For the Amgen Tour of California's final three stages, the men share a spotlight with the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women's Race. For the fans, the result is double the fun and double the excitement where the routes overlap. About an hour after the women kickoff their Stage 1 in Elk Grove, the men will be anxiously awaiting their start in Stockton. This should be a day for the sprinters as the 110-mile stage will feature just over 2,500 feet of climbing and only one notable ascent. Like Long Beach, Stockton hasn't seen the peloton for 11 years but is excited to return with a course that starts at Stockton Arena near the waterfront. While not traversing the city's downtown, Stockton offer visitors a slew of activities.
From California's inland port city, the race heads northeast on State Route 88, passing little known farms and vineyards along the way. The area comprises the northern reaches of the immensely productive San Joaquin Valley, the "food basket of the world." The region is well-known, but is less known for the wide variety of products raised here. As the Tour races north on Clements Road, we see an excellent example of this diversity. Less than one mile before turning into the Sierra foothills is Legacy Ranch. The Ranch is a horse farm specializing in the breeding and training of competitive thoroughbred stallions. An impressive facility, it features a full 5/8-mile track and plenty of green pastures to make this a relaxing place for horse and humans. Legacy Ranch may not be what one would expect from the famed San Joaquin Valley, but if there's one thing the Amgen Tour of California shows, it's that assumptions should be left by the roadside.
A right turn onto State Route 12 points the peloton in the direction of Amador County's gold country around Buena Vista and the town of Ione. Skirting this historic town of just under 8,000 residents, Ione's iconic "castle" is clearly distinguished over the treetops. Old Ione was founded as a Gold Rush town in 1849. Even today, the town's three-block downtown remains true to this heritage with intricate but delicate classic wild west facades. Just a little further outside town is the Preston Castle. Built in 1894, this building formed the centerpiece of the Preston School of Industry. This institution was a novel method of reforming juvenile youth without subjecting them to prison terms. Reflecting this ambition is the castle's elegant, if out of place, Romanesque Revival style. Its bright red sandstone bricks were made by prisoners at San Quentin and Folsom prisons and look today just as pristine as the day they were laid. The castle operated until 1960 and the Preston School closed its doors for good in 2010. Tours are offered many Saturdays throughout the year, but make sure to stop by for the castle's annual haunted house or nighttime paranormal investigations for a real thrill.
The race continues to descend from Ione, meandering into Sacramento County for a fast finish into Elk Grove. Ten miles from the finish, the course levels off and turns north for the final run-in, coming within arm's reach of the women's course and the lovely Cosumnes River Preserve. Bring a bike to manageably navigate between both races and the Preserve's Visitor Center, not even three miles away. The Preserve is a force of nature - a vast 50,000 acres conservation area that honors the last free-flowing river in the San Joaquin Valley. As a result, its waters form a broad watershed that is filled with a diversity of birds and plants that benefit from the river's annual floods and rarely seen in other portions of California. Historically, these floods necessitated a ferry to operate but during low periods today make for soothing and fascinating hikes or paddles through the watery maze of sloughs.