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"For us domestic riders, this is our Tour de France," Chris Jones said of the Amgen Tour of California. "It's the biggest race of our year," added the 31-year-old cyclist from Auburn.
Jones and Michael Sayers, a retired professional rider, are Amgen tour veterans. They joined John McCasey, Sacramento Sports Commission director, at a Tuesday press conference at Mason's Restaurant. They introduced the tour's first stage -- from Nevada City to Sacramento -- with Mayor Kevin Johnson and Councilmen Ray Tretheway and Steve Cohn also in attendance.
The event kicked off with a video that provided a glimpse of the scenery cyclists will see when they ride from Nevada City to Sacramento on May 16.
Several months ago, fans learned via Twitter that Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer will race again this year. Starting Monday, preview videos began revealing each stage with aerial shots and and cyclists giving first-person accounts. The videos will continue to be released on YouTube and amgentourofcalifornia.com, two per day, until Friday. Each stage log, with turn-by-turn directions, will also be available on the Amgen tour website.
"Nevada City, the start this year, has a rich history," said Sayers, who is a Sacramento native. "Some of the biggest names in American cycling have competed in the Nevada City (Bicycle Classic), and I think it's a big honor that the race is giving Nevada City a few circuits before the stage starts."
After several miles in Nevada City, the 104.2-mile day will take riders through Grass Valley, Placer County and Meadow Vista before entering Auburn.
"My favorite part is going through Auburn about two blocks from my house," said Jones. "Then we'll head over the (Foresthill) Bridge."
Jones explained in the stage-one preview video that the Foresthill Bridge is the tallest in California. Built in 1973 to accompany the never-built Auburn Dam, the bridge provides breathtaking canyon views 738 feet above the American River.
Aside from a 1,500-foot climb to Cool, cyclists will continue downhill through El Dorado County into East Sacramento, before finishing at L and 11th streets. The stage will favor sprinters, and close to the finish line, cyclists may reach up to 40 mph. Streets will be closed to traffic along the entire stage route, details available here.
Sacramento will host free events May 16, McCasey said, including the mayor's ridealong in the morning and festival sponsor Anschutz Entertainment Group's Lifestyle Festival, from noon to 4:30 p.m. Stage two of the tour will feature a 109.5-mile ride from Davis to Santa Rosa.
The local economic impact of the Amgen tour is considerable.
"You're talking about $8 million," said Mayor Kevin Johnson. "Quality of life, a free family event, 80,000 people downtown, and we'll all look like Chris (Jones) if we cycle enough."
Photos 4 and 5 credit Anthony Bento.