With the Tour of California about to hit our screens this weekend, Michael Tomalaris is looking forward to seeing a race that is growing in stature.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

There's been much excitement in the corridors of SBS Sport in the weeks
ahead of the Tour of California (ToC) following the SBS network's decision
to screen all eight stages live on Australian TV sets.

I have no
doubts the ToC is a race that is growing in stature and will, one day,
rival the European Grand Tours in its own right.

Connected to and
largely influenced by the Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) - organisers
of the Tour de France - the decision to move the event from February to
May has much more to with building the stature of the race than the
improved weather conditions in the sunshine state at this time of year.

The
ToC now clashes directly with the Giro d'Italia - a pre-meditated move
sure to ruffle a few feathers on the other side of the Atlantic.

From
conversations I've had with people involved in US television
broadcasting, and those linked with the race itself, there are
underlying moves to build the ToC into a 'fourth Grand Tour', sooner
rather than later.

I feel it makes sense to take world cycling
away from its European heartland and tackle a frontier which has been
exposed to the sport largely due to the impact and successes of Lance
Armstrong - and before him three time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond.


Here's a country with a huge population who love their sport and, for
all intents and purposes, has a healthy cycling scene, whether it racing
or recreational.

Americans are adopting the 'two-wheeled
lifestyle' just as we have in Australia over the last 20 years.

As
a reporter working on the 1994 FIFA World Cup hosted by the USA, I
discovered there's more to the Americans than baseball, basketball and
their brand of football.

The tens of millions of second and third
generation immigrants have a deep passion for the world game, and that
was evident from the success of the tournament that particular year.

It's
a fact - to this day, the 1994 FIFA World Cup attracted more spectators
to its matches than any other in the tournament's history dating back
to 1930.

Why? While a melting pot, US citizens of European origin
keep a special place in their hearts for their old world heritage, so
if there's a ball to be kicked or pedal to be turned, you can be sure
there's a lot of interest.

Closer to home, have a look at what
the Tour Down Under has done for the pro-cycling movement in this
country since its inception in 1999.

The rich cycling culture
generated in a short time pumps through the veins of those who make a
bee-line to Adelaide every January.

I understand the ToC is still
in its infancy and still has a long way before it receives total
worldwide acceptance, and while it currently lacks the traditions and
history of the Giro, Tour and Vuelta, I'm sure that will come in time.

The
calibre of riders lured to the US west coast in 2010 proves the seeds
have already been sown.

By simply thumbing through the
high-profile names scattered among the 16-strong squads, to be sure the
ToC has stepped up a level this year.

Riders like Mark Cavendish,
Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Michael Rogers, Heinrich Haussler and
the entire Lance Armstrong led RadioShack squad give this race a solid foundation for
excitement and interest.

So sit back and watch the Tour of
California every morning from the comfort of home or work and here's
hoping you'll enjoy a whole new cycling experience.

The Tour of
California runs from May 16-24 covering 1,287 kilometres over 8 stages.