Stanford, Palo Alto to host ‘U.S. version of the Tour de France’

Tom Clifton Tour

Austrian racer Bernhard Kohl, in the white jersey, and, at right, Kim Kirchen, the Luxembourgian racer, arrive in San Jose on Feb. 21, 2007, during last year’s Tour of California. The eight-day race has daily stages of 15 to 135 miles.

On Feb. 17, some of the world's best professional bicycle racers will be moving very fast (35 mph or more) through downtown Palo Alto and around the Oval on the Stanford campus, providing spectators free admission to a spectacle most often seen in Europe.

"The Amgen Tour of California really is the U.S. version of the Tour de France," said Frank Scioscia, a Stanford development officer who has managed professional cycling teams and rode for the Stanford team as a student.

The Tour is an eight-day endurance fest with daily stages of 15 to 135 miles, beginning with a sprint in Palo Alto on Sunday, Feb. 17, and ending in Pasadena 650 miles later on Sunday, Feb. 24. This year's event has attracted 17 teams from Europe and America, each with eight riders. The race will be broadcast by the Versus television network.

The list of teams includes Luxembourg's Astana, whose roster contains the reigning champion of the Tour of California, Levi Leipheimer of Santa Rosa, as well as Alberto Contador, winner of the 2007 Tour de France. A number of other teams, including Denmark's Team CSC, France's Crédit Agricole and Belgium's Quick Step, are veterans of the Tour de France. Many of the teams will be training in the hills near Palo Alto before the race.

The first day of the Tour is being co-hosted by Stanford and the city of Palo Alto. "Anyone who has spent even a little bit of time on the Stanford campus knows that bicycles and cycling are very much at the heart of Stanford life," Stanford President John Hennessy said. "We are proud to collaborate on an event that has quickly become one of the premier cycling events in North America."

The Palo Alto-Stanford stage, known as the prologue, is an individual time trial, with each of the 136 riders racing alone against the clock on a fast 2.1-mile course, leaving the starting ramp at City Hall at one-minute intervals. The route is almost a straight line: through downtown on University Avenue, onto Palm Drive and then a high-speed loop around the Oval.

Scioscia, a member of the local organizing committee, helped design the course. He said that spectators should get a good view anywhere along the course, but the best spot may be the grass of the Oval.

Nearby will be a health and fitness festival, including children's activities, hosted by the City of Palo Alto Recreation, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Stanford Athletics, Stanford Center on Longevity, Stanford Blood Center, BeWell@Stanford and the Palo Alto Recreation Foundation.

Race organizers are predicting 20,000 to 30,000 spectators. Palo Alto Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto is encouraging race fans to go green by arriving by foot, bicycle or public transportation. The Palo Alto Caltrain station is on the race route.

The time trial begins at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, and will run until 3:30 p.m. Before the pros ride, Kishimoto and Stanford Provost John Etchemendy will join other riders in an amateur time trial on the official racecourse, beginning at noon. Slots for riders are available, with a minimum donation of $500, to help offset local costs of hosting the Tour of California.

Road closures

The Tour will result in some road closures:

Stanford campus

Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 16 and 17: Palm Drive from Campus Drive to the Oval, 7 a.m. Saturday to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Sunday only: Palm Drive from El Camino Real to Campus Drive, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Downtown Palo Alto

Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 16 and 17: Hamilton Avenue from Bryant Street to Ramona Street, 3 p.m. Saturday to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Sunday only: University Avenue from Cowper Street to El Camino Real, Hamilton Avenue from Ramona Street to Cowper Street, Cowper Street from Hamilton Avenue to University Avenue, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.