STOCKTON — Eric Smith described the Amgen Tour as a moving postcard of California.
Today’s version will be stamped and sent from downtown Stockton.
The Tour of California’s fifth stage will begin on a frontage road between Stockton Arena and University Plaza Waterfront Hotel, and the riders will go through Stockton into Gold Rush Country before finishing in Elk Grove. The race begins at 11:20 a.m., with a pre-race festival at 9 a.m.
A large crowd is expected outside the arena to see off the field of 119 riders. Smith believes fans along the route will see a fast, competitive stage.
He is the technical director for the tour and the main architect for course of the race, a job he has held since the inception of the tour in 2006. He said he sees the event as a chance to show off the state.
“This part of the country is compelling and each stage is unique,” Smith said. “I do tell people this race is like a moving postcard of California. From Stockton to the Gold Rush area, this is beautiful country.”
Smith said he begins planning each year by determining the overall start and finish cities, in this case Long Beach and Sacramento, respectively.
“Then we see what cities we can work with,” Smith said.
The tour was last in Stockton in 2007, and was in Lodi in 2015 and 2016. Today’s course will take the competitors through the heart of downtown Stockton as they travel north on El Dorado Street and turn east onto Harding Way. The riders will be under controlled speeds until they hit the end of Harding and turn left onto Waterloo Road. They will will leave town and hit speeds exceeding 40 miles an hour.
The riders will travel into the foothills and around Pardee Lake. It’s in this area that the course has its only real elevation, a 400-foot climb.
“It’s not a terribly steep climb,” Smith said. “But it will catch the attention of the riders.”
But the majority of the course will be fast and flat, and the last 30 miles into Elk Grove should be a full-on sprint.
The course should provide fun and familiar viewing for fans family with the local bike routes, according to Jeff Hood of Galt. He is a longtime cycling enthusiast who also helped put on Tour of California events as Lodi’s director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services.
“It looks like a good, fast route,” Hood said. “It should be fun.”
Fans will be at the start, finish and many locations in between. While there are watch parties, others will just journey out along the route and take in the sights and sounds of the race.
One of those people is Jim Hellyer of Valley Springs, a 60-year-old retired airline pilot who is treasurer of the Stockton Bicycle Club. He plans to go to the hill near Pardee Lake, which is about eight miles from his house.
“For all the fans around here, it’s huge,” Hellyer said. “It’s a fine course. I’ve been on about 80 percent of the roads that they will use.”
Smith is hoping for another postcard-worthy day on the roads of California.
“It will look good on TV,” Smith said. “I know there will be large crowds in Stockton, and even larger ones in Elk Grove. No one is going to be disappointed.”
Contact reporter Scott Linesburgh at (209) 546-8282 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@ScottLinesburgh.