By James Raia

Amgen Tour of California (2009) route details unveiled

The official route of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, the expanded fourth edition of the largest professional stage race in the United States was announced Thursday by race organizers, a few hours prior to various media briefings throughout the state. As previously announced, then nine-day, estimated 750-mile course will progress from Sacramento to Escondido, Feb. 14-22 and will be one day  and about 100 miles longer than the 2008 edition.

Although teams and riders have not been announced, it’s likely inaugural race winner Floyd Landis (OUCH) and two-time defending titlist Levi Leipheimer (Astana) will compete as will Lance Armstrong.

The event will be Armstrong’s first United States stage race since retiring  after his seventh consecutive Tour de France title in 2005.

The route has also been adjusted from previous details. The start in Sacramento will be a prologue, not the originally announced out-and-back road race. And an announced three-day women’s stage race has been shelved in favor of the women’s run in conjunction with stage 1 in Santa Rosa on Feb. 15.

New cities include for the race’s fourth edition include: Davis, Santa Cruz, Merced, Clovis, Visalia, Paso Robles, Rancho Bernardo and Escondido.

Here’s a capsule of each stage, via race organizers:

Prologue: Sacramento (Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009)
Start time: 1:30 p.m.
Start Location: Intersection of Capitol Mall and 9th St.
Finish Location: Intersection of L St. and 11th St.

The prologue will start off a ramp near the corner of Capitol and L Street. The course heads west toward Tower Bridge before making a U-turn at 4th Street and heading east along Capitol. Riders then take an abrupt right on 9th Street, a left on N Street, whiz past Capitol Park for 10 blocks to 19th Street. They turn left on 19th Street and take another left on L Street before and riding the final eight  blocks to the finish line at 11th and L.

Stage 1: Davis to Santa Rosa (Sunday, Feb. 15)
Start Time: Noon
Start Location: Intersection of C St. and 3rd St. in Davis
Finish Location: Intersection of 3rd St. and Santa Rosa Ave. in Santa Rosa

A new stage, the route includes evenly spaced climbs throughout the stage and spectacular views. After 20 miles of flat roads, riders will negotiate their first climb up a short, but steep section leading Monticello Dam. Another long, flat section along Lake Berryessa will take riders to their second climb up Howell Mountain Rd., followed by a fast descent into Napa Valley.

Stage 2: Sausalito to Santa Cruz (Monday, Feb. 16)
Start Time: 8:30 a.m.
Start Location: Spinnaker Restaurant at 100 Spinnaker Dr. in Sausalito
Finish Location: Intersection of Front St. and Cooper St. in Santa Cruz

Starting on the northern side of the San Francisco Bay, stage 2 will cover more than 100 miles from Sausalito to Santa Cruz.  The stage will begin with a scenic start in Sausalito on the water and will head south across the Golden Gate Bridge and then through the streets of San Francisco.  The route will then take the riders west down the California coastline on Highway 1.  The coastal stage will include two long, but moderate climbs on Tunitas Creek Road and Bonny Doon Road, which will be followed by lengthy and fast descents.

Stage 3: San Jose to Modesto (Tuesday, Feb. 17)
Start Time: Noon
Start Location: Intersection of San Fernando St. and Almaden Blvd. in San Jose
Finish Location: Intersection of I St. and 12th St. in Modesto

Beginning with a climb synonymous with the event, cyclists will head up Sierra Road (1,930 ft.) within the first five miles of the stage. After completing the Sierra Road climb, a likely defining moment of the race, riders will face fast and flat roads full of twists and turns (Calaveras Road alone has more than 40 switchbacks) before climbing Patterson Pass. The stage will finish with two circuits in downtown Modesto.

Stage 4: Merced to Clovis (Wednesday, Feb. 18)
Start Time: 11 a.m.
Start Location: City Hall at the intersection of N St. and 18th St. in Merced
Finish Location: Intersection of Bullard Ave. and Pollasky Ave. in Clovis

Stage 4 will introduce two new host cities and the Sierra Nevada. With four KOMs (“King of the Mountain” competitions) and several sprints, stage 4 will be consistently hilly and technical from the start in Merced to the finish in Clovis. Fans can watch the climbs at four locations – Hwy 140, twice on Hwy 49 and Crane Valley Road.

Stage 5: Visalia to Paso Robles (Thursday, Feb. 19)
Start Time: 10 a.m.
Start Location: Intersection of Aceqia Ave. and Church St. in Visalia
Finish Location: Intersection of Spring St. and 11th St. in Paso Robles

A new course, stage 5 will progress 130 miles — the longest of thee race — and begin with a neutral start of parade laps through Visalia’s downtown. The field wile progress for 100 miles on vast stretch of flat roads in the San Joaquin Valley. Winding back to the coast, the route will pass vast cattle ranches and farms and will include two mid-stage sprints en route to the finish in Paso Robles.

Stage 6: Solvang Individual Time Trial (Friday, Feb. 20)
Start Time: Noon
Start Location: Intersection of Mission Drive and 1st St.
Finish Location: Copenhagen Dr.

The 15-mile individual route usually determines the rider who will likely ride to the overall race victory, as Levi Leipheimer did in dominating fashion last year.

Stage 7: Santa Clarita to Pasadena (Saturday, Feb. 21)
Start Time: Noon
Start Location: Town Center Drive in Santa Clarita
Finish Location: West Drive, alongside the Rose Bowl in Pasadena

The first 25 miles of stage 7 include a gradual climb from Santa Clarita, through Acton, to the intersection of Angeles Forest Road. The route continues  to the second highest elevation in race history, Millcreek Summit (4,906 ft.). Descending with a 15-mile run to Angeles Crest Highway, the route begins a fast plunge to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. After more than 65 miles from Santa Clarita to Pasadena, the field will complete the stage with five, five-mile laps surrounding the Rose Bowl.

Stage 8: Rancho Bernardo to Escondido (Sunday, Feb. 22)
Start Time: Noon
Start Location: Bernardo Center Dr. in Rancho Bernardo
Finish Location: Intersection of Grand Ave. and Broadway in Escondido

With four climbs, including the highest point ever reached in the event, cyclists will climb to Palomar Mountain (5,123 ft.).  At 11.7 miles, a seven percent average grade, 4,200 feet of climbing and 21 switchbacks, Palomar Mountain will add a new finishing component to the overall title contenders.