Tour expects larger crowd

Freddie Rodriguez wasn’t taken aback with the raucous scene at last year’s Amgen Tour of California.

But the Emeryville resident could see the astonishment on the faces of some of his European competitors.

The 2006 Tour drew more than 1.3 million fans to the eight-day cycling event, bringing an estimated $100 million into California’s economy.

“I wasn’t surprised but I think some of the Europeans were,” said Rodriguez, who rides for the Predictor-Lotto team. “Those guys don’t always realize the followings they have here and how popular cycling is in the United States.”

And race organizers said Thursday they expect even more fans in 2007.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the attendance doubles this year,” said Cheryl Popp, a media relations representative for race organizer AEG (which also owns The Examiner). “Last year was the first time and people weren’t quite sure where to go and what to do. Now, they know.”

Race organizers released the specifics of the route of the 2007 race Wednesday, and discussed the Northern California section of the course in detail Thursday in Santa Rosa. The 650-mile race begins with the Feb. 18 prologue in San Francisco and heads north through Sausalito, Santa Rosa and Sacramento before bending down to Stockton. Riders will then proceed west to San Jose before turning down the Pacific coast through Seaside, San Luis Obispo, Solvang, Santa Barbara and Santa Clarita until ultimately concluding the race Feb. 25 in Long Beach.

“Other than the Tour de France, you don’t see anything that comes close to the atmosphere of the Tour of California,” Rodriguez said. “I’d be very surprised if it’s not part of the professional tour sometime in the next two or three years.”

The Feb. 20th stage that commences in Santa Rosa and ends on the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento is expected to be perhaps the most difficult stretch of the race, with riders navigating the Napa hills and experiencing severe rises and drops in elevation.

“Yesterday I went for a ride and scouted out some of the climbs and it’s going to be pretty dramatic,” said Scott Nydam, a cyclist who relocated from Colorado to Santa Rosa to train for the Tour. “There’s some tough climbs on some narrow roads, and there’s never a dull moment.”

melliser@examiner.com

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