Pro-cycling comes to Alberta

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The waiting is over for cycling fans across Alberta and the globe. Those looking for the best roadside seats at the various finish lines for the newest pro-cycling event now know where to set up their lawn chairs, signs, and sun umbrellas.

On March 5, members of the cycling community and local leaders gathered to announce the host cities and towns for the inaugural Tour of Alberta, a six-day, 850-kilometre, ride across the province.

The Union Internationale Cyclistes (UIC) and Canadian Cycling Association (CCA) sanctioned the event as 2.1 race, the highest level pro-cycling event in Canada’s history. The 2.1 ranking allows the top cyclists in the world to showcase their abilities at the Tour of Alberta.

“We are the highest ranking tour in Canada. We had to work very hard to get that,” said Brian Jolly, chair of the Alberta Peloton Association (APA). “Had we not got that ranking we would not be bringing in Tour de France riders. We felt strongly enough that we would be in a position to leverage our ability to attract medalists. We are in a good position to not have to be tested.”

Medalist Sports based out of Atlanta bring a wealth of experience as promoter of the event and they charged with drawing the top cycling teams from around the globe. They are hoping several of which will feature prominent Canadian riders.

“Our business plan is to have 15, possibly 16 teams, of eight riders per team, which is a traditional size for many of the North American events. We’ll have about 120-128 pro-cyclists,” said Chris Aronhalt, Managing Partner at Medalist Sports. “Without question we want to have Canada represented on as many teams as we can. There are a few teams that will be from here in Canada that will be considered and then some of the teams from around the world that have Canadian riders on them, such as Garmin and Ryder Hesjdal, who obviously be in top demand.”

The announcement of the teams that are selected is expected to be in the early summer, between May and June.

Riders in the Tour of Alberta will start with a prologue in Edmonton on Sept. 3 and follow a tough course through the rural prairies, foothills, badlands and mountains across Alberta until the riders will race to the finish in downtown Calgary on Sept. 8.

The prologue in Edmonton is an eight-kilometre time trial to determine which rider will wear the leader’s jersey for the initial stage the following day. This is the only stage that will start and end in the same city.

Following prologue, is the first stage is a 155km ride from Stathcona County to Camrose on Sept. 4. The next stage is a 185km stretch from Devon to Red Deer. The third stage is ride from Strathmore to Drumheller spanning 175kms. The longest stage is on day 5 when riders must make the 210km trek from Black Diamond to Canmore. The final and “shortest” stage is 150kms from Okotoks to Calgary.

The tough decision to select each of the host communities was based on a combination of geography and their ability showcase their unique cultural experiences. Although some communities may not have been chosen to host they may still have the opportunity to see the riders up-close.

“We had to look at exposure for different kinds of communities in the province. You have number one the industrial areas, then the farmland areas, then the badlands and the mountains. To find a route suitable for all that, we had to try and connect the dots to make sense,” said Jolly.

“Plus, you have to get a lot of approvals on road closures to do these things. We actually had a lot of communities wanting to be involved. There may be communities that didn’t make it at hosts this year, but they are probably on the route so they do have some exposure of what they give to Alberta. That is all part of the event to expose the rural areas to tourism and other attractions,” said Jolly.

The event will be free to anyone wishing to see the stars of the sport up close and feature festivals and celebrations at host communities across the province.

To date event organizers and officials have faced very few challenges and do not expect a difficult time putting the finishing touches on the event that is sure to attract thousands of cycling fans from around the world for years to come.

“So far we are in great hands. We have support from the RCMP and the host communities. I think for a first year event the biggest challenge will be trying to reach our potential in the inaugural year,” said Aronhalt.

“As quickly as we can get the learning curve behind us, as this is somewhat of a first for the province, and really focus on the legacy of the Tour of Alberta and the tradition that it will become.”