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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Stage 6: Meet Me in St. Louis!

For those of you who are coming in from out of town to watch the final stage of the Tour of Missouri, I welcome you to St. Louis. I've been lucky to live for all but two years of my life within 50 miles of the Gateway Arch, and I think St. Louis is a great community.

Although St. Louis has taken its share of punches over the past four decades with population losses and crime, St. Louis still has a lot of things going for it. In addition to the Gateway Arch, one of the world's most distinctive monuments, we also are home to a world-class symphony, a world-class zoo, a world-class botanical garden and the reigning World Series champions.

St. Louis loves its sports, as you will see with the crowds that will fill the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday for the St. Louis Rams-San Francisco 49ers football game and Busch Stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals-Chicago Cubs game, the best baseball rivalry in the National League. I remain confident that the Tour of Missouri will draw tens of thousands of spectators as well.

Because of that, I once again urge you -- no matter which event you go see -- to give yourself plenty of time to get there and to take your time going home. The streets will be clogged with sports fans, as will be MetroLink, the St. Louis region's light-rail system. A bicycle just might be the best way to get around the city Sunday. To that end, the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation will be offering a bicycle parking service near Union Station, the start and finish line of Stage 6.

And Union Station is where we start our tour of the 10.6-mile circuit that Tour of Missouri cyclists will be circling seven times Sunday afternoon. In the middle of the 20th century, Union Station was the second-busiest railroad station in the nation, surpassed only by Chicago's Union Station. Today, it's a center for shopping and dining, but the station still adds a distinctive touch to the the city's skyline.

The course begins with a short downhill, the makes a long, gradual climb up Market Street to the A.G. Edwards headquarters at Market and Jefferson streets. The route passes Harris-Stowe State College and Saint Louis University's new basketball arena before reaching the trickiest part of the course.

After being on nice, wide Market Street, the peloton will have to squeeze into a single lane on the ramp from Market Street to Forest Park Boulevard. Making things a little more difficult is that there are grates on the left and right sides of the ramp that can easily gobble a road tire. I would think there would be barricades around those grates to ensure the riders' safety, but it's still going to be a tight squeeze on the ramp.

The course opens up again on the right lanes of tree-lined Forest Park Boulevard, which serves as home to businesses, apartments and single-family homes. The first of 10 designated Fan Zones is at the West End Lofts in the 4100 block of Forest Park Boulevard. The route continues on Forest Park Boulevard past Barnes-Jewish Hospital, underneath Kingshighway and into Forest Park itself. I wouldn't recommend trying to watch the race between Kingshighway and DeBalievere Avenue because access to that part of the route is limited.

Two Fan Zones are slated for DeBalievere Avenue north of Forest Park, one at Crossroads School (500 DeBalievere Ave.) and the other at the corner of DeBalievere and Delmar avenues.

At first glance, the Delmar Avenue stretch of the course doesn't seem all that impressive. It has a look of a neighborhood that has seen better days, but if you look closer, you will see signs that Delmar Avenue is coming back to life. The neighborhood is trying to build on the success of the University City Loop district, which is west of the Tour of Missouri route on Delmar.

The route continues on Delmar and across Kingshighway, then turns right onto Euclid Avenue and into one of St. Louis' most distinctive business and residential areas, the Central West End. The CWE is home to several sidewalk cafes and coffee shops, and no doubt will be extremely busy Sunday. Duff's, at 392 N. Euclid, and Cafe Balaban, 405 N. Euclid, have a reputation for having some of the city's best Sunday brunches. A bit further down the street is Coffee Cartel, rated by many as St. Louis' best coffee shop. There are several other choices, so I'm sure you can find something that will keep you nourished as you watch the race fly past you.

The route then turns left on Lindell Boulevard and passes some of the most distinctive architecture of the city. One building that stands out from the rest is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, more commonly known by locals as the New Cathedral. (The Old Cathedral, formally known as the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, still stands near the Gateway Arch.) As amazing as the exterior of the building is, the interior is even more amazing with its mosaic walls and ceilings.

The route continues on Lindell past Saint Louis University and the New Masonic Temple and merges with Olive Street east of Grand Boulevard. Olive Street is another street that had been in decline but is trying to stage a comeback. On 21st Street, just north of Olive, is the Schlafly Brewery and Tap Room, home to some of the city's best microbrew beer. If you look hard enough, you will find some bits of interesting architecture along Olive.

The route turns right on 15th Street past a couple of Fan Zones, then turns right on Market for toward the start-finish line.

Compared with what the cyclists encountered on Stages 4 and 5, the hills on this circuit will be a piece of cake. The hills on Market, Lindell and Olive are long, gradual grades.

Hope you enjoyed our little tour of Stage 6, and see you Sunday!

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