Excitement builds as Tour of Alberta race draws near
Vying to be the first to pull on the Tour of Alberta yellow jersey, 120 world-class cyclists will compete in the biggest stage race in Canadian history in a few short weeks.
The inaugural six-stage race will kick off with a prologue on Sept. 3 in Edmonton, before cyclists pedal on to the stages the next day.
The riders will race through a number of Alberta communities, including Red Deer. The tour wraps up on Sept. 8 in Calgary.
No doubt cycling enthusiasts are counting down the days until history is made on Canadian soil.
But to the average person who may not give professional cycling a second thought, the magnitude and understanding of the major international sporting event might be somewhat baffling.
George Berry, chairman of the local Tour of Alberta organizing committee, said every professional cycling event has a strong festival component to it — and that makes it different from other professional sporting events such as hockey or football.
Berry believes curiosity that will bring Red Deerians and Albertans to the sidelines, hoping for a glimpse of the best of the best in cycling.
“It’s a little bit of a novelty for people,” said Berry, an avid cyclist.
“They have never seen this or experienced it.
“I think people will see it’s more than a bike race when the festival comes down with it. ... That’s the aspect of cycling that a lot of people don’t experience or do not see.”
There will be local exhibits, children’s activities, live music, a giant screen broadcasting the race and demonstrations at the festival headquarters.
Berry said the communities on the tour will aim to pull off a party atmosphere while waiting for the cyclists to start or finish.
Some of the cycling world’s rising stars, like Slovak Peter Sagan, who won the green jersey in this year’s Tour de France, and Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal, will be riding for yellow. The 15 teams from Canada, United States, Australia, Netherlands, Italy, China and Switzerland have been announced with final rosters to follow next week.
Berry wants to point out that a professional cycling race is a team event.
“A lot of people think it is an individual sport,” said Berry. “Over the years, we heard an awful lot about Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong would not have won the races he won without a team. It’s very much a team sport. Any of the riders would not have won without a strong team behind them. It takes an entire team to help them through.”
Each team has eight cyclists with one cyclist designated as the leader. The team works together to get the leader across the line first. Each cyclist rides to his strength, whether its setting the pace, sprinting or hill climbing.
Usually the team leader will not be at the very front of the race. He’ll be riding towards the front of the main pack in someone’s draft to save about 30 per cent of his energy.
“Peter Sagan’s team will be certainly working for him to win some of the flatter stages,” said Berry. “He may be the biggest name on the Cannondale team. They could be working for him for the overall. He’s certainly capable of winning the overall Tour of Alberta.”
The longtime cyclist said he is thrilled that more people in Red Deer and around Alberta will be exposed to cycling and will learn about professional racing.
He stressed it is more than just the guy who finishes first, and that there are races within races.
After each stage of the tour, some or all of six jerseys for a rider’s performance will be awarded.
In the 1986 Tour de France, Edmontonian Alex Stieda took the yellow, polka dot, the multi-coloured and the red and the white, on the second day. He was the first North American to lead the Tour de France and ultimately finished 120th overall.
At 52, Stieda is still immersed in the cycling world and was instrumental in bringing this tour to Alberta. Stieda will give insight on strategy and tactics while providing commentary for Sportsnet in Canada.
Stieda said the professional stage race is a perfect way to showcase the province to the rest of the world.
“It’s a celebration of a number of things,” said Stieda. “It’s a celebration of sport. These guys are incredible athletes.
“It’s a great way to put Alberta on the world stage. If you think about a football or hockey game, you can’t take these games out and put them out in the communities like you can with cycling. It’s a moving postcard.”
The Tour of Alberta is expected to generate $30 million to $35 million in economic activity for Alberta and roughly $750,000 in Red Deer.
“Its like bringing the Tour de France to Alberta,” said Stieda.