When the newly born Tour of California arrived in 2006, its breakout moment by many accounts was the second-day reception in Santa Rosa, where 35,000 people packed downtown to watch 127 of the world's top cyclists finish an 81-mile stage that started in Sausalito.
From atop parking garages, hanging from tree limbs or jammed together on city sidewalks, roaring fans ushered in what has become the biggest professional bike race in the country.
And Santa Rosa has kept it coming back, seven out of the last eight years, including host roles for two signature stages — the 2012 overall start of the weeklong race and the overall finish this year. Even through several years of drenching rain, the thick crowds never thinned.
So it was no small thing when city officials announced Friday night that Santa Rosa — seat of Sonoma County, and now an internationally known cycling destination — would not be submitting a bid to host a stage of the tour next year.
VeloNews, a national cycling website, gave the story top billing Saturday: “Must Read: Santa Rosa skips 2014 Tour of California.”
Reaction from cycling enthusiasts was swift. Some voiced understanding for the move, which city officials said was driven by donor fatigue and need to reevaluate how Santa Rosa might participate in the future after a big organizing effort the past two years.
Aside from Paris, “no town in France gets the Tour de France every year,” said Gary Wysocky, a Santa Rosa city councilman and avid cyclist.
Host bids for the 2014 Tour of California were due Friday. Santa Rosa's decision not to compete was made by city executives, local organizers and sponsors. Wysocky said he was comfortable with it.
“It's not like it's going away forever,” he said.
Others lamented the looming no-show, citing the Tour of California as one of a growing number of cycling events that have put Sonoma County on the sport's map — and drummed up millions of dollars in nearly year-round business for local shops, hotels and restaurants.