When some of the world’s best cyclists start tearing out from a starting line in Solvang for a time trial during the Amgen Tour of California, thousands of visitors will pack the Santa Ynez Valley to watch the Golden State’s answer to the Tour de France.
Race organizers hope sales across the valley will boom, but the owners of Dr. J’s Bicycle Shop can count on a rush.
“The start is basically 50 feet from the front of our store, and it’s the single busiest day of the year for us,” said Corey Evans, who has owned the business for nine years and took time to chat with the Business Times while helping customers and receiving a UPS package of Amgen jerseys. “It’s been like this for the last two weeks, and it’ll probably continue. It’s the whole month of May.”
Founded in 2005, the Amgen tour is the biggest professional cycling event in the U.S. Last year, it passed some of the region by as it wound through the state. But this year it will pass through all three of the Tri-Counties, and thousands of visitors are expected to turn out at each stage.
On May 19, cyclists will start in Seaside and finish in Paso Robles for the race’s fifth stage. The next day, riders will start and finish in Solvang for a 15-mile pound through the Santa Ynez Valley. The race will wrap up on May 22 in Amgen’s hometown of Thousand Oaks.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature cut out Cambria, the seaside hamlet that thrives on tourism, this year. The race was slated to follow California Highway 1 from Seaside through Cambria, but mudslides closed the coastal highway. Organizers shifted the route to the Salinas Valley.
“We’re kind of disappointed about the route, but we understand. We’ve been up that stretch of coastline,” said Alan Forrest, store director for the Cambria location of Cambria Bicycle Outfitter. “Even though our businesses need the money, it’s not killing us.”
Cambria Bicycle Outfitter has four locations — San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and Santa Rosa stores complement the coastal one — and an international mail-order business that keep the doors open, Forrest said. And even when the Amgen tour doesn’t come through town, it provides a boost as enthusiasts eye the gear their favorite riders use. “People come in the day of or the day after and want an Amgen jersey, or want a team jersey,” Forrest said. “Of course, they’re looking into newer bikes and the newer technology.”
Forrest said that on the Central Coast, the firm’s rental business booms from May through September as tourists decide the region’s landscapes and seaside views are better enjoyed from two wheels than four.
“Cycling hit an epic climax ever since Lance started winning tours, and it’s been up ever since,” Forrest said. “Locally, everyone is jumping on their bike because of gas.”
Cambria itself is also something of a cycling town. “My average rider in the shop is 50-plus. There’s a huge movement for cycling here just to stay fit,” Forrest said. With about 5,500 full-year residents, “it’s not a huge town, but we have four cycling clubs with names like ‘Team Medicare’ and ‘The Old Farts Club.’ Everybody rides together, whether they’re 19 or 70,” he said.
In the Santa Ynez Valley, Evans said the ubiquity of the Amgen tour reminds residents to get out and ride, even if they don’t go to the race. It’s likely the spectators will outnumber residents the day of the time trial.
“This time of year especially, people see all these bikes and how it’s a healthy activity, they want to go out and ride themselves,” Evans said. “We see more repairs and sales.”
One not-so-well kept secret of the Tri-Counties is that world-class cyclists often visit the area to train and prepare. A Business Times photographer snapped photos of Lance Armstrong pacing the back roads of Santa Barbara’s mountains last year.
Evans said the occasional pro will wander through his shop — just before speaking with the Business Times, Evans met Luxemburg rider Andy Schleck as Schleck was scoping out the time-trial course.
“About 20 minutes ago, we had the guy who was second in the Tour de France in the store, and we were putting air in his tire,” Evans said.