By Laura Fishman
City on a Hill Press Editor

750 miles of raceway.

136 cyclists.

17 teams.

16 cities.

9 days.

1 Lance Armstrong.

Combine these numeric details with the millions of screaming fans, and the result is a week of excitement.

The Amgen Tour of California will pedal off the ground this weekend, making a stop in Santa Cruz for the first time in the race’s existence.

Karen Kefauver, a local cycling advocate involved in the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, is just one fan among millions who says she will be cheering for the athletes finishing up Stage 2 of the race on Presidents’ Day.

“It’s really exciting — Lance Armstrong, is going to be right there,” Kefauver said, pointing to the corner of Front Street and Cooper Street, where the race is slated to finish.

The Amgen Tour of California represents the largest professional cycling event in the United States, with 17 professional cycling teams competing this year. Divided into eight stages and spanning nine days, Feb. 14 through 22, the more than 750-mile race will take cyclists from Sacramento to Escondido, through the redwood forests, treacherous mountains, farmlands and vineyards of the Golden State.

This year for the first time, the City of Santa Cruz will be involved in the tour, hosting the Stage 2 Finish on Feb. 16. As one of the tour’s 16 host cities, there’s growing excitement in the air as the big day approaches.

Getting Santa Cruz chosen to host the event was not easy, and a long battle was fought through a selective process, said Mayor Cynthia Mathews.

“We applied every single year, where we submitted a detailed proposal, and last year we were finally selected [for 2009],” Mathews said. “We as a city are committed to providing a lot of services to make this happen, but we feel it’s worth it.”

Now in its fourth consecutive year, the Tour of California is steadily gaining popularity and recognition. The Los Angeles Times reported in July that the tour is truly the most successful race in the United States, boasting record attendance while delivering an economic boost to the state as a whole, as well as to the individual host cities, generating a yearly sum of $100 million statewide.

The town’s festivities on Feb. 16 may cost the city of Santa Cruz as much as $100,000, but most of the funding will be paid through sponsorships, Mathews said.

Last year, the estimated 1.6 million spectators who came out to cheer for their favorite cyclists set all-time attendance records for any single sporting event in the state of California, or for any cycling event ever held in America. This year’s estimated spectators are expected to shatter last year’s record.

In the upcoming race, the city of Santa Cruz will be one of eight locales taking on hosting duties for the first time in the tour’s history. Mathews believes many people anticipated the Tour arriving in Santa Cruz for a long time, given the city’s bike-friendly reputation.

“The Amgen organizers were always interested in including Santa Cruz on their route, because they knew this was a bicycle-oriented community,” she said. “In previous years it just didn’t fit the configuration.”

With the race coming up quickly, hype and build-up over the event has spread worldwide. In Santa Cruz specifically, eagerness is pointed at Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion, who will be competing in the Tour of California after three years of retirement.

In anticipation of his arrival, posters of Armstrong have filled local stores and the athlete’s charitable Livestrong bracelets are starting to make a comeback.

As an active bike commuter and member of the Tour’s Local Organizing Committee, Karen Kefauver is thrilled with the sudden boost in the Tour’s popularity.

“All eyes are on California for this huge stage race,” said Kefauver, dressed in bicycle attire. “[Armstrong] is superstar famous, and I think he’s definitely raising the profile of the Tour of California.”

But for many people like Kefauver the excitement is not just for Armstrong, but also for several locals competing in the race, including two UC Santa Cruz alumni: Ben Jaques-Maynes of the Bissell pro cycling team and Brooke Miller, who will be competing in the Tour of California Women’s Criterium.

Jaques-Maynes, who graduated from UCSC in 2003 with a dual degree in environmental studies and economics, is particularly thrilled about competing in a town so close to his home in Watsonville, where he will have thousands of fans cheering him on.

“Everybody in Santa Cruz is excited about cycling, and that really shows through the community outreach that has occurred for the Tour of California,” Jaques-Maynes said.

In addition to the fan support, Jaques-Maynes anticipates an enjoyable ride through Santa Cruz, based on the city’s physical dynamics.

“I think [Santa Cruz] is one of the premiere locations in the country,” Jaques-Maynes said. “It has a great variety of roads, good infrastructure in the city, and good community support.”

Lance Armstrong, who has cycled through various locations around the globe, would agree and has even claimed Santa Cruz as one of his favorite spots to ride.

Tour of California: It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Jennifer Karno was inspired to work for the Santa Cruz Local Organizing Committee for the Amgen Tour of California because of how many people loved the town. As the current Santa Cruz Tour of California coordinator, Karno dedicates endless hours a week working on the logistics for race day.

Tour organizers have been working on ways to accommodate the ample number of expected visitors. Karno explained that the city hopes the Tour of California will give visitors incentives to go shopping downtown and spend money, which would boost the city’s economy.

“Hopefully it will bring a lot of tourists and business to Santa Cruz, and a lot of people who don’t know what Santa Cruz is all about can learn about our city,” she said.

Karno, who has been meeting with the local organizing committee every week for the past year, remains proud that the city and community have put in so much hard work to make this event happen.

“Santa Cruz has never had anything this big ever happen to it,” Karno said. “This is by far the biggest thing. It’s a big deal.”

Proper preparation and a smooth finish are especially important since the international spotlight will be shining on the city come race day. All nine days of the race will be broadcasted live throughout 127 different countries on cable television for the first time in the race’s history, and additional live coverage will also fill the Amgen Tour of California website via an interactive map.

In these economic times, Mathews also hopes that the international visibility of the city will rouse potential visitors wanting to see what else Santa Cruz has to offer.

“It definitely puts us on the map internationally in terms of a cycling center, and we think it will be a long term payoff for the city,” Mathews said.

However, people in the community can’t help but wonder whether the city has the physical capacity to host an event of this enormity. With expected road closures and minimal parking structures, the city may face serious logistical problems on race day.

However, these unavoidable difficulties will be well managed by city officials, Mathews assured.

“Of course there will be inconveniences for a few hours, but — my gosh — to have [this] world-class event in our community is an incredible opportunity,” she said with a smile.

Karno is working with the local organizing team to make sure the occasion runs smoothly and agrees that any temporary inconveniences will probably pale in comparison to the potential payoff.

“Other towns our size have put this event on and have had a lot of success,” Karno said. “So that gives us some hope.”

University Un-Involvement

Through the final stretch of Stage 2, world-renowned cyclists including Armstrong, local favorite Jaques-Maynes, and Levi Leipheimer will be speeding down Empire Grade, continuing past the base of campus, through the intersection of Bay and High Streets.

Many students are especially happy that the race has been made so accessible to Banana Slug spectators, but the chairman of the tour’s Local Organizing Committee, Matt Twisselman, expressed disappointment that university administration didn’t take on a larger role in planning the race.

“I tried, tried and tried so hard to get the university involved,” said Twisselman, who first started contacting UCSC’s administration in July of 2008. “I was trying to get the race to actually go through campus … It would have been fantastic, and unfortunately it didn’t happen.”

UCSC spokesperson Jim Burns, who was not available by phone, responded via e-mail. The university was not able to have the tour go through campus due to financial reasons, Burns said.

Twisselman said that UCSC’s involvement with the Tour would have had little fiscal impact on the university, but a lack of cooperation on the part of the administration rendered it impossible to have the Tour of California go through campus.

Many students, however, have shown support for the event by signing up to volunteer on race day or by participating in race-related internships sponsored by UCSC’s academic departments.

Fourth-year economics major Peter Ziegler got involved with the Amgen Tour of California last fall when he signed up for the Pilot Project on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (PPIE). Through this internship program, students work to promote the tour as well as educate others about fitness, health, and the wellness of cycling.

As a member of PPIE, Ziegler is earning five academic credits, for which he is required to execute organizational work for the tour’s promotional events leading up to race day. One notable event he helped with was the Swift Street Courtyard Bicycle Festival, which took place Jan. 24.

“I like riding my bike so much, and that’s why I wanted to get involved,” Ziegler explained while tabling at the Swift Street Festival. “I want to get people inspired.”

Twisselman, who has been a longtime resident of Santa Cruz, hopes masses of thrilled spectators and volunteers will persuade the city to continue hosting the event year after year, creating a positive, interactive tradition for the community.

“As these riders are approaching the city, if the streets are packed with fans, it will have a huge impact,” he said. “I think if that’s the case then [the organizers] would be really happy to come back to Santa Cruz, and they would recognize how special Santa Cruz really is.”

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