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Lowell Cohn: Decision to drop Tour a head-scratcher


Santa Rosa doesn't want to play. That's what the city said Friday about the Amgen Tour of California bike race in 2014.

Excuse me if I seem slow-witted or uneducated about the thrill of world-class bike riders gallantly roaring through the downtown streets, or having a million newspaper articles all over the world with the dateline Santa Rosa, or the fact that the race generated $20 million for Santa Rosa businesses the past eight years. Santa Rosa decided not to host a stage of the race in 2014. Santa Rosa doesn't want to play.

I'm a mere sports writer and I think in simple terms: Does this person (city, entity, etc.) want to play or does this person (city, entity, etc.) not want to play?

If Brandon Crawford, the shortstop for the San Francisco Giants, refuses to leave the dugout for a game, insists on sitting on the pine bench as he says, "I don't feel like playing for a while," the Giants will bypass him and find another shortstop who does feel like playing. That's how sports work.

Bicycle riding is a sport. Santa Rosa doesn't want to play. Santa Rosa could end up on the bench.

I read the articles in The Press Democrat about Santa Rosa announcing its decision to drop out of the race next year. I read the phrase "donor fatigue," a new one on me. I guess that means people are tired of giving money to support the tour, although Santa Rosa gave money for the race seven of the previous eight years. In 2011, the race didn't stop in Santa Rosa (not the city's choice).

I also read there's "potential for greater success after a hiatus." "Hiatus" is a fancy word. How does this hiatus thing lead to greater success? When was dropping out ever a formula "for greater success?"

This sounds like spin to me. But what do I know? I'm a mere sports writer.

I don't compare to Santa Rosa's favorite bike rider, Levi Leipheimer, when it comes to explaining Santa Rosa's curious decision. Leipheimer, who used to be a world famous rider, cast enormous light on the situation when he said, "Considering all we've accomplished here, particularly in the past two years, it just seems time to watch from the sidelines. It will be a good vantage point to see how the race develops in 2014."

Doubtless a linguist exists out there who can parse the brilliance of Levi's words. Me, I have three questions. 1) When is it ever a good time to watch from the sidelines? 2) In what sense will the sidelines be a good vantage point for next year's race? 3) Why would any sane person (city, entity, etc.) want to be a sideline spectator when it can participate?

In my world, a world of winning and losing, people who don't stand a chance — losers — say it's good to watch from the sidelines. The third-string quarterback, who hangs around the sideline in a baseball cap holding a clipboard during the game, says the sideline is a good place to be, even though he's lying.

Is Santa Rosa a third-string quarterback?

I have covered the Tour. A few years ago, I rode in a car carrying support staff for one of the cyclists. My editor saw me speed by at 100 miles per hour on B Street, and said my face was green. Everything about the race was exhilarating. Nothing compares to speeding into downtown Santa Rosa and seeing the crowd, so excited, so proud.

For years, I have read and heard Santa Rosa is the capital of big-time bike racing in our country. Nowhere else in the States can compare. To find a similar ideal region for cycling, you have to travel to France, where they speak French.

I believe Santa Rosa has no equal when it comes to being a place for bike racing. Despite its exalted international reputation, Santa Rosa is actively saying, "It was nice while it lasted, Amgen Tour of California, but get lost."

Really?

Santa Rosa has worked hard and well to become a worldwide cycling destination. And now it's working hard and well to lose its identity as a center for bike racing, just like that.

Wow.

In my simple way, I keep asking myself why Santa Rosa did this. Bike races earn money and Santa Rosa wants to earn money. Bike races make a place famous and Santa Rosa wants to be famous. Bike races are fun and Santa Rosa wants to have fun.

I come to one conclusion.

Santa Rosa just doesn't want to play.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.