It's easy to get your own spin on Amgen tour

February 15, 2009 

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The world's worst spectator sport is on its way to Modesto.

But that doesn't mean you can't have fun being a part of the Amgen Tour of California as it races into town Tuesday.

Think about bike racing from strictly a spectator's standpoint. You stake out a spot on the course where you think some great action might take place. It could be the finish line, or perhaps the hairpin turn at the corner of Coldwell and Sycamore avenues, where you'll see the racers slow down twice.

Make sure to get there early enough to grab a prime spot, set up your folding chair and wait for an hour or two. You'll hear a buzz in the distance. Is it the lead peloton (a word you learned for the occasion)?

No, it's a press car, following by four more press cars and eight motorcycles with guys carrying cameras and riding backward. That was cool.

You sit back down, glance away and you've missed it. The lead group has just whizzed by. Was that Lance? Did you just miss Lance?

The event's organizers suggest to local committees in each host city that the route be kept free of bleachers. They want people to move about the course, not only stressing the healthful aspect of the event but ensuring traffic for the tents staffed by commercial and charity interests.

Better yet, they'd like to see each city filled with bicycles to allow people to get used to the notion of two-wheeled transportation.

A small tent city follows each stop of the tour. In Modesto's case, more than 150 booths will be set up on I Street between Ninth and 11th, with a county-fair-style food court set up on 10th Street.

The I Street booths should be busy. Not only do they line the closing stretch of the race, but many of them will be offering free samples, information and souvenirs.

Free is good.

In addition, three Jumbo- Trons will be erected along I Street, each showing the Versus Network's live coverage of the race's final two hours, with the telecast starting at 2 p.m.

"The three JumboTrons downtown will be exciting," said councilwoman Kristin Olsen. "Last year, after the riders left Modesto, we had people pull up chairs in front of the one screen we had and watch the race coverage all day long. I was surprised to see that, but it was good for the businesses and great for the vibrancy of downtown."

The city will be setting up chairs in the vicinity of each of the three JumboTrons. Fan really wanting to follow the progress of the race might be best served by staying close to those screens.

The first key to watching the race is getting downtown. The city has identified several lots that will be offering free parking, but is encouraging walking and bike riding as the best way to enter the race area. Free, secured valet bicycle parking will be available adjacent to the finish line at 11th and I.

So your choices for watching the race come down to these:

1. Stay at home and watch it on TV. But that's no fun. It also would be counterproductive to the community spirit Modesto has the chance to show the world. The city's screen presence doesn't have to make it seem like Forbes' fifth most-miserable U.S. city.

"I think Modesto is unique in that we're a family-oriented community," Olsen said. "There's still that hometown family spirit that I don't think a lot of the communities can show to the riders."

2. Go downtown and enjoy all the vendors before staking out a spot near the finish line.

"That four-block area will be packed with stuff," said Julie Hannon, Modesto's acting director of parks, recreation and neighborhoods. "Get here early, stay late and spend money while you're here."

3. Find a quiet spot along the loop and pitch a lawn chair.

"It would be great to stand on the college lawn," said Jennifer Mullen, executive director of the Modesto Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They'll be screaming down Coldwell and making a hard right turn on Sycamore. That will be a tight, intense turn. I think those will be some great places leading into I Street, where there will be some heart-pumping action. They'll definitely be going faster than the posted speed limit."

4. Take advantage of elevated vantage points already in place. There are steps at the Stanislaus County Library and the McHenry Museum, and a real bird's eye view is available from the parking garage adjacent to the Bank of America on 16th Street.

"One thing we learned from last year is that Modesto wants to rally around this event," Olsen said. "If we can take last year's model and build on it, we'll be ready for another success."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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