Race will showcase South Valley to a global audience

Published in the March 21 – April 3, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life

Photo by Marty Cheek
‘Fast” Freddie Rodriguez, an Amgen Tour of California ambassador, prepares to “race” twins Valentino and James during a kick-off event.

Thousands of cycling fans will descend on South Valley May 16 to watch America’s top professional cyclists undergo time trials along local roads. The Amgen Tour of California, the largest cycling event in North America, will serve as a marketing opportunity to introduce millions of people around the world to the region through extensive media coverage.

“I see this event coming to the Morgan Hill/Gilroy area in mid-May as an opportunity to showcase the great outdoors of South County,” said Jane Howard, executive director of the Gilroy Welcome Center. “Our marketing efforts have always showcased the open spaces and recreational choices that abound in this region.”

Similar to the national and global sports media coverage the South Valley received in the summer of 2016 when San Martin’s CordeValle golf resort hosted the U.S. Women’s Open, the Amgen time trails can remind potential visitors of the special amenities Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill have available for tourism including wine tasting, golfing, shopping and dining, she said.

To kick-off America’s most prestigious cycling competition, dignitaries and bike enthusiasts from San Jose and South Valley competed in a just-for-fun tricycle race Feb. 8 at the Morgan Hill Community Center. Downtown Morgan Hill will serve as the start and finish line of the time trials for racers.

Amgen goodwill ambassador “Fast” Freddie Rodriquez served as the guest of honor at the celebration event. A former American professional road cyclist and four-time USA Pro Road National Champion, his role with Amgen is to focus on kids’ activities, school visits, and promoting healthy living.

“Specialized is one of our local companies and that is headquartered here, which is a big part of cycling in America,” he said. “So, to have the Tour of California come through here is a big deal.”

The 21.6-mile time trial at the fourth stage of the race will be an important part of the competition where racers can widen the gaps between themselves, he said. The premier sporting event is expected to draw huge crowds of cycling fans to the South Valley region who will stay in local hotels, eat at restaurants and shop with merchants.

California has a lot of enthusiasts who participate in the sport of cycling, so the attention the Amgen time trials will bring to South Valley region might encourage thousands of cyclists to come out and ride these roads, he said.

“It’s nice to know the fans will have a great experience not only to watch the race but to be able to go out and ride their bikes and enjoy the environment,” he said.

The South Valley time trials event is co-hosted by the city of Morgan Hill and the San Jose Sports Authority in partnership with various organizations including the Morgan Hill Tourism Alliance, the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce, and the Morgan Hill Downtown Association.

“I cannot tell you how proud we are to partner with the great city of Morgan Hill and the great people that you have to bring the greatest cycling event in America right here to our towns,” said John Poch, executive director of the authority. “As you know, the city of Morgan Hill and the southern area of San Jose are great areas for cycling. We have the best weather and the best conditions for cycling, so why not have it here between our two cities?”

A lifestyle festival open to all South Valley residents and cycling fan visitors will be held on the day of the time trial so that they can celebrate together the sport with the professional racers. Hosting the event will enable the region to demonstrate its welcoming spirit and civic pride to visitors as well as show off the rural environment surrounding the city to an international audience, said Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate.

“It’s going to be a beautiful and, at the same time, a challenging course because there are some ups and downs and that kind of thing as well,” he said. “The Amgen Tour of California is the most important cycling race in the United States and one of the most prestigious and most watched races in the world.”

Amgen’s time trials will also help show to the world that the South Valley values health and fitness through physical activity, Tate said.

“Cycling is ingrained into our community with Specialized Bicycle Components, the leader in cycling technology, headquartered right here in the Morgan Hill community,” he said. “Our community loves cycling.”

Part of Amgen’s mission is to get young people involved in the sport of cycling to encourage health and fitness. The time trial will take place during a school day and at least one school near the downtown district will bring students to the sporting event to expose them to the excitement of the occasion, said Morgan Hill Unified School District Superintendent Steve Betando.

“It’s also an opportunity for kids to learn about cycling and the benefits of it,” he said. “There is some curriculum (a printed workbook) that Amgen is providing to us. We’ve already talked to the principals about that, so they’ll be giving that information to the teachers.”

Rodriquez plans to go to local public schools to represent the Amgen and teach students about the proper way to ride their bikes on streets and roads.

“We go in and inspire kids,” he said. “We teach them how to be safe, we teach them how to be active. We teach them how to be smart, and we look forward to getting Morgan Hill involved in that process. Kids are so excited.”

The Tour of California’s big day in the South Valley will help promote the region as a bike destination with the media coverage shown on TV channels in more than 100 countries, said Jodi Hall, co-owner with her husband, Doug Hall, of the Bike Therapy Shop in downtown Morgan Hill. She hopes that cycling enthusiasts will discover the region’s back-roads as well as challenging the mountain biking trails at Harvey Bear County Park and Henry W. Coe State Park.

“It’s amazing. This is going to put us on the map, especially in California and internationally, as a cycling destination,” she said. “We have so many great roads and trails for biking. It’s also going to bring people here.”

At the Feb. 8 kick-off event, Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance President Jeff Dixon, dressed up in striped umpire uniform and carried an over-sized race flag to start the tricycle race. He described the Amgen Tour of California as a race for the riders and fans comparable to the Tour de France. It’s a prestigious sport that many Americans travel to the Golden State to attend and see the fastest riders in the world, he said.

“I think bringing Amgen (to the South Valley) really gives us a chance to show other people around the world how family friendly and sports oriented we are,” he said. “We’ll have a chance to show off our community spirit to more people around the world.”