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Snow wipes out opening stage of Tour of California

The route for the second stage, from Squaw Valley to Sacramento, could be altered Monday morning because of the weather.

May 15, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Technical director Chuck Hodge, left, and race director Jim Birrell of the Medalist Sports team discuss logistics before the postponement of the Amgen Tour of California's first stage Sunday in South Lake Tahoe.
Technical director Chuck Hodge, left, and race director Jim Birrell of… (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images )

For the first time in its six-year history, the Amgen Tour of California had to cancel a day of cycling. It was snowing.

Stage 1 of the 800-mile, eight-stage race was scheduled to be 118 miles around Lake Tahoe and then was shortened to 50 miles before it was scrapped at 1:15 p.m. The opening stage was to have been dedicated to Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt of the Leopard Trek team, who was killed last Monday after crashing during a descent in the Giro d'Italia.

Levi Leipheimer, three-time Tour of California winner, addressed the crowd at the start in South Lake Tahoe on Sunday after the cancellation.

"The riders discussed it as a group, and we just don't feel comfortable riding knowing what can happen, especially in light of what happened last Monday," Leipheimer said.

"We still have a full week of racing ahead of us, so we want to make sure everyone is healthy. With the weather conditions the way they are, racing today is just not possible."

The race is scheduled to end Sunday in Thousand Oaks.

Monday's second stage is supposed to be a 133-mile trip from Squaw Valley to Sacramento and includes a stretch over Donner Pass, which was closed Sunday because of the late-spring snow storm.

Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, which owns and operates the race, said the Stage 2 route might not be determined until 8 a.m Monday. Racing is scheduled to begin at 10:15 a.m.

The temperature at the starting line Sunday was 35 degrees, but about three inches of snow had accumulated overnight in the city and more was falling, especially on the part of the route that climbs to an elevation of more than 7,000 feet.

Race director Jim Birrell told reporters at the finish line in Truckee that six race officials on motorcycles had crashed before the race. None was injured, but the implications were obvious.

Messick said he had no second thoughts about scheduling, for the first time, a race finish in Truckee.

"Part of what Lake Tahoe brings to the Amgen Tour is the alpine environment," said Carol Chaplin, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

"We've seen storms predicted for three feet that miss us. When the stars came out [Saturday] night, I was hoping the stars would align for us."

George Hincapie, a veteran rider who competes for BMC Racing, said the correct decision was made.

"There was definitely a concern with the safety of the course and the really fast descent," Hincapie said. "If it's icy, you don't have control of your bike. And at the end of the day, they just prioritized safety."

"The correct decision was not particularly hard to make, but it was disappointing for everyone," Messick said.

And a moment of silence for Weylandt was still held.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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