MODESTO -- There's just no getting over the spectacle that is an Amgen Tour of California race day.
Whether the host for a stage start or finish line, cities do their best to doll-up their downtown streets for the international audience.
The color of the banners, booths and fans that line the race route glow electric as the racers near, then reach a critical mass of sight and sound as the cyclists whiz by.
Within a week or two, the host cities for the 2013 Tour of California, set for May 12-19, will be announced. In our region, Modesto, Sonora and Turlock are among the cities eagerly waiting to hear their names called by tour organizers.
There's no question the Tour of California became Modesto's largest single-day sporting event in the four years the riders rode past The Arch, or that it brought thousands of people and their wallets into downtown for a day of celebration and spending.
And to Modesto's immense credit, it found a way to put on this cycling carnival without tapping into the city coffers by raising all necessary funds in the private sector.
Modesto has done it right and done it well.
But eventually someone has to address the elephant in the room and answer the question that has undermined the sport of professional cycling on a worldwide basis.
What message does a city broadcast when it puts large amounts of time, effort and money into aligning itself on an international stage with the world's most drug-tainted sport?
Lance Armstrong has been forced out of the sport by doping allegations, which means the winner in 12 of the 13 Tour de Frances held between 1998-2010 have tested positive, admitted to doping or have been sanctioned by a cycling or anti-doping agency.
And when Armstrong recently was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, its wasn't as easy as giving the title to the guy one step down on the podium. Six of the 13 second-place finishers and seven of the 13 riders finishing in third-place also have been caught in the doping scandal.
Three-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer, one of those third-place finishers in France, is on suspension (and without a team) after admitting to doping between 1999-2007. He'll be eligible to ride in the 2013 Tour of California if he can hook-on with a team. Leipheimer, Floyd Landis and Michael Rogers, who combined to win the first five Tour of California crowns between 2006-10, all have faced doping investigations and/or suspensions.
With international cycling continuing its precipitous drug-induced downfall, some California cities have openly questioned their own efforts.
Kerry Ryan, president of the Bakersfield Sports Foundation, was quoted last week by the Bakersfield Californian as saying the Armstrong doping scandal has made it difficult for his group to fund-raise for the Tour of California. Bakersfield has completely withdrawn its bid to be a 2013 host city. The City of Livermore has retracted its $100,000 backing, although it did not cite doping as a reason.
Corporations have followed suit. Rabobank, a major international team sponsor for 17 years and the backer of 2012 Tour of California winner Robert Gesink, has withdrawn all financial support for elite cycling teams, citing the doping scandal.
Just last week, Australian sportswear company Skins, a major cycling gear supplier, sued the International Cycling Union, claiming the company's reputation has been damaged by the failure of cycling's governing body to battle doping.
I've had the chance to cover each of the last five Tour of California races. One of my fondest mental images is that of riding out of Modesto toward San Jose in a pace car, passing elementary schools where the kids have been let out to watch the racers.
The kids are holding signs: Welcome, riders!," "We (heart) the Tour of California," and "Good luck Lance, don't fall."
Many of these schools also displayed the sign ubiquitous on campuses.
"Just say no to drugs."
This column is a reprint of Brian VanderBeek's blog, which is archived at thehive.modbee.com/thurman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.