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Amgen Women's Tour: At What Speed Progress?

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Alison Jackson, Leah Thomas, and Jennifer Tetrick of team Twenty-16 celebrate their team title on the final day of the 2016 Amgen Tour of California women's race.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The men in the Amgen Tour of California cycling race get most of the attention, but there is a women's race too. It is struggling to grow up, without growing up too quickly.

This is the first year women have raced on four consecutive days at Amgen and on the same days as the men. It's also the first year of a women's world tour, of which Amgen is one leg.

But the Amgen women's race hasn't grown up, yet.

For this year's Amgen, Kara Petersen is wearing a woman's jersey and bike shorts. She's very much a fan of the women riders. But, she says the tour falls short in showcasing them.

0522 16 bm amgen women stage 8 start

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

"They ought to have the same number of stages and they ought to have more coverage," Petersen says. "They kind of get the short end of the stick as far as coverage and the fact there's even a women's race. I mean, you really don't even know there's a women's race going on unless you're here."

Sometimes, the women are practically hidden from view. The women's race is not on television. And, at the main stage near the Capitol, race announcers bring the male riders up for interviews, which are piped through speakers along the race route for hundreds of people to hear.

About four blocks away is another stage, of equal size, for the women. But, there is no indication anything is going on there, until you get close.

0522 16 bm amgen womens stage

The women's stage for the 2016 Amgen Tour of California on May 22, 2016. Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

On Sunday, only about 20 people at any time got close enough to find out what was going on.

Jennifer Saelee wasn’t one of those people. She was more than a block away in a merchandise booth wearing a men’s yellow Amgen jersey. She says Amgen must increase the popularity of women’s racing if she is going to pay attention.

"You know, more popular, so people can watch it more," she says. "I probably should follow them, watch them a little more. But, I've been watching the men for awhile, a couple of years, now."

There are riders, like Alison Jackson, who says too much growth wouldn’t be healthy. She rides for the Twenty-16 team and says small steps are the way to go.

"I mean, I would love to see five days in California," Jackson says. "For a Tour of California, there's so many places to ride, I think they could do it for sure."

Kristin Klein is President of the Amgen Tour. She says there are no changes planned for next year.

"Every year, we evaluate our goals and objectives. We know we want to continue to support women's cycling," she says. "It's very important. But, at the same time, we want to make sure that we can put on not only a quality, but also, a safe race for everybody."

amgen 0522 16 an mens race finish

Thousands turned out to see the finish of the 2016 men's race in Sacramento. Organizers hope the same people who watch the men's race will someday have the same interest in watching the women's race.  Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Klein says she is proud of how far the tour has come in such a short time.

Two years ago, 20 professional riders and 50 amateurs rode in a one-day time trial.

Last year 82 riders rode in four stages, two took place before the men's race began.

This year, 108 professional riders with 18 teams competed.

Megan Guarnier Amgen 2016 052216 P.jpgAndrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

"We always have goals to expand upon our platform," Klein says. (The event) is 11 years old in total. So, always continuing to look how we can make the race better."

Under-promising results and out-performing expectations is a method that has worked well so far.

Perhaps it's to the tour's credit that more fans, like Richard Engel of Woodland, wish the tour would do more to showcase the women.

"They need to be on the same stage and platform. They're amazing athletes," says Engel. "They have the same skills, talent, same techniques as the men's race. It's great to have them out here running at least the races simultaneously."

For now, Engel and other fans will have to be content with "baby steps."