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Friday, September 12, 2008

Stage 7: 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 have one piece of advice: Bring your rain gear to watch Sunday's Stage 7.

The remnants of Hurricane Ike are expected to come into the St. Louis area sometime Saturday and stay around well into Sunday. The National Weather Service is predicting a 100 percent chance of rain Sunday. At least one media outlet is predicting up to 5 inches of rain to fall as a result of Ike.

Nevertheless, 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 city.

As I mentioned last year, St. Louis has taken its share of punches over the past four decades with population losses and crime, but 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 St. Louis Cardinals, who have won more World Series titles than any other team, except for the New York Yankees.

Last year, the final stage of the Tour of Missouri drew about 50,000 people, tour organizers estimated. I thought that was rather good, considering about 45,000 people were watching the Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs in Busch Stadium and about 60,000 people were watching the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers play at the Edward Jones Dome.

This year, only the Rams are in town at the same time as the Tour of Missouri. The Rams take on the world champion New York Giants at noon at the Dome. Stage 7 is slated to begin at 2 p.m. and end about 4:50, minimizing conflicts on the streets and MetroLink, the city's light-rail system, between football fans and cycling fans.

Still, I might give yourself time to get there and to give yourself time going home. Even with the rain, a bicycle 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 at the Soldiers' Memorial at 13th and Chestnut streets.

This year's Stage 7 begins and ends on Market Street in front of the St. Louis City Hall, rather than Union Station, where the finish line was last year. City Hall is about four blocks east of Union Station.

However, we'll start our tour of the 13.5-mile Stage 7 circuit at Union Station. The Tour of Missouri will be making five trips around the circuit. In the first half 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 a tricky 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.

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 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.

At DeBalievere, the route turns left into Forest Park. It goes to the left of the Missouri Historical Museum and continues on Lagoon and Fine Arts drives past the St. Louis Art Museum and the St. Louis Zoo to Government Drive. From there, the circuit continues on Theatre and Grand drives before turning right onto Union Boulevard. The route continues on Union until it turns right on Delmar Avenue.

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, has a reputation for having one 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.

Last year, the route turned left on Lindell Boulevard and passed some of the most distinctive architecture of the city. This year, the route stays on Euclid to Forest Park Boulevard. The racers will turn left onto Forest Park Boulevard and go east until reaching Compton Avenue between the St. Louis University and Harris-Stowe campus.

From there, the circuit turns right on Olive Street. 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 wide Tucker Boulevard, then turns right on Market for toward the start-finish line.

Compared with what the cyclists encountered on Stage 6, the hills on this circuit will be a piece of cake. The hills on Market and Olive are long, gradual grades.

Also Sunday, there will be Family Fun Village features Demonstrations and entertainment throughout the day, including live music, Kid’s Safety on Bikes Program, St. John’s Helmet Fittings and low cost helmets available to purchase. Check out the Metro bike rack, and get a free smoothie from Trailnet’s Bike Blender.

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

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