Tour of California race kicks off in Bay Area

February 18, 2008 8:41:37 AM PST
It was ideal conditions for the kickoff of a pro cycling road race on the Peninsula Sunday. The eight day, 650 mile, Amgen Tour of California looks a little different this year. That's because it started in Downtown Palo Alto instead of San Francisco's Telegraph Hill.

The sport of cycling has had some issues with drug cheating over the past several years, so organizers of the California Tour have changed the rules to make sure racers are clean. Organizers call it the strictest doping regulations in the cycling world.

The rise of steroids use in many professional sports is also playing a role in this race. That's why Amgen organizers are changing the rules this year.

"We're taking blood from every cyclist, urine from 30 percent, and then we're more than tripling the number of tests during the race week," says Michael Rothaeg, AEG.

Testing started Thursday and random tests will be done every day.

"Sure it's a pain sometimes, but that way we can we can prove we're clean," says Tyler Farrar, cyclist.

Tyler Farrar is racing for Slip Stream, a Colorado based team that is taking the anti doping program to a new level. On top of Amgen's tests, they're doing their own self testing as well.

"With all that's happened with baseball and the Tour de France, it's something we owe our fans and sponsors, so they can really believe in our team," says Jonathan Vaughters, Slipstream President.

These cyclists are tested weekly and it doesn't come cheap. It's costing Slipstream a half million dollars a year.

"It's encouraging to see that, especially as a dad, to use those as role models rather than some others that I've had some histories that aren't as positive," Bill Graham, San Mateo.

Floyd Landis is one such cyclist. He won the Amgen race two years ago, but after arbitrators ruled Landis used drugs during the Tour de France, he hasn't raced since.

Organizers insist every single cyclist competing this year is drug free. Race organizers are spending about $20,000 dollars on all of these extra tests.