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Monday, June 23, 2008

Tour of Missouri to be ‘deceivingly tougher’

Organizers of the Tour of Missouri bicycle race Sept. 8-14 say this year's course will be "deceivingly tougher" than the course for last year's inaugural event.

For one, the race has grown from six to seven stages, and organizers say there are more hills this year.

That won't be comfort to the racers, many of whom were surprised by how hilly Missouri can be.

This year's Tour of Missouri starts in St. Joseph on Sept. 8, and roughly follows the Missouri River to Kansas City. "The first 50-plus miles feature a series of relentless small, uncategorized climbs, some of which form a panoramic view of the Missouri River. This differs from the relatively flat out-and-back course featured on the course last year for Stage 1," according to a description of the stages.

Stage 2 (Sept. 9) once again starts in Clinton and winds up in Springfield. This is the stage where George Hincapie pulled off a major breakaway that enabled him to win the 2007 event. Hincapie will be back to defend his title.

Stage 3 (Sept. 10) will be an 18-mile time trial on the hilly roads of Branson and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Stage 4 (Sept. 11) starts in Lebanon and will take competitors through a hilly course to Rolla. Plans call for the route to go through a portion of Fort Leonard Wood as a tribute to U.S. troops. The route also features a 12 percent grade near Waynesville.

Stage 5 (Sept. 12) begins in the wine country town of St. James and goes up and down a series of small hills to Jefferson City, the state capitol.

Stage 6 (Sept. 13) differs from the next-to-last stage in 2007. Last year, that stage started in Jefferson City and ended in St. Charles. This year, the stage will start in Hermann, the heart of Missouri's wine country, and ends in St. Charles. The new route eliminates the relatively flat part of the course between Jefferson City and Hermann, but the difficult climbs on Augusta Bottom and Schluersburg roads near Augusta remain, and a difficult climb of Old Colony Road near Defiance has been added to the course. From Old Colony Road, the route continues to O'Fallon, Mo., then heads into the flat Mississippi River valley before heading into St. Charles.

The final stage (Sept. 14) remains a circuit course in the city of St. Louis. Instead of starting and finishing at Union Station on Market Street, the start-finish line will be in front of City Hall a few blocks east on Market. Racers will be making five trips around the 14-mile circuit.

This year's course will start on Market, continue on Forest Park Boulevard, loop through a portion of Forest Park, returns to the Central West End -- a popular place to watch the race because of all the outdoor cafes -- turns east on Forest Park Boulevard, turns north on Compton Avenue, returns downtown on Olive Street to Tucker Boulevard, then back to Market.

In case you're wondering, the St. Louis Rams will have a home game at noon Sept. 14 against the New York Giants, but the St. Louis Cardinals will be on the road, so traffic may not be as big of an issue.

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