2016 Amgen Tour of California bicycle race makes its San Diego debut

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SAN DIEGO – The 2016 Amgen Tour of California bicycle race made its San Diego debut Sunday, as 144 riders tackle what could be a challenging 106-mile first stage.

The race was held in Escondido and Rancho Bernardo in 2009, and Escondido again three years ago, but this is the first time a stage has been set this far south in San Diego.

The bicyclists, among them defending champion Peter Sagan, pedaled off from Ski Beach at Mission Bay at 11:30 a.m.

“Especially exciting this year is the road to the Olympics, and Rio gold, is actually happening right here in the Golden State,” said Kristin Klein, the tour’s president.

“Many in our field are hoping to qualify for their national teams, while others are here to size up the competition before the August games,” Klein said. “At the same time, once again, the Amgen Tour of California will be the perfect launch pad as dozens of riders are making final preparations for the Tour de France, which is happening in less than two months.”

The course will carry riders through Balboa Park to Imperial Beach, where they will turn east through Chula Vista to hilly and winding Jamul, before heading back through El Cajon, San Carlos, and down Mission Gorge Road into Mission Valley.

The finish will be back in the Mission Bay area as the leaders sprint down Ingraham Street.

San Diego organizers have “done an incredible job of getting their hometown behind the race,” Klein said.

Authorities said road closures along the course will last around 15 minutes along the course as the riders pass.

Over the next week, the race’s eight stages will take riders from South Pasadena to the Angeles National Forest, along the coast in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, Morro Bay and Big Sur, a 130-mile climb to South Lake Tahoe, a time trial in Folsom, the Sonoma County wine country, and the finish next Sunday in Sacramento.

The courses total 782 miles, according to the organizers.