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Amgen Tour of California: Riders on the storm

MODESTO -- 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 precisely 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 hosts the finish line for stage three of the event, leaving everybody involved to sweat out one huge variable:

The weather.

There is about a 40 percent chance of rain today between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., with winds in the 10- to 12-mph range and gusting 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 course.

The forecast already has made its impact felt on the stage. 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 television 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.

Rain certainly would reduce the number of fans coming into downtown, resulting in a parallel reduction in financial impact. And 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 parks, recreation and neighborhoods, 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."

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

Streets on the entire route have been papered with no-parking signs. At precisely 5 p.m. Monday, I Street between 9th and 13th 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 mid-morning, and all access to the downtown grid restricted at 7 a.m.

Persons living inside or traveling through the residential portion of the route should find their way through until about 2 p.m., when access will be extremely limited, and impossible when the barricades are locked around 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 manning those barricades and will be charged with the responsibility of keeping the roads clear. But in the 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.

Stage four starts at 11 a.m. Wednesday in downtown Merced. Racers will head out of town along Bear Creek drive heading up to Mariposa, Oakhurst and then down to finish in Clovis.

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