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Volunteers Bring Big Bike Race to the County

Stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California will finish somewhere in Santa Cruz County.

When the Amgen Tour of California zips into Santa Cruz County next spring, it will be the drive of area bike enthusiasts that carries the pro cyclists to the finish line.

A group of peloton-loving locals pooled their passion to bring the country's premiere cycling competition back to Santa Cruz County. Amgen officials announced Thursday that Santa Cruz County will host the Stage 2 finish in May.

The race brings cycling's best through more than 750 miles of California's best road cycling terrain. The actual route through the county—the stage starts in San Francisco—and the finish line have yet to be announced.

"We clearly have a cycling community that loves this event," said Abe Lincoln, the communications director for the local stage and the chair of last year's stage start in Seaside.

Lincoln and Maura Noel, the vice president of the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, decided to vie for a start or finish of the eight-stage race. Santa Cruz hosted finish lines near the Boardwalk in 2009 and 2010, but the city stepped away from the tour last year because of financial woes and the race moved elsewhere.

Noel said it "annoyed" her that a handful of city officials made that decision. She missed having the tour roll through town and believed others felt the same.

"It's not fair. It's not representative of enough people in the community," the avid cyclist said.

Noel lamented the decision aloud during a Cycling Club meeting, then looked around the room at the talent she had at her fingertips.

"I realized I can do this, we can do this," Noel said. "I know enough people."

The all-volunteer Santa Cruz County Amgen committee was awarded one of 13 Amgen start and/or finish lines. There were 100 submissions.

Lincoln said the scenic views—the Santa Cruz County stage will be the only with Pacific Ocean vistas—and the success of prior Amgen finishes went a long way to earning this year's Stage 2 finish line.

"The riders absolutely love it," he said of cycling in Santa Cruz County.

Already, the local stage has the backing of Watsonville strawberry grower Cal Giant.

"It's a no-brainer," said Anthony Gallino, the vice president of sales and head of the Cal Giant cycling program. "We sponsor cycling. We've got kids who've come up through our program and now they're racing. It's cool to see."

Cal Giant officials declined to say how much they're sponsorship cost, but Noel said the local stage committee must raise $125,00-$200,000 for the event. The cost of hosting the finish line is one reason why cities have balked at welcoming the race into their towns.

Instead, it will be a community effort. Noel is after more local companies to provide small sponsorships and Cabrillo College students studying hospitality management will help put on the event.

The yet-to-be-decided finish line will not be in the city limits of Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Capitola or Scotts Valley. Beyond that, the options are wide open. There's been talk of Soquel Drive south of Cabrillo College in Aptos, Rio Del Mar, Seacliff or even Bonny Doon, for a summit finish.

Amgen officials are still taking suggestions for routes and finish locations, Lincoln said. The previous course sent riders climbing up Bonny Doon Road and down Empire Grade. Noel likes Soquel San Jose Road, a grueling uphill stretch or lightening-quick downhill.

Amgen officials will make the decision in December or January.

The tour starts May 13 in Santa Rosa and finishes May in Los Angeles.

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