By Matthew Sommer

Winding through 700 miles of the California coast, the Amgen Tour of California is a bike race that rivals the Tour de France.

The Amgen Tour of California, which began in 2006, runs from San Francisco to Los Angeles, through the most scenic spots in California. The race is one of the largest in the United States — lasting eight days — with eight of the 20 Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) ProTour teams in attendance.

UCI, the international authority on bike races, gave the Amgen Tour a difficulty rating that translates as “beyond categorization,” and places the tour as one of two such categorized events in America.

The Santa Cruz City Council approved a bid to host a stage final for the race in 2008. The proposed stage would wind through the Santa Cruz mountains and finish at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The city of Santa Cruz also made a bid for the 2007 event, but was not chosen.

Councilmember Mike Rotkin said Santa Cruz is a great fit for the Amgen Tour, stating that there is a large bicycle industry considering the size of the city.

“[Santa Cruz is] a town that appreciates these kinds of events,” Rotkin said.

The race is estimated to cost the city of Santa Cruz approximately $75,000, covering costs such as police protection and traffic control. Rotkin anticipates the tour would attract more visitors, offsetting the cost to the city.

“[The Amgen Tour] brings people from all over the state,” Rotkin said. “Tourism is our major industry.”

Piet Canin, coordinator of the Bicycle Industry Coalition in Santa Cruz, said Santa Cruz is ideal for the Amgen Tour because of its many great biking roads and the large cyclist community.

“It will be a great opportunity for Santa Cruz,” Canin said.

Canin compared the Amgen Tour with the Tour de France. “It’s not the Tour de France,” Canin said, “but it’s got a lot of the flavor of the Tour de France.”

Councilmember Cynthia Matthews was also a proponent of the Tour. Matthews said the Tour of California would elevate Santa Cruz to a world-renowned travel destination.

“[The stage stop in Santa Cruz] would create international stature and exposure,” Matthews said.

Aptos Bikes owner, Steve Jonsson, said top cyclists have participated in the last two Amgen Tours. “[The Amgen Tour] attracts some of the best riders in the world,” Jonsson said.

Floyd Landis, who won the Tour de France last year, won the first Amgen Tour. Levi Leipheimer, another nationally renowned American cyclist, won the Amgen Tour in 2007.

Amgen Tour representatives are planning a visit to evaluate Santa Cruz as a Tour of California stop.