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Steep Climb

Will the doping scandal affect public interest in America's biggest bike race?

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Since the scandal's peak about six months ago, very few major bombshells have gone off in the cycling world. "I don't know if there's going to be additional reaction," says Raissa de la Rosa, Santa Rosa economic development specialist and co-chair of the local organizing committee for the ToC. "It doesn't seem to have had an effect overall on people's enthusiasm in cycling."

Is hosting the race still a good investment for the city? De la Rosa says yes. Santa Rosa has hosted the ToC five times, and in 2012 hosted the race's start, with teams and ToC crewmembers calling the city home for about a week beforehand. That generated about $7 million in revenue for the city, says de la Rosa, with a total investment of about $500,000 raised through sponsorships with big companies like Ghilotti Construction and the Ratto Group, fundraising from Levi's GranFondo, and various in-kind donations.

SITTING IT OUT Tom Boonen and Levi Leipheimer at a ToC party in 2012. Boonen, left, is recovering from a crash and isn't riding the ToC this year, while Leipheimer, fresh off suspension, is currently without a team.
  • SITTING IT OUT Tom Boonen and Levi Leipheimer at a ToC party in 2012. Boonen, left, is recovering from a crash and isn't riding the ToC this year, while Leipheimer, fresh off suspension, is currently without a team.

This year, the cost to host the ToC is approximately $300,000, and the city hopes to see $1.2 million or more in revenue. But the biggest bonus of hosting the finish is the two-hour commercial for beautiful Sonoma County, with Santa Rosa as the focal point, on NBC's televised broadcast of the final leg of the race. "It's huge to be the highlight city for that," says de la Rosa. "It adds to the perception of Santa Rosa as an iconic city for the tour."

Strategically, and not without risk, the city put in only one bid for this year's race: hosting the final stage. Last year's race opener took an enormous amount of work. To make the efforts put in motion pay off, says de la Rosa, "the thing that made sense to us was to do the overall finish. It's an honor."

Santa Rosa is home to two teams: BMC and Bissell. As Coursey explains, BMC is the perennial Tour de France contender, while Bissell has to work extra hard to be invited to compete in that race. For local fans, the absence of Leipheimer will stand out. "He's won it three times—he's the face of the tour," says Coursey. "But it's a great race without him, also."

Santa Rosa has other riders in the race, like Jeremy Vennell and Michael Torckler, the latter of whom was informed one day before the race began that he would be riding on team Bissell. Torckler came back from a horrific injury sustained in a hit-and-run accident last year on Pine Flat Road. "It's an incredible story that he's even riding a bike this year, let alone in this race," says Coursey. (BMC's biggest name, Cadel Evans, is riding in the Giro d'Italia, which takes place the same week as the ToC.)

Despite the doping scandal and loss of big names, the ToC is pedaling on. And yet de la Rosa stops short of confirming Santa Rosa's participation in next year's event. "I'm more thinking about five years from now, and how we can build it up," she says.

Indeed, this year may prove to be a barometer of the public's ability to forgive a sport in the wake of a scandal.

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