Cyclists point toward Valley with Modesto on their mind

Officials tweak start time and route -- just in case

February 16, 2009 

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The committee handling Modesto's role in the Amgen Tour of California can tell you exactly how many barricades are needed to secure the route (600), how many garbage cans will line downtown streets (60) and the exact placement of the two 30-yard garbage containers.

They've seen to it that the 410 members of the Amgen tour crew have lodging and access to downtown restaurants, and know the best routes for emergency vehicles to enter and exit the blocked-off areas of downtown.

Thousands of details have been handled in preparation for today, when Modesto is the host of the finish for Stage 3 of the event, leaving everybody involved to sweat out one huge variable.

The weather.

There is about a 40 percent chance of rain today from 3 to 4 p.m., with wind in the 10- to 12-mph range and gusting higher at the time yellow-jersey-clad Levi Leipheimer and the other riders will be finishing their trek from San Jose with a double loop of the downtown Modesto course.

The forecast has made its impact felt. The start was moved from noon to 11:50 a.m., and one of the two complete Modesto loops has been removed. Amgen organizers made the tweaks to guarantee the race would be over by 4 p.m., when the Versus Network's TV coverage will end. All this because bad weather slows the pace.

But that isn't the only impact the recent stretch of much-needed rain can have on Modesto's day in the cycling world's sun.

Fewer spectators

Rain certainly would reduce the number of fans coming downtown, resulting in a parallel reduction in financial impact. There is the chance our neighborhood streets could be judged too slippery for racing, resulting in the elimination of the downtown loop from the timed portion of the course, as happened Sunday in Santa Rosa.

"I hope that if it's going to rain, it's just going to be damp and that we don't have a deluge," said Bob Quintella, the former deputy director of the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department, who has briefly come out of retirement to help the Modesto committee. "The rain will make it tough on the riders coming across the valley, then they'll be hitting our streets."

With the exception of calling a water vacuum truck into just-in-case position, the local effort will pay little heed to the area of low pressure that has called California home for five days.

Streets on the entire route have been papered with no-parking signs. At 5 p.m. Monday, I Street between Ninth and 16th was closed to traffic, and within minutes construction began on the two large stages that will be the center of today's festivities.

Some tents began to pop up within the protected stretch of I Street, but much of the heavy work waited until this morning to begin. All barricades should have been placed at intersections by midmorning, and all access to the downtown grid restricted at 7 a.m.

People living inside or traveling through the residential portion of the route should be able to find their way through until about 2 p.m., when access will be extremely limited, and impossible when the barricades are locked about 3 p.m.

"Everyone on the course inside the circuit has been notified that getting around their neighborhoods between 2 and 5:30 is going to be tricky," said Julie Hannon, Modesto's acting director of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods. "If they go out to get groceries at 2 p.m. and everything looks clear, and when they come back and can't get back to their house until 5:30, they'll know why."

Volunteers will be at those barricades and will be charged with keeping the roads clear. In case a resident insists on getting through once the course has been secured, someone with a badge will be close by.

"We will have traffic officers along the entire route," said Lt. Chris Fuzie of the Modesto Police Department's operations division. "They've been told that if the volunteers within their assigned zones have an issue, it's up to the officer to go deal with that. We won't just stick a volunteer out there and tell them to keep the people out."

Precipitation or not, the riders will be riding into Modesto this afternoon. And the organizers' attention to detail has guaranteed that a little weather won't be enough to rain on Modesto's cycling parade.

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

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