By BOB NORBERG

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Amgen Tour of California’s first stage in Santa Rosa is shaping up as a showcase for the best scenery Sonoma County has to offer, from Russian River Valley vineyards to rugged beauty of the Pacific Coast.

Take the medio route of the King Ridge GranFondo, which goes from Santa Rosa through Graton to Occidental, and throw in steep and pot-holed Fort Ross Road for a taste of the 115-mile stage that organizers are putting together.

It is not final until it is final, of course. But race officials from AEG Sports of Los Angeles, the tour’s owner, were in Sonoma County in the past few weeks driving the tentative route in cars, on motorcycles and presumably by bike, said Raissa de la Rosa, the city of Santa Rosa’s economic development specialist who is heading the local organizing effort.

“We have been pushing to have as much of the GranFondo as we could. What better commercial could they have?” said de la Rosa.

Levi Leipheimer’s grandfondo, which attracts 7,500 riders to the ride Leipheimer has put together himself, is a major supporter of the local tour effort, putting in $120,000.

Santa Rosa on May 13 is hosting the overall start for the Amgen Tour of California, the consolation for not hosting a stage this past year.

De la Rosa said $260,000 has been raised so far, the bare minimum to cover the hotel rooms and meals for the teams, staff and workers and the cost of turning streets and roads into a race course.

She said they want to raise another $100,000 by the end of January to pay for the extras that make Santa Rosa special. It includes marketing and packaging hotel and restaurants that cater to athletes and attract cycling teams to train in Sonoma County before the actual race.

The money is also used for other events leading up to the tour, including a race for junior champions the day before in downtown Santa Rosa.

Tour organizers worried the full 103-mile granfondo, with the challenges of King Ridge and Seaview roads, was too aggressive of a first stage for the eight-day, 750-mile event.

So they scaled it back. The stage now will begin with one lap in north Santa Rosa before riders head west to Graton, Occidental and Cazadero, up Fort Ross Road, down Meyers Grade to the coast, up the Coleman Valley Road wall and back to downtown Santa Rosa.

The last two hours of the 115-mile ride, when the riders are still expected to be riding on the coast and returning to Santa Rosa, will be broadcast live.

It will showcase Sonoma County as a destination for cycling, which is the second largest tourism draw in Sonoma County, surpassed only by wine, de la Rosa said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.