Tour of California set to make local debut

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - The Tour of California, the nation's largest cycling event, will roll through Riverside County for the first time in its eight-year history today.

After stage one, Dutch rider Lieuwe Westra holds a four second led over Francisco Mancebo Perez of Spain and a twelve second lead over Peter Sagan of Slovakia.

U.S. riders Carter Jones and James Stemper trail the leader by 12 and 14 seconds respectively.

The second stage of the eight-stage race will begin in Murrieta and head to Hemet and East Hemet. The cyclists will then climb the San Jacinto Mountains to Idyllwild, followed by a descent on state Route 74 into the Coachella Valley.

The 124.1-mile stage will pass through Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City and Palm Springs, concluding on the slopes to Tram Way, a 3.6-mile climb near the northern entrance to Coachella Valley that averages more than 9 percent gradient.

The uphill finish will catch cyclists off guard, said Timmy Duggan, the reigning U.S. champion.

"I did it in training and it was very hard," Duggan said. "Racing up it will be a beast. I think a few people may crack. I can definitely see time breaks and if you're off that day, maybe significant time. It's a big stage."

A Lifestyle Festival, which includes vendors and information on health, will be open at the finish line from 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

California Highway Patrol Officer Joe Zagorski said motorists should avoid the following streets and highways during the race, or expect delays of one hour or more:

      -- State Route 74;
      -- El Paseo;
      -- Highway 111;
      -- Country Club, Morningside, Frank Sinatra, Da Vall, Dinah Shore and Palm Canyon drives;
      -- Gene Autry Trail;
      -- Toledo Avenue; and
      -- Tram Way.

Zagorski said the roads being used by the cyclists will be closed only while they ride through.

SunLine Transit Agency users should also expect afternoon delays on routes 32, 53, 111, 14, 24 and 30 in Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City and Palm Springs, according to the agency. More information is available at www.sunline.org or by calling (800) 347-8628.

The eight-day, nearly 750-mile race officially known as the Amgen Tour of California began Sunday with a 102.6-mile stage that began and ended in Escondido. Lieuwe Westra of the Netherlands won in four hours, 31 minutes, 23 seconds, four seconds ahead of Francisco Mancebo Perez of Spain. Peter Sagan of Slovakia was third in 4:31:35.

The field includes 2010 Tour de France champion Andy Schleck, 10 other riders who have won stages in the Tour de France, seven world champions and 11 current national champions.

This is the first time in its eight-year history the race is being run from south to north. It will conclude in Santa Rosa Sunday.

"Taking the Amgen Tour of California from south to north is something we always knew we wanted to do," said Kristin Bachochin, the race's executive director.

"We think this will bring a whole new element to the competition for the elite cyclists who participate, not to mention some striking California scenery four our worldwide audience.

"California provides a variety of beautiful yet challenging terrain, helping us achieve our goal of creating a challenging route year after year while showcasing the very best this state has to offer."

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