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Ride The Route

by JoE Silva

If you arrived early to a National Hockey League game, laced up some skates and tried to take a few turns around the rink, security would most likely be escorting you out of the arena in a rather unfriendly manner. The same goes for trying your hand at a few free throws on an NBA court or a game of catch on a Major League Baseball diamond - not so when it comes to the world of professional cycling.

One of the most inclusive sports in the world, cycling fans both here and in Europe are often encouraged to try their hand at the same roads that the names of Tom Boonen, Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer ride in the heat of competition. This year, fans of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California will get a unique opportunity to experience the same sights and sounds as the peloton during the 'Nissan Ride Before the Pros' when the race arrives in Los Angeles for the final stage of the race, Stage 8, which starts in Beverly Hills and ends in downtown.

"For the final stage of the race, we were looking to highlight the area around L.A. LIVE and the Staples Center. We looked at some start cities to do a run in to finish circuit, which is a little more challenging, but certainly more exciting than a circuit that started and finished in the same place," says Chuck Hodge, Technical Director for the Amgen Tour of California. "Beverly Hills ended up being a choice location. Eric Smith, who's our course director, worked quite a bit on this stage, and we came up with something we think is long enough to be logistically feasible but short enough to create a lot of excitement for fans who are either on the course or watching via our live broadcast on NBC Sports."

The 'Nissan Ride Before the Pros' will allow cyclists of all skill levels who participate to get a first-hand look at what it means to zip around a 5-mile, closed-circuit course just hours before the final moments of this year's race take place. Hodge and his team were quite familiar with the finishing area around Stage 8, having helped organize the 2010 installment of the Amgen Tour of California, which included a 21-mile individual time trial that wrapped up in the same area.

"A time trial is a very hard closure for a very long period of time. For this year, one of the real challenges is that we had to do a lot of planning and get a lot of man power for the section between Beverly Hills and the finishing circuit, which will allow the race to pass through for a few minutes," continued Hodge "We're going to capture some really iconic places like the Mann Chinese Theater on the way in. It's going to be very L.A., and that's a cool thing."

The 'Nissan Ride Before the Pros,' which is free to participants, is another example of the way the Amgen Tour of California embraces the communities it visits and the fans that support it.

"We certainly do look at ancillary events, and this is something that AEG really believes in and wanted to give people an opportunity to do," said Hodge. "And getting to ride multiple laps of the course is pretty cool. I think the neat thing for people will be going through that finish line area, which not everybody gets to do. To be able to ride through that a few times and get that picture is something that you can't normally do."

That is, unless you just happen to be there at the thrilling conclusion of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California.

The 'Nissan Ride Before the Pros,'
taking place in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday May 20, 2012, from 8-9:30 a.m.