The first stage of the Amgen Tour of California will start and end in downtown Santa Rosa, but take cyclists through much of Sonoma County's most beautiful and rugged countryside.
The 116-mile route was announced Wednesday morning by race-owner AEG Sports of Los Angeles, along with the routes of the other seven stages for the eight-day May event.
The launch of the race is tailored to downtown Santa Rosa spectators, who can mingle with the riders before the start, see them complete two noncompetitive laps and then do separate loops to Windsor and the coast and back that start and end in the downtown.
"It is definitely a nod to our pushing for a great spectator experience," said Raissa de la Rosa, a City Hall economic specialist who has led the local organizing effort. "It is a nod to our community."
Windsor officials also see it as a marketing opportunity for their reconstructed downtown, bigger than the Ford commercial that was filmed there.
"We are going to have to really market ourselves to the visitors based in Santa Rosa," said Windsor Mayor Debora Fudge. "Once they see Windsor, they may hang around. We want them to visit us, eat in our restaurants and stay in our hotels before the event."
Cycling enthusiasts also see the route as showcasing the best and most challenging of Sonoma County's countryside, winding through vineyards, along the Russian River, through redwoods and with spectacular climbs and sweeping views of the coast.
"This is Sonoma County's best, some of Sonoma County's finest bicycle routes," said Shaun Ralston, a Sutter Hospital marketing director, member of the Santa Rosa tour organizing committee and avid cyclist. "Certainly Coleman Valley is beautiful; Fort Ross is highest in percent of grades. They are tough, but also beautiful."
The first loop from downtown Santa Rosa takes the 144 riders out Third Street to Fulton, Guerneville, Olivet, Slusser and Windsor roads to downtown Windsor.
From there, the route goes back along Eastside, Vine Hill, Gravenstein Highway and Occidental Road back to Santa Rosa, with a sprint to the downtown Santa Rosa finish line.