America's biggest bike race is expected to bypass the central San Joaquin Valley when host cities for the 2011 Tour of California are unveiled today.
Five cities, including Modesto, have scheduled press conferences this morning to announce their participation in the sixth annual event.
Los Angeles-based sports promotion company AEG, which owns the event, is scheduled to post a list of host cities at 6 a.m. on the race website, www.amgentourofcalifornia.com.
Modesto, Auburn, Solvang, Paso Robles and Claremont have scheduled press conferences for today to offer official comment on their participation in the 2011 race. The Sacramento Bee reported last week that Sacramento again will host either a stage start or finish.
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Clovis hosted a stage finish in 2009 but got left out this past spring when race organizers couldn't get clearance to begin a stage in Yosemite National Park. Visalia has hosted stage starts each of the last two editions; one finished in Paso Robles, the other in Bakersfield.
Today's announcement will be only for the identification of host cities; the route of the May 15-22 race will be announced later. The 2010 race route was unveiled Feb. 10.
Speculation abounds that the 2011 race will begin in the Lake Tahoe area. The Reno Gazette-Journal, citing a local source, reported Wednesday that two stages will be held in the Tahoe area.
The Tahoe Daily Tribune, also citing a local source, reported Tuesday that the first stage will begin in South Lake Tahoe and take 11/2 laps around the lake before finishing at Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort.
The race might also get its first true summit finish atop Mount Baldy in Southern California.
"We'll have our first legitimate mountaintop finish and we think it will be the hardest final 10 miles that we've ever done," AEG President Andrew Messick told cyclingnews.com, a leading cycling website.
Santa Rosa and San Jose, the only cities that have been hosts for each of the first five Tours, submitted bids with certain provisions. Santa Rosa submitted a new route with the finish line outside its downtown area, and San Jose only wants to host a finish.
The Tour estimates its annual economic impact at more than $100 million. Nonetheless, a handful of former host cities, including San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz, declined to submit bids this year, citing increased cost requirements by AEG.
The 2010 race, won by Australian Michael Rogers, featured the top field in the race's history, including Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Clovis hosted a stage finish in 2008.