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The Tour of California needs a Nickname

I can't remember the last time I saw a feature story in the mainstream press here in the U.S. on cycling, that wasn't somehow about an American in the Tour de France. Until this year's Tour of California, that is. Race reports, personal interest pieces, community perspectives and a handful of other story types are showing up everywhere, from the New York Times to the San Jose Merc and the Tahoe Daily Tribune, even Wired Magazine.

One of the best pieces I've seen so far is in today's USA Today. It digs into the business side of the Tour of California, and gives some background behind the man driving it - Philip Anschutz. He owns AEG, the sports management company that's producing and promoting the Tour of California. He's also financially involved in the LA Kings, LA Lakers, Staples Center, and the MLS, and is cited by the paper as being the guy responsible for bringing David Beckham to play soccer in the U.S.

Anschutz' objective with the Tour of California is for it to evolve into one of the Grand Tours, on par with the Tours of France, Italy and Spain.

Or rather, on par with the Tour, Giro, and Vuelta.

Now I'm not saying the Tour of California needs a distinct single word moniker to continue its growth, but its current naming convention is designed to pay homage to the Grande Boucle, making it difficult for the Tour of California to demonstrate how it is uniquely qualified to be one of the world's most prestigious cycling events. Here's an analogy: If you start a new job, and you call your boss - the Vice President of the department - "Mr Smithers", you're setting a precedent that's difficult to break. If your ultimate objective is to be promoted to Manager, then Director, then VP as Smithers' peer, plan for that ascension now and call your boss simply "Adlai."

The Tour of California faces the same conundrum. Assuming it rises through the ranks, how will we refer to the 4 Grand Tours in future? As the Tour, Giro, Vuelta and The Tour of California? Not going to happen, just like Smithers is not going to promote to VP some lackey who calls him "Mr", instead of addressing him by name and showing that in his mind, he's already a peer.

20/20 hindsight, I know. Where was this line of thinking last year, before the race painted itself into a corner with the "Tour" label? Changing at this point is marketing suicide, even if a synonym for "Tour" existed and carried the perfect connotation for this event. Something that nods to California's unique properties, and alludes to the history of the event and the location, somehow.

But American cycling differs from European in that it's grounded in economics, not history and tradition. So maybe the best way to ensure the Tour of California's escalation into the Grand Tour ranks is to henceforth refer to it simply as "The Amgen."

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