For the first time in 10 years, the international professional bicycle-racing circuit will bypass San Francisco, while today's stage three of America's biggest cycling event, the Tour of California, is skipping the city with a jaunt from Auburn to Modesto.
From 2001 to 2005, we were host to the San Francisco Grand Prix, a tough circuit race noted for appearances by Lance Armstrong, and 18 percent grades up Fillmore and Taylor streets. Left-wing members of the Board of Supervisors shut that event down after complaining that it was being backed by banker Thomas Weisel, who just so happened to be Republican.
During its initial years, the Tour of California launched with a dash up
to Coit Tower. Last year the event gave us a nod with a quiet stage
start at Ocean Beach. But this year, the tour only Bay
Area visit will be in San Jose -- and most people don't even count that as the Bay Area.
Bypassing the City by the Bay seems to have jinxed the event: Sunday's first stage in the 650-mile, eight-day event was canceled because of snow, while Monday's planned 133-event was shortened by half, also to avoid snowy conditions.
San Francisco's absence is ironic, given the strong presence San Francisco has had as the U.S. dominates the elite sport. Nowadays most of the top European teams are U.S. registered, or sponsored by U.S. companies. Yet in the 1970s, when the legendary Velo Sport team out of Berkeley held practices at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park, hardly anyone stateside had heard of bike racing. The team sent George Mount to sixth place at the 1976 Olympics -- a credible showing that inspired a generation of Euro-bound racers.
Names like Greg LeMond, Andy Hampsten, Davis Phinney, Alexi Grewal, and Lance Armstrong began popping up in European magazines. U.S. television networks started broadcasting the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia, and Paris-Roubaix as the big-time sporting events across the Atlantic.
Thousands of people bought bicycles and joined bike clubs. Some took out racing licenses, others went on weekend rides. Still more massed on city streets in San Francisco, Boston, Portland, and Houston, demanding deference from cars.
"George's contribution was getting people to say, 'Here's something an American can do, and maybe I can do it too,'" says Robert Leibold, a bicycle race promoter who lives in Soulsbyville.
Yes, if you're an international-class cyclist, you can do it, too. But in the Central Valley -- not here.
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