by: William Strand, PE, QSD

As winter slowly passes and with spring on the horizon, it’s time to look forward to America’s Greatest Race, The Amgen Tour of California, or simply, the Tour. For cycling enthusiasts, the Tour is a rite of spring. The 8th edition of the Tour will be held from May 12-19, and will include 16 of the world’s top professional cycling teams. For the first time, the Tour will start in Southern California and proceed in a northerly direction. The Tour will start in Escondido on May 12th and cover approximately 800 miles over 8 stages (days) en route to the finish in Santa Rosa.

Whether you are a cycling addict or have never ridden a bicycle, the Tour has something to offer everyone. With start times around 11 a.m. each day, the Amgen Tour of California Lifestyle Festival is open for several hours before the race start. The festival includes booths from local organizations, bicycle manufacturers and suppliers, food vendors and many other activities. Race starts also offer fans one of the best opportunities to see the racers, their bicycles, team cars and team buses  Fans often line up outside the team buses for a glimpse of their favorite cyclists, and hopefully an autograph (bring your own pen).

Tour finishes offer fans an opportunity to witness the dazzling speed of these highly trained athletes. Finish locations include the Lifestyle Festival and an opportunity to watch the race live on large televisions with live commentary for several hours before the finish. If you have never been to a cycling race, this is your opportunity to watch the racers pass a few feet from you at speeds topping 40 miles per hour (yes that is correct, and at these speeds they create quite a dust storm, so be prepared).

If you are truly hard core and don’t mind going to extreme lengths, you may want to watch the Tour out on course. Favorite viewing locations are often at prominent climbs on the mountain stages. This year, Mount Polomar (Stage 1) and Mount Diablo (Stage 7) are the two preeminent climbs, which will have the riders in low gear. In the European tradition, fans often run alongside the riders shouting encouragement. Be sure to give the riders plenty of room, as it is poor etiquette to interfere with them. Most stages have climbs, so if you don’t live near San Diego or the Bay Area, check your local stage map for the location of the climb nearest you.

If you are around the Central Coast on May 16th, be sure to catch the finish line at Avila Beach. The racers will make their way into Avila Beach and finish at Front Street, an RRM project! You can even walk over and catch a free concert after the finish at the Avila Beach Golf Course.

Be motivated by the largest cycling race in the United States and get your bike out of the closet, garage or basement and hit the roads, trails or paths. Imagine for a minute that you are in a small breakaway which has escaped the peloton (main group of cyclists) on Stage 8 and you hold a 10 minute lead, you’re sprinting for the finish line in Santa Rosa and you stand to take the overall lead in America’s Greatest Race!

For stage location and details visit http://www.amgentourofcalifornia.com/.

May is also National Bike Month:  http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bikemonth/