Flat tire

Did Sacramento miss out on California’s biggest cycling tour because of debt?

Sacramento has been part of the Amgen Tour of California cycling race for five of its seven years. But while the tour is expected to announce details for this year’s route in the coming weeks, this city’s participation in the 2013 event is tenuous for several reasons, including its still-unpaid loan to the Sacramento Sports Commission.

The $400,000 debt for the 2011 USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships isn’t a deal breaker when it comes to Sacramento gaining a stage start or finish in the eighth annual Amgen Tour, scheduled for next May. But race organizers are aware of the city’s financial dilemma, and it’s one reason Sacramento has been relegated as a “fallback location,” according to tour officials.

“The event knows what Sacramento can do as a stage city,” said one race organizer, who spoke via an agreement of anonymity. “And some of the biggest crowds the race has had have been in Sacramento.”

But, the source added, “The city does have a sports deficit. But more importantly, with the race likely starting in Southern California, it wouldn’t likely be feasible to get to Sacramento.”

Like a half-dozen Northern California cities, including Davis and Folsom as well as the Lake Tahoe region, Sacramento submitted a bid to host a stage start or finish by the August 17 deadline. In previous years, the route for the following year’s race already would have been announced.

John McCasey, executive director of the Sacramento Sports Commission, believes the geographic preferences for the event may prevent a Sacramento stop. But he doesn’t believe the financial deficit is a consideration.

“The event is too important for us not to want to be involved again,” McCasey said. “We’ve been in contact with the organizers, and they said they will do whatever they can to help. I’m not sure how the event could get here in eight days, but I know there are a lot of route scenarios being discussed.”

With fewer cities applying to host a stage start or finish, event organizers have had difficulty finalizing a route that incorporates more desirable major cities—San Diego, Los Angeles and a finish in San Francisco.

The reason: The second-year USA Pro Challenge, a nearly identical cycling-tour event held in Colorado, has prospered. In August, it featured idyllic cities such as Aspen, Telluride and Beaver Creek, as well as a final-day time trial in Denver.

The Tour of California is also facing additional concerns, an image makeover and a pending change of ownership.

The mega-sports corporation Anschutz Entertainment Group, owner of the Amgen Tour of California and once a partner in the proposed Sacramento Kings arena downtown, went on sale this past September. With biotech monolith Amgen as its title sponsor, the race has reportedly lost several million dollars per year since its inception in 2006. The 2013 race is the last year of Amgen’s contract.

Last year’s Tour of California included a successful start in Santa Rosa and concluded in Los Angeles. But the race also visited smaller cities such as Clovis and Livermore, and the race’s pivotal time trial was held in front of a small crowd in Bakersfield.

The 2013 Tour of California’s pending start is in Escondido, located 30 miles southeast of San Diego, and the host of the race’s final stage in 2009.

In early August, the Escondido City Council approved a budget expenditure of $475,000, according to several media outlets. It would be the first Southern California city to host the overall start.