Gearing up for the bicycling big time

‘Whirlwind of activity’ to snag a stage of the Amgen Tour of California

FLYING ON TWO WHEELS <br> Ultimate winner Levi Leipheimer is shown here racing through the streets of Sacramento, site of the opening prologue of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, held in February.

Ultimate winner Levi Leipheimer is shown here racing through the streets of Sacramento, site of the opening prologue of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, held in February.


Imagine a Tour de France-like race rolling through Chico and Butte County, hundreds of professional bicyclists from all over the world speeding down local roads and streets.

If a coalition of local enthusiasts is successful, it will happen about this time next year. Local bicycling guru Ed McLaughlin, for one, is confident that Butte County will be successful in its bid to host a stage of the Amgen Tour of California, which is billed as “the largest cycling event in America.”

McLaughlin was among the participants at a press conference held Tuesday morning (May 26) in the conference room of the Chico Chamber of Commerce offices to offer information on the progress being made toward securing a leg of the increasingly popular bike race.

This year’s Amgen Tour, held in February, famously drew seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong out of retirement to ride its 750-mile course from Sacramento to Escondido. World-famous Santa Rosa cyclist Levi Leipheimer was the winner, scoring his third Amgen win in a row.

“They came to us,” emphasized McLaughlin, speaking of race owner and organizer AEG, which asked Kirby White, Chico’s public works manager, to consider submitting a bid for Chico to be involved with the 2010 Amgen Tour. “Plus, look at all the people working together to make it happen.”

As a member of an organizing team composed of the Chico, Paradise and Oroville chambers of commerce, as well as local-government representatives and cycling enthusiasts from each of the three communities, McLaughlin heads up a subcommittee in charge of route development for Butte County’s potential leg of the 2010 Amgen Tour.

After a brief welcome by Jolene Francis, president and CEO of the Chico Chamber of Commerce, the floor was turned over to the executive director of Paradise’s Chamber of Commerce, Katie Simmons.

After pointing out that it was only 2-1/2 weeks earlier that paperwork was received to apply for the 2010 Amgen Tour, Simmons praised the efficient teamwork of the organizing team and the outpouring of letters of support from the local cycling community and local government. Butte County’s bid, which will include several proposed routes, will be submitted to AEG by Monday (June 1).

Chico Mayor Ann Schwab weighed in at the podium briefly, referring to a “whirlwind” of committee activity over the past two weeks in preparation for submitting Butte County’s Amgen bid.

“This is a healthy, sports-minded community,” Schwab said of the Chico/Paradise/Oroville area. “We’re getting the word out that we are a place to visit.”

White, in response to a question about potential revenue to the area generated by the race, mentioned the Fresno County city of Clovis, which has a population similar to Chico’s. It hosted Stage 5 of the 2008 Amgen Tour, bringing in $830,000 in a 24-hour period, White said.

Simmons affirmed that the 2010 tour could potentially bring more than a million dollars to the county.

Melissa Schuster, of the Paradise Chamber, added that hosting a stage of the tour would also “create a tourism stream after the event itself.”

“The event will definitely be a financial boon for our community,” said Schwab. “This is going to be a ‘place-making’ event.”

“It’s going to put us on the map,” added Simmons.

After the press conference, McLaughlin pointed out that if Butte County gets to host a leg of the Amgen Tour (which will be held in May starting next year), “this would be the farthest north that the race will be,” and has ever been. Prior to this year’s Sacramento start, the Amgen Tour—which historically has moved in stages from north to south—has begun in either Sausalito, San Francisco or Palo Alto.

“We have a reputation as a cycling community,” said McLaughlin about Chico, which was named, as just about everyone in town knows, the best cycling town in the country by Bicycling Magazine in 1997.

“We’re a beautiful community,” added McLaughlin. “And they want to expand the venues [in the Amgen Tour]….

“I figure it’d be a real coup to score a stage up here. [The Amgen Tour] has always attracted people from Chico to visit other stages. People plan their vacations around this event to view every stage around the state.”