that it can provide a safe, secure route for the dozens of professional riders, using a corps of supportive law enforcement, excited business interests and more than 200 volunteers. AEG showered the city with accolades for a job well done. It’s time to think bigger. Auburn should aim to be a cycling destination, and lobby hard to be a stage finish or start next year or, if not, in 2012. Being a pass-through city is thrilling once, but will the effort be worth it a second time if the race rolls through on a Monday or Tuesday, as is likely if Tahoe secures the first stages in 2011? Regardless of the whether Auburn lands a coveted spot on the tour map, planning must capitalize cycling’s popularity in the region. Local bike shops are thriving, the Sierra Foothill Cycling Club has experienced phenomenal growth, and the region’s roadways have never been more popular. The bike trails along the rims of the American River Canyons are equally admired. Between road and trail, there’s bound to be an audience ready to participate in the right type of one- or two-day event program. With a tour stage race as an anchor, such a cycling fest would extend Auburn’s tourism ambitions. AEG should bring the Tour of California back to Auburn in 2011, but Auburn should be bike-ready with or without the call.