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Short bike race, major planning effort underway in Auburn, for May 16 Amgen tour leg

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The time is 1:03 p.m. The date is May 16. Traveling an average of 26 mph, the leaders in the Amgen Tour of California’s first leg from Nevada City to Sacramento pedal past throngs of cheering cycling fans on Auburn’s Palm Avenue. Three minutes later, they’re in Old Town, with helicopters hovering overhead and the courthouse a towering beacon above crowds of noisy onlookers. Two minutes after that, the brightly-colored column of cyclists starts climbing up Lincoln Way in Downtown Auburn as an exuberant crowd at one of the best vantage points for the race in the city claps, rings cowbells and roars encouragement. At 1:13 p.m. the cyclists are out of the city and on their way to another downhill along Foresthill Road to cross the scenic Foresthill Bridge. It’s a scenario that’s already scripted. Ten minutes of racing in Auburn and 10 minutes that the city of Auburn is already working to ensure will be a memorable experience – for the tens of thousands of spectators who may flock to the city, for residents used to a much quieter Sunday experience, and for Amgen officials who may consider returning in the future. Throw in the Auburn Home Show that day at the Gold Country Fairgrounds and dozens of churches getting out as spectators begin to move in search for parking spaces. Auburn Police Capt. John Ruffcorn describes the Amgen visit as comparable to the annual Festival of Lights Parade “on steroids.” That parade draws tens of thousands to a more compact route and lasts about two hours. The Amgen tour will spread out the parade of bikes to about six miles of Auburn streets but dramatically shorten the length of time the procession starts and finishes. The logistics are daunting but work is already underway with the California Highway Patrol playing a key role to ensure a smooth transition from bike race back to normal traffic flows. Auburn Police Capt. John Ruffcorn said the Highway Patrol will be instituting “rolling closures” along portions of county roads. The patrol has 10 officers assigned to the tour itself and another 33 officers will be on duty that Sunday. For the Auburn Police, one of the logistical priorities will be to control the route, crossroads and even driveways. There are 211 driveways along the roads the cyclists will pass, including what are considered seven major ones. They include entrances to Calvary Chapel on Auburn Ravine Road and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Lincoln Way. Fifty streets need to be secured, including ensuring vehicles are off the streets when riders move through. Costs haven’t been determined for the city’s part of the tour but they are a concern, Ruffcorn said. The department is attempting to keep costs within current budgets, he said. “The whole city is going to be impacted but we want to minimize that,” Ruffcorn said. “We’re confident our staff has the ability to accomplish that.” Bob Snyder, an ex-city council member who is working on Auburn’s race committee, said the Amgen tour visit is an excellent chance for Auburn to show the spirit of the town and embrace biking. “We can do it,” Snyder said. “It’s only a few months away but we’re already doing a lot of planning on how we can make the event as fun as possible.” Snyder added that local proponents are hoping to impress on Amgen organizers that Auburn is a desirable place for the race to return. Volunteers will be needed and while there is no volunteer signup at this time, people could contact the Auburn Chamber of Commerce to let organizers know they’re interested, Snyder said. The Auburn Home Show will be attempting to steer traffic to its event from Interstate 80 onto Indian Hill Road to detour around the race. But the show’s Lani Johnston Horan said the re-routing will only be for a short time during what is a three-day home show. Horan said Amgen should be a benefit to the home and garden event. Plans already are in place for a bike raffle. “I think it’s going to pump up attendance,” she said. “And I know a lot of exhibitors are excited. They’re getting into the spirit of this.”