Clovis News: Sports

Clovis chases bicycle racers

Clovis enjoyed hosting a Tour of California stage so much in February that local organizers want to do it again next year -- even with the race shifting to May.

Greg Newman, chairman of Clovis' local organizing committee, said his group affirmed its commitment in a recent conference call with race owner AEG Sports and plans to submit an official bid at the appropriate time.

Visalia also is interested in hosting a stage for a second straight year, and Fresno is exploring a role, as well.

The 2010 Tour of California will take place May 16-23, the cycling Web site reported this week, after being in February since its inception in 2006. The new dates should provide for better weather while giving race organizers the option of adding mountain stages in the Sierra Nevada.

"We're very well prepared to host a finish again next year -- our interest is extremely high," said Newman, general manager of the Sierra Vista Mall.

"We had a great wrap-up conference call with the tour a month ago, and they were extremely happy with Clovis as a host city and looking forward to coming back next year."

Stage 4 of the nine-day, 750-mile race started in Merced and finished 115.4 miles later in Old Town Clovis. The following day, Stage 5 took the world-class peloton, including seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, 134.3 miles from Visalia to Paso Robles. It was the first year the race visited the central San Joaquin Valley.

Fresno City Manager Andy Souza said the city would like to co-host a stage with Clovis. He said one option would be for cyclists to begin in one of the cities, compete on a course that perhaps takes them into the Sierra, then finish in the other city.

Visalia, as a gateway community to Sequoia National Park, also is well-situated for a mountain stage.

"If invited to bid, we'll be right on it," said Greg Kirkpatrick, chairman of the local organizing committee in Visalia.

Host cities for the 2010 edition aren't expected to be announced until July, possibly during the Tour de France, Clovis committee member Mike Shuemake said.

Tour organizers reportedly considered dates in April and June before settling on May. Clovis officials breathed a sigh of relief at that decision because an April race could have conflicted with two long-standing local events, Big Hat Days and the Clovis Rodeo.

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.

"Even if they did the same [Merced to Clovis] stage as last year, everyone I talked to said it was a great course," Shuemake said. "You just won't see snow on the side of the road."

Shuemake, a longtime local cycling promoter, said Clovis also could serve as the finish of a true mountain stage or even a mountain time trial.

"There's all kinds of things that [the tour] could do," he said. "It's who presents the best-looking bid package to AEG -- that's what it's going to boil down to. Then it's up to them to connect the dots."

Formal bid requests to prospective host cities for the 2010 race have yet to be sent out, Newman said.

The move to May also avoids a conflict with the 2010 Winter Olympics, Feb. 12-28 in Vancouver, British Columbia.