When the professional cyclists line up at the starting line for the Amgen Tour of California, cancer survivor Bill Ellis

Bill and Evelyn Ellis (COURTESY OF BILL ELLIS)

will be holding the starting gun.

It is a new role for Ellis, who as a Santa Rosa traffic engineer has been behind the scenes setting up the detours and barricades for the race and other cycling events.

It is also an honorary role for Ellis, a Novato resident and ultra-endurance rider who is just months removed from winning his battle against a rare form of cancer that required specialized treatment in Germany.

Ellis is being honored by Breakaway from Cancer, the nonprofit set up by Amgen, the tour’s major sponsor, to increase awareness of the resources available to people affected by cancer, from prevention through survivorship.

Breakaway from Cancer is also hosting “champions” from four of the cities participating in the tour in recognition of their work for cancer survivors and others affected by the disease.

Ellis, the champions and 150 others will be walking a  Breakaway Mile on race day, May 13, and have special access to view the race and meet the riders.

It has been a long road, said Ellis, 53.

“I am still dealing with side effects, but as far as they can find with MRI checkups, they are not detecting anything, it’s gone,” said Ellis, 53, a Novato resident.

Raissa de la Rosa, City of Santa Rosa economic development specialist and local Tour of California organizer, said it is a well-deserved honor.

“He was good about sharing his experience,” de la Rosa said. “It hit all of us. This phenomenal athlete and it was within a few weeks he has this cancer, and he has surgery at UCSF and treatment in Germany, this crazy journey that he brought a lot of us on with him. It was amazing to see how he handled himself.”

For the past decade, Ellis has participated in endurance rides of 200 miles and more, ultra-endurance events that involve 1,000 hours of training and dedication that few can muster.

One, the 746-mile, Paris-Brest-Paris ride in France, is held only once every four years. That was the ride in 2003 that Ellis finished in 65 hours, only stopping twice to catch three-hour naps.

It is also where he met his wife, Evelyn, at the after-event party. They had their first date two days later in Paris and have been married now for six years.

In November 2010, Ellis was diagnosed with adnoid cystic cancer of the salivary gland. The tumor itself was in the bone of his skull.

“It was in a sensitive area, needless to say. The primary treatment is surgical removal, and if anything is left, it is radiation,” Ellis said. “At UCSF they did the surgery, I had a phenomenal surgeon. But there was some tumor left that was too dangerous to remove, in the lower skull base.”

The treatment for that remaining tumor was carbon ion therapy, a radiation treatment developed in Japan and only available in Japan and Germany.

For more than two months, Ellis and his wife lived in Heidelberg, Germany, where he underwent the treatment at the University of Heidelberg Hospital.

“You go into this room and it is like out of Star Trek,” Ellis said. “This type of radiation is cutting edge, they only started allowing it for public use in 2008.”

Ellis hopes that his story will raise awareness of the treatment that, although it is only for a few types of cancers, he believes should be available in the United States as well.

Now, Ellis is back on his bicycle with new goals of doing some tandem bicycle touring in the United States and Europe.

“My wife and I went out for 20 miles on Saturday,” Ellis said. “As far as ultra-distance racing and ultra-distance riding, I don’t think I will return to that. With what I have gone through, I have new chores as part of taking part of myself that don’t allow me to train. Priorities change.”

Register to walk the Breakaway Mile (limited to 150 people) at:

From April 13 – 24, vote for the Santa Rosa Breakaway from Cancer Champion at:

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or

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