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Tour of California a Reality in 2006?

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SAN FRANCISCO, US (Nov. 18) – American bicycle racer Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles helped boost the popularity of the sport in the U.S. Now, race organizers plan to build on that with the Tour of California. The eight-day race, set to begin Feb. 19, 2006 in San Francisco, may attract as many […]

SAN FRANCISCO, US (Nov. 18) – American bicycle racer Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles helped boost the popularity of the sport in the U.S. Now, race organizers plan to build on that with the Tour of California.

The eight-day race, set to begin Feb. 19, 2006 in San Francisco, may attract as many as 1 million people along a 10-city, 700- mile course, said Bob Colarossi, managing director of the cycling unit at Anschutz Entertainment Group, a sponsor. As many as 128 riders from professional teams will compete in the weeklong race, which is scheduled to finish in Redondo Beach, near Los Angeles.

Comcast Corp., which broadcasts the Tour de France on its cable-television system, said 19 % more Americans watched the world’s premier cycling event in 2005 from a year ago. San Francisco investment banker Thomas Weisel, who sponsored Armstrong’s team, said the new race can catch on even after the cyclist retired earlier this year.

“In the last few years, people have grown to appreciate the sport and the competitors way beyond one athlete,” Weisel, founder of San Francisco-based Thomas Weisel Partners Group Inc., said in a phone interview on Nov. 7.

Cycle racing has surged in popularity all over the U.S., according to USA Cycling, the organization that oversees the sport. The group’s membership jumped 11 % to 54,000 this year from 2004, and is up 27 % from 2002, said Andy Lee, the group’s communications director.

Amgen Inc. the world’s largest biotechnology company, is sponsoring the Tour of California and Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN2 network will broadcast a one-hour show recapping each stage, Colarossi said. Anschutz Entertainment Group, which operates Los Angeles’ Staples Center, is investing $35 million in the race over five years.

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