Snow, ice threatens start of Tour of California cycling race

Friday it was 64 here 8 p.m. Saturday afternoon it was 50. By Saturday night it was supposed to be 25 and snowing.

And on Sunday, the sixth edition of the Amgen Tour of California cycling race is set to begin with a wide open field of veteran racers and eager young challengers.

It may also have snow for two days.

Sunday’s first stage is scheduled to be an 118-mile ride around Lake Tahoe with some ups and downs and perhaps as much as five or six inches of snow on the ground.


Race officials planned to meet until past 10 p.m. Saturday before deciding whether to change the route or even scrap the stage that is expected to end at North Lake Tahoe.

“It’s a part of doing what we do,” said race director Jim Birrell, a managing partner at Medalist Sports. “This isn’t an arena, this isn’t a coliseum, this is a major professional event that takes place on public roadways, and it has variables that are out of our control. Our experience and the talent that we have, I know that we’ll render the right decision.”

The eight-stage, 800-mile race will finish May 22 with an 82-mile trip from Santa Clarita to Thousand Oaks a day after the toughest mountain climb ever in the Tour of California, to the top of Mt. Baldy.

Monday’s stage, which crosses Donner Pass, is also in some danger because of the late spring snowstorm.

The most recent National Weather Service forecast called for a 90 percent chance of snow overnight Saturday around the start line in Stateline, with higher odds on the route’s three climbs.

“If there’s ice on the roads,” Birrell said. “We’ll have a reactionary plan. The stage would be difficult but executable.”

Riders were privately nervous, and some said they just hoped to make it through Monday’s stage.

Three-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer from RadioShack and a pre-race favorite, said: “The organizers have our back. Sunday morning they’ll know what is possible and what isn’t.”


Among other veteran favorites are 2010 runner-up Dave Zabriskie of Garmin-Cervelo and 40-year-old Chris Horner of RadioShack. HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen, 22, who is from Bozeman, Mont., is a favorite among the newest generation of young American riders.