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And they were off…

“Kind of like a big sneeze,” was the analogy used to describe the excitement and pandemonium building up to the Tour of Missouri 2009 Leg Three start Wednesday morning.

The local organizing committee had worked for months to see the day would be one to remember in Farmington. Race organizers had planned for well over a year for the seven-day race, and excitement around town began to rise in recent weeks.

Expo booths and hospitality tents started going up long before sunrise Wednesday. Columbia and Harrison streets were closed from A Street to Jackson Street starting Tuesday evening. Race teams started arriving at about 9 a.m.

Thousands converged on Farmington and the route along Route 221 leading out of town and toward Rolla. That number included an estimated 4,000 school children let out of class for an hour or so to view the piece of history in the making.

The start line near the courthouse downtown was jam-packed as announcers on two stages relayed the activities leading up to the 11 a.m. start time. Top riders were interviewed over the public address system, then stopped to sign autographs and pose for pictures. The crowd pressed in along starting area barriers and the sound level rose as the announcers and loud music pumped up the enthusiasm of onlookers.

The police department had began shutting down the race route starting at 10:30 a.m. That route stretched from Columbia Street downtown to Ste. Genevieve Avenue all the way to Walters Street, Fleming Street from Ste. Genevieve Avenue to Walters, and Walters Street from Fleming to Ste. Genevieve Avenue. They will also close Carleton Street from Ste. Genevieve Avenue to Liberty Street, Liberty from Carleton to Black Knight Drive, and Black Knight Drive from Liberty to Columbia. The final closure will be Route 221 from Black Knight Drive to west of the U.S. 67 overpass.

Just west of the overpass sat two roadway markers noting “0 KM”, indicating the start of the 114-mile trek west.

The excitement continued to build downtown. Mayor Stuart “Mit” Landrum took the stage at the start line and thanked the crowd and participants for visiting Farmington. He introduced dignitaries in the crowd, then invited Bill Towler and Ursula Kthiri, co-chairs for the local organizing committee for the race, onto the stage to say a few words.

Towler and Kthiri introduced a group of elementary students who would greet the racers in foreign languages native to the nations represented by the race teams. The different schools in the community have been working on the 23-country list provided by Tour of Missouri organizers.

Jonathan Bouse, a student at Truman Kindergarten Center, welcomed the racers in English. Sarah Doty, of Roosevelt Elementary, gave her welcome in French Marianna Clubb, a student at Lincoln Intermediate, gave a welcome in Spanish. And Rebekah Sutherland, of St. Paul Lutheran School, gave a salutation in German.

Students were to also present flags denoting the 23 countries along the route. Truman Kindergarten decorated flags for New Zealand and the United States. Jefferson Elementary represented Argentina, Australia and Serbia/Montenegro. Roosevelt represented Canada, Belarus, and Uzbekistan flags. Washington-Franklin Elementary made flags for Italy, Slovenia and Spain. Lincoln Intermediate represented Brazil, Colombia, Denmark and Poland. The Farmington Middle School students had worked on flags for Belgium, Netherlands, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine flags.

St. Joseph Catholic School represented Switzerland, while St. Paul Lutheran School gave visual welcomes to Germany and Great Britain.

Following the greetings, the major sponsors for the third leg of the race were announced. Then at about 10:50 a.m. the top riders going into the third day of the race were introduced, including Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish who had won the races on Monday and Tuesday.

As the other top riders were “called out” and took their place on either side of Cavendish, photographers and videographers from dozens of international media outlets gathered on the course in front of the riders for the “money shot,” as one tour organizer referred to the photo opportunity.

At 10:57 a.m. the JROTC Color Guard, based at Farmington High School, took to the street just ahead of the start line for the presentation of colors. The National Anthem was played as a trumpet solo by Farmington High School student Kayla Drye. Cyclists adjusted their mounts and waited for Mayor Landrum’s 11 a.m. firing of the starting pistol. Cavendish calmly dismounted his cycle and made a last-minute adjustment to his rear brake.

Then with a snap of the pistol cap the racers, led by Cavendish, headed east on Columbia Street to complete the in-town loop, or “parade” portion of the race. The first roughly four-mile section took riders from Columbia Street to Ste. Genevieve Avenue, right on Fleming, left on Walters Drive, left on Ste. Genevieve Avenue headed back west, right on Carleton, left on Liberty, left on Black Knight Drive and right onto Route 221. Residents, visitors and students lined the route to see the world’s top cycling athletes pedal by.

The official competitive “rolling” start happened just west of the U.S. 67/Route 221 overpass near Walker Drive. From that point racers headed west on Route 221 through Doe Run and continued north to State Route 21 near Pilot Knob. The racers were to make their way more than 100 miles northwest to Rolla over the next four hours. The day’s race was considered to be the most challenging portion of this year’s tour.

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