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A poem: Amgen Tour of California, Stage 3: Modesto

You have crawled through Stanford and Sausalito,

took your first steps in Santa Rosa and Sacramento.

But here is where you hit your stride, where the muscles

of youth stretch into adulthood. Here you will learn to climb.

The roads will wind, and some riders will fall before the sky's

blue medal is placed around their sore necks at the summit of Mt. Hamilton.

Look down. After Modesto, there is only one way to go.

This was the middle of your tour across life's long road,

the part you will look back on in your old age and wonder where it all went,

when you were agile and strong and could beat a hawk to the next signpost.

So before you look back, look around. Don't miss the farmlands,

the bare branches of almond trees, the twisted vines of grapes

under old blankets of rain. It all seems so fragile now, but this

is where life begins. Where food grows, where valley oaks

remind us of mortality -- their roots in the graves,

their heads sweeping heaven's floor.

Winners are made here, in the middle of your journey,

when the light at the end shines only in the tunnel of your mind

where Hope and Will guide you like torches in the dark.

Will you burn out or survive? Will you pedal faster or lose your way?

We will watch from our downtown curbs and fold-out chairs

as you shrink off into the distance, the blur of your wheels

propelling you forward to the end of the line. Then we will return home

to finish the race of our lives, proud that we have never looked back.

Pierstorff is a professor at Modesto Junior College

and the poet laureate for the city of Modesto.

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