Clovis News

Bypassed Clovis waits until next Tour of Calif.

Community pride, media exposure and tourist dollars are the prize when the high-profile Amgen Tour of California bicycle race -- styled on the famous Tour de France -- rolls into town.

For the second year in a row, Visalia is serving as the host city for today's start of a Valley leg of the multi-day race, showcasing world-class bicyclists such as Lance Armstrong and drawing thousands of enthusiasts.

Looking on with envy and resignation is Clovis, which last year had the honor of hosting the finish line of one leg in a festival-like atmosphere that reportedly drew 48,000 people to downtown or along the bike route. Not this year.

The hang-up: Officials couldn't get permission to run the route through Yosemite National Park.

But hope springs eternal. Clovis organizers are vowing to try again next year in hopes of bringing Amgen Tour dollars back to the city.

Officials estimate that local merchants pulled in $1 million from hotel room bookings, restaurant meals, gasoline fill-ups and what-have-you.

That's little consolation to Jon Gabelica, co-owner of Giovanni's Caffe, which had the good fortune last year of opening its doors just three days before the Tour descended on Old Town Clovis.

"My patio was absolutely packed all day long," Gabelica said. "I didn't really know how big a sport it was."

So, when he learned Clovis was bypassed this year, Gabelica said he was "a little surprised we didn't get it. I thought it was a shoo-in."

Not exactly, said Shawn Miller, business development director for Clovis and a fast learner in the arcana of world-class bicycle races.

The Tour organization was slow in announcing the route it wanted this year, and getting the starting line in Yosemite -- Tour officials are keen on it -- turned out to be impossible. When Yosemite came off the route map, so did Clovis.

"The interim director in Yosemite didn't want it," Miller said matter-of-factly. "They have a new director there now. Our goal is to start a conversation with them lickety-split."

Scott Gediman, spokesman for Yosemite National Park, acknowledged that new Yosemite Park superintendent Don Neubacher might have a different opinion on the issue.

But, Gediman cautioned, "based on the scope of the event and its impact, I'm doubtful."

Meanwhile, Visalia Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Glenn Morris is telling downtown merchants to prepare for thousands of people on Main Street at 10:30 a.m. when the bicyclists take off on their first ceremonial laps.

Last year, 13,000 to 14,000 people converged on downtown Visalia or lined the bike route out of town, and that number or more is expected this year, Morris said.

Race officials have told local organizers that one-fourth of the crowds cheering on the bicyclists are from out of town. Some are hard-core enthusiasts who stay the night in the town where the race finishes.

Officials hoped some of those enthusiasts followed the bicyclists, who after leaving Wednesday's stage in Modesto traveled to Visalia to stay the night so they wouldn't have to drive down in the morning. A local committee raised $70,000 to pay for 265 hotel rooms for bicyclists, support teams and race officials, Morris said.

Bakery owner Justin Mosely, whose business on Main Street is next to the starting line, got a taste of the economic impact last year when sales shot up 30% on race day.

Last week, he got a reminder of the potential boost to his cash register when three Tour officials stopped by and said they remembered the bakery from last year.

"They ordered something," Mosely said. "I thought that was really cool."

Also watching with interest is Fresno, which plans to work with Clovis on a joint proposal to the Tour next year, said William Broomfield, the city's events manager.

But with or without the assistance of Fresno, Clovis wants to bring some Tour dough back to town next year.

"Hopefully, we'll find a place we can start in," said Nathan Magsig, a member of the Clovis City Council and avid two-wheeler. "The mountains east of Madera and Fresno counties are fantastic for cycling."