At Levi’s GranFondo, on October 3, the word went out. The 2016 AMGEN Tour of California will once more roar through the streets of Santa Rosa.

After an “It’s not you, it’s us” hiatus in 2014 and 2015, the Tour is coming back to what many consider its most important venue. Santa Rosa will host the penultimate stop on the Tour with an out-and-back stage, starting and stopping right here in town before proceeding to the final finish line in Sacramento. While other towns have hosted the Tour more often, and bigger cities have offered more bombastic stopovers, no other town has so woven professional cycling into its identity as has our own dear City of Roses.

-1This time around, look for the Tour to shoot out into our western hills once again, following much of the GranFondo route through King Ridge, Fort Ross, and some of our most storied zip codes. While the racers shatter local Strava times like fluorescent light tubes, their attention will be split between the stunning surroundings and the physical agony of spewing wattage numbers into our coastal winds. They will crash onto our roads like waves upon the shores, leaving the weak behind in favor of a brutal march back to the safe haven of Santa Rosa. Sonoma County is a gentle place, according to tourist brochures, but once on two wheels, the land of sip, swirl, and spa days becomes a distant memory. This isn’t an appellation. It’s a crucible.

11001734_10152914265822428_944600074548587483_nNew for 2016 is a four-stage women’s race, a first for the Tour and a welcome integration for a segment of the sport that still struggles for equal attention. The women’s race will run through Santa Rosa, albeit on a different course yet to be determined. We all tip our hats to race organizers for recognizing the substantial potential here, to SRAM for helping to underwrite this particular event, and to all of us who are most definitely going to come out and support the absolute fastest women in the sport. We’re all most definitely going to do that. Right, people?

-3So, once again, we don’t have to board a plane to see the greatest of the sport turn themselves inside out for our delight. We can wander downtown and watch world champions like Peter Sagan attempt a repeat of his 2015 win. Sir Bradley Wiggins, 2012 Tour de France winner, can vie for our attention as he himself tries for another Tour of California victory. We can watch Santa Rosa resident Peter Stetina, with his new Trek Factory Racing Team, throttle across the line, his hometown crowd screaming themselves hoarse for him. We can bump into 3-time Tour of California winner, (another) Santa Rosa resident, and “we did it first and best with the whole Gran Fondo thing” guy Levi Leipheimer at the start/finish, who, just like the rest of us, is probably going to hit up some sweet single track in Annadel after watching one of the world’s biggest races come through his backyard.

No community is better suited for the biggest race in our hemisphere than Santa Rosa. That’s not because of the exceptional climate or the extensive network of lonely, grueling, roads. It’s not the singular beauty of the hills, the crags of the coast, the emerald quality of the forests, or the rugged (and steep) contours of the land. It’s because her people understand and know what it means to love bikes, both in the saddle with friends and on the sidelines as champions speed by. We may have taken a couple of years off, but it’s only so that we can come back stronger than ever.

The City of Santa Rosa will host the Amgen Tour of California on Saturday, May 21, 2016: Stage 7 of the Men’s Race and Stage 3 of the Women’s Race. Keep an eye on and follow and for updates.