Tour of California cyclists will cruise Modesto's Scenic Drive

February 9, 2011 

JBL Amgen 2

(JOAN BARNETT LEE / - Amgen Tour of California riders come in to downtown Modesto off the Needham Avenue overpass on Wednesday afternoon (05-19-10) and turn onto College Avenue. Lance Armstrong is pictured third from right.

It’s been known since October that the third stage of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California would start in Auburn and end in Modesto.

But when the exact route the elite riders will take on Tuesday, May 17, from Point A to Point B was unveiled Wednesday morning, it raised a few eyebrows. Highway 49 — the stated reason for linking Auburn to Modesto — was entirely avoided.

In addition, with the race a little more than three months away, seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong has yet to commit to the race. It has been the widespread belief in the cycling world the 2011 Tour of California will serve as the retirement race for the sport’s 39-year-old poster boy.

The big winner in Wednesday’s announcement was Oakdale, which for the first time will be a pass-through city for the event. Oakdale also will be the location of a sprint marker, meaning the rider in first place through the Cowboy Capital will receive additional points and prizes.

From Oakdale, the riders will zig-zag country roads (see map,) eventually finding their way to Claus Rd., from where they will make the right-hand turn onto Scenic Drive and veer onto Downey Ave. before the left turn onto I Street.

Once they pass the finish line at 12th and I, the riders will make two more complete loops of the same Modesto sprint circuit used the past two years to finish their 122-mile efforts before packing up their bikes for the following day’s Livermore-to-San Jose run.

This will be Modesto’s fourth experience with the Tour of California and its third consecutive year as a host city for a finish line. But this will be the first time the race rolls through the areas north and east of Modesto.

“We’re excited about this,” said Oakdale councilman Mike Brennan. “We’ve been campaigning for a couple of years to be a pass-through city. With our size and Modesto being so close we know we probably won’t ever be a finishing point for a stage, but I think we can be a starting point in the future.”

Being a finish line for a stage is the prize for every city along the Tour’s eight stages, since race teams, media and race support staff fill upward of 400 hotel rooms at each stop.

As an added benefit, Modesto’s bike stores have noticed an uptick in rider interest and sales since the Tour first came to Modesto in 2008, and the same could happen in Oakdale.

“I haven’t noticed any increase in sales here from the race going to Modesto, and road bikes don’t seem to be very big here,” said Mel Sanguinetti, whose Oakdale Bike Shop faces the race route. “I keep a road bike hanging on a hook here to let people know that we know what this is. It’s exciting to know what’s coming, but time will tell if it gets people in Oakdale into road bikes.”

Oakdale was poised to be a pass-through town whether or not the race utilized Highway 49, a route all but promised last fall by Andrew Messick, president of Tour owner AEG Sports.

“I don’t want to give the route away, but Highway 49 is famous,” Messick said in October. “As we look to create stages and routes that are going to be captivating to people and create a link back to California history, linking to Highway 49 made all the sense in the world. Highlighting that run for the cyclists of the world is something we've always wanted to accomplish.”

But Messick said Wednesday through an AEG spokesperson that the California Highway Patrol recommended Highway 49 not be included in the race.

A Highway 49 route could have included a picturesque roll through Placerville, Jackson, San Andreas, Angels Camp and Sonora, perhaps taking the riders all the way to Coulterville and Highway 132.

It also would have included some significant climbs and descents rather than the primarily flat course eventually chosen by race officials.

That move was disappointing but not surprising to Jon Tommesen, who owns JT Cycles in Downtown Sonora.

“You really can’t close down Highway 49,” Tommesen said. “There are side roads in the Valley and other ways to get around, but there are no such access roads up here.

“Also, it’s a winding road with no shoulders in many areas. It’s such a beautiful highway and it’s a shame it doesn’t have a shoulder or else I think it would be perfect for cycling.”

The tour unveiled the exact routes for its first three stages on Wednesday. The opening stage is a loop around Lake Tahoe, and the second is a downhill course from Squaw Valley to Sacramento. The Auburn-to-Modesto run gives the Tour back-to-back sprinters’ stages.

The routes of stages 4-6 will be unveiled this morning at Stage four, from Livermore to San Jose, is expected to feature several difficult climbs. The eight-day tour wraps up May 22 with a run from Santa Clarita to Thousand Oaks.

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