Amgen Tour of California

Channone Arif
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Hundreds of the world’s best cyclists just blitzed through Santa Barbara’s beautiful wine country as they vied for victory in stage five of the Amgen Tour of California last week. Arriving in Santa Barbara for the second year in a row, this year’s fifth stage started on the Pismo Beach pier and finished 107.4 miles later with a sprint down Cabrillo Boulevard, next to the bike path. Boulder, Colorado’s Taylor Phinney broke away from the lead pack with 19 miles to go, capitalizing on his 6’5” and 180 pounds stature to reach speeds of 75 miles per hour coming down San Marcos Pass and to put 40 seconds on the peloton. The 23-year-old rider for Switzerland's BMC captured the stage by 12 seconds with a graceful bow to his Santa Barbara fans at the Cabrillo finish.

Start of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California
Start of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California Marilyn Sourgose

While these cyclists burned up the roads averaging speeds of 25-30 miles per hour in the elite competition, most of their scenic route lies dormant the rest of the year, just waiting to be ridden. RootsRated features a great century ride that imitates much of the Amgen Tour’s route from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara . But you don’t have to be a fine-tuned cyclist cranking out 100-mile days to experience the grandeur of the inland valley regions that showcase a perfect climate for wineries. Two of our favorites of more modest distances are the Sideways Ride , which takes riders through the countryside filmed during the 2004 movie, Sideways , and the Solvang and Los Olivos route. Once you’re in the saddle, these routes also act as a gateway to get you exploring for yourself as almost every paved road in the valley offers incredible views and mossy, shady oak trees.

Santa Ynez vineyard valley
Santa Ynez vineyard valley Damian Gadal

Though this year’s Amgen race fell on one of the hottest days of the year at 100 degrees, typical temperatures in the valley are moderate, and weather is sunny with a bit of morning fog much of the year. Additionally the quaint valley towns of Santa Ynez, Solvang, and Los Olivos welcome visitors with many wine-tasting rooms for the area vineyards. While you may want to change out of your Lycra for an in-house tasting, Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours provides outstanding experiences with gourmet picnics and wine tasting incorporated into their itineraries. Their trips range from all-inclusive vacations, like one that followed the Amgen Tour for six days on the central coast, to self-guided day trips and bike rentals. Noteworthy stops to refuel with coffee and food are Solvang’s family-operated Danish Hill Bakery and Paula's Pancake House .

The winner of this year's Amgen Tour, Taylor Phinney
The winner of this year's Amgen Tour, Taylor Phinney Jack Rogan

For the more vertically inclined cyclists out there, the Lake Casitas Loop on the other side of Santa Barbara offers over 5,000 feet of climbing to go with its great views. Last year’s Amgen Tour made a mountain trek through Ojai around Lake Casitas that included much of this route. Though the climbs can be challenging, the panoramas of the Ojai Valley (which has some wine country of its own), offers a sufficient award for any “King of the Mountain” brave enough for the ascents. Though most of us do not ride these countryside routes with the flashy support vehicles or crazy fans running alongside the road waving flags and cheering, the valley views alone in all of these rides invite and inspire riders of any level to keep pedaling for that next amazing vantage point.

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