The Amgen Tour of California will skip Santa Rosa next year for the first time in the race's six-year history, but the city will be the prestigious starting point in 2012.
"Our respective organizations have reached an agreement and Santa Rosa will be part of the tour in 2012 and it will feature Santa Rosa in a prominent role," said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, the Los Angeles company that owns the Tour of California.
Messick said he would not specify what the prominent role will be, but sources close to the negotiations said Santa Rosa would be the site of the overall start of the race.
"It would be huge, the overall start is the most significant stage," Messick said.
Messick said race organizers are also negotiating with UCI, cycling's international governing body, to upgrade the tour to a Pro Tour status; there are only 16 Pro Tour races worldwide.
"What that means is instead of having eight teams that also compete in the Tour de France and eight top American teams, we will have sixteen teams that compete in the Tour de France," Messick said. "It is a higher level of competition."
Santa Rosa officials said that hosting any stage of the <NO1><NO>800-plus-mile race is an economic boon to a community, bringing in hotel, restaurant and other service industry business as well as highlighting a region's cycling opportunities to a television audience.
Santa Rosa Economic Development Specialist Raissa de la Rosa estimated that hosting a stage in the race last year pumped more than $1 million into the local economy, money that will not come into the city next year.
For Santa Rosa, however, the overall race start in 2012 would multiply that annual financial boost several times over, with athletes, trainers, vendors, organizers, media and fans arriving a week or more ahead of time to prepare for the tour, de la Rosa said.
"There's the gala, the introduction of teams, the teams come in earlier," she said.
The entire organizational infrastructure sets up shop about eight days in advance. There are press conferences, team trainings and preparations for the race festival.
"It's going to be huge for Santa Rosa," promised three-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer, a Santa Rosa resident and top international competitor.
Leipheimer, whose fame has helped drive the growth in Sonoma County's popularity as a cycling destination, also couldn't confirm Santa Rosa's new role, but did say AEG had a long-term investment in Santa Rosa and its cycling community.
Messick was in Santa Rosa with his family Thursday to attend a gala benefit dinner and participate in Saturday's second-annual Levi Leipheimer King Ridge GranFondo, a group ride of 6,000 cyclists designed primarily to raise money to host the Tour of California, which is sponsored by Amgen.
Messick described "a fantastic partnership with Santa Rosa. It's a place where we like to be. It's a place where we feel welcomed and loved."
He also praised the local organizing committee, chaired by de la Rosa and David Guhin, the city's deputy director of engineering services.
"It's a partnership that we view as a long-term relationship, and the race is always looking for ways to continue to make Santa Rosa a premiere and preeminent stop on the Tour of California," Messick said.