The Amgen Tour of California apparently won't be wheeling its way to Clovis and Fresno next year, in part because race organizers were unable to cut a deal with the federal government to include Yosemite National Park in the event.
During February, the nine-day, nine-stage road race featuring more than 130 of the world's top cyclists had a finish in Clovis, then teams traveled to Visalia for the start of a stage the next morning.
This year, Visalia will get another morning start with a finish in Bakersfield, according to the cycling Web site Steephill.tv. The event has been moved to May and trimmed to eight stages.
Tour officials last year hailed Clovis as the best first-time stopover they have had. An estimated 25,000 fans packed the streets of Old Town Clovis on Feb. 18 to watch Mark Cavendish of Great Britain outsprint Tom Boonen of Belgium for the stage victory.
Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was among the cyclists.
Clovis was in the hunt again for 2010. Tour officials at one time wanted to begin a stage at the edge of Yosemite National Park, send the cyclists on a scenic route down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, and conclude in Clovis, which bills itself as "Gateway to the Sierra."
Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb said officials from the National Park Service and the tour held several meetings to discuss how this might be done.
"I think it would be really cool," Cobb said. "But it's not going to happen."
Cobb said the proposal included a "preride" in which the cyclists started at Curry Village, rode through Yosemite Valley and emerged from the park on Highway 140 at the Arch Rock entrance station.
The stage's competitive cycling would begin outside the park and go through Mariposa, Cobb said. She said she wasn't sure, but thought that this stage was to include Clovis.
Cobb said Yosemite officials and officials with the Park Service and U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, D.C., rejected the proposal for three reasons:
-- Potential inconvenience to park visitors. Cobb said many Yosemite visitors travel great distances for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the tour could upset their tight schedules. If the 2010 tour happened May 17-23 as many expect, it would've landed in Yosemite the week before Memorial Day weekend.
-- Potential harm to the park. Cobb said fans parking and watching from the side of a road could damage the park.
-- Potential harm to the Park Service's mission. Cobb said the public may get the impression that, by giving the tour access to Yosemite, the Park Service would be endorsing competitive cycling or Amgen. She said the government did not want to be perceived as "selling the Park Service seal."
Amgen Inc., a Thousand Oaks-based biotechnology firm with offices throughout the world, is the tour's title sponsor.
Shawn Miller, Clovis business development manager, said he was aware of the Yosemite-to-Clovis proposal. He said Anschutz Entertainment Group Sports, which owns the race, eventually had no choice but to consider other routes.
"They had all the other routes figured out and this was the last one," Miller said. "They couldn't make it happen and they couldn't spend any more time waiting for Yosemite."
In addition to the pride of being a stop on the tour, a community connected to the event can reap a considerable financial benefit.
Miller estimates Clovis businesses received about $1 million during February's tour stop in hotel stays, restaurant meals, shopping and gas.
Cities at the end of tour stops benefit from fans camping out for much of the day and festivals associated with the finish line.
Greg Newman, Sierra Vista Mall general manager, said the tour's stop in Clovis in February was a fantastic opportunity for the community.
"If we aren't chosen this year, and it doesn't look like we are, it will be missed," Newman said. "We showed tour organizers that Clovis is capable of a tour stop, and we will submit a proposal next year."
Glenn Morris, president and CEO of the Visalia Chamber of Commerce, wouldn't confirm or deny that Visalia is hosting one of the stages.
However, it appears likely that Visalia is once again among the chosen. Tour officials will announce the 2010 schedule Thursday, but are keeping mum on specifics. Also on Thursday, the Visalia Chamber of Commerce, which submitted Visalia's bid to host a stage, has scheduled a news conference at 3:30 p.m. at the Visalia Convention Center.
Mike Camarena, a member of the Visalia organizing committee, also would not confirm or deny the city is a stage of the 2010 tour.
However, he said, "The prospects are looking very good."
Jeff Eben, president/CEO of the Fresno City and County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Fresno submitted a bid but apparently was not selected. Fresno will submit a bid for 2011, Eben said.