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Tour promises exciting day

The elite of the cycling race world will pedal through Innisfail, Sylvan Lake and Red Deer on Thursday.

The Tour of Alberta starts on Tuesday in Calgary with a prologue and time trial. Over five days, the pro cycling race will travel along 800 km of urban and rural roads and some 50 communities in the province. It wraps up in Edmonton on Sunday, Sept. 7.

Central Alberta will host the second stage on Thursday. Riders will start in Innisfail, travel northwest to Sylvan Lake, then east to Red Deer.

Riders will travel upwards of 75 km/h on the sprints or flats into the finish line.

The competition has a field of 15 world-class teams with eight riders each, including some that participated in the Tour de France earlier this summer.

A festival in Innisfail kicks off the spectator-friendly event with a free pancake breakfast, street performers, free barbecue, bouncy castles, local vendors, local musical entertainment and much more.

The party starts at 11 a.m. and finishes around 3 p.m.

“It’s an exciting day not only for Innisfail but for all of Alberta,” said Surina Carloni of the Innisfail organizing committee. “We are excited. It’s a good sport. It’s a healthy sport. It’s something to encourage people to get involved with.”

The town was not part of the tour in its inaugural run in 2013. Carloni said they are thrilled to be on the tour this year.

Former town councillor Stuart Little will fire the starting pistol after being nominated by residents because of his love of the sport and his community involvement. The cyclists will do two ceremonial laps around schools, hospitals and senior homes in the town before officially staring the race on Hwy 54.

Cyclists will enter Sylvan Lake from the west and do two laps of the town before heading first north and then east toward Red Deer. They will travel up Hwy 20 to the Aspelund Road and connect to Hwy 597 just south of Blackfalds, continuing east before heading south again, crossing the river to the east and entering Red Deer on Hwy 11.

Riders will go south on 30th Avenue once they arrive in Red Deer, to Ross Street. Heading west on Ross Street, they enter the downtown loop at the corner of Ross Street and 40th Avenue. The racers will do three loops of the downtown, each time climbing the Michener Hill before coming back down the Ross Street Hill.

The finish line and the festival will take over two blocks of Ross Street from 47th to 49th Avenues near City Hall Park. This year’s festival has expanded to include more booths along Ross Street to the east of 48th Avenue. The festival runs from 11 a.m. to about 5 p.m.

“We really focused on fitness and healthy living,” said George Berry, local organizing chairman. “It’s all about a festival and party that a bike race happens to come to. That’s what we’re really looking forward to.”

Riders are expected to enter Red Deer around 3 p.m. Last year, the riders were about 30 minutes ahead of schedule because of a 60 km/h tailwind that pushed the speeds.

Last year’s event drew complaints with residents in Clearview, Eastview and Rosedale who were upset about the road closures in their neighbourhoods.

Berry said this year they have shorten the timeframe for the rolling closures. Berry said the roads were closed too early because someone got too excited about the race. He hopes to keep the road closures in these areas to about 15 minutes.

Roads along the route will be closed about 20 minutes before the first riders. Residents will be able to cross the route and get in and out of subdivisions.

They will go into full-on hard closure after the first RCMP car comes on the route, about six minutes before the first riders.

“I think it’s great that we’re coming back to Red Deer for a second time,” said Berry. “The only other communities that are having a second time are Edmonton and Calgary. I think it says a lot about last year. Red Deer’s stage last year really pushed the bar up high.”

Last year, the Tour of Alberta drew 52,000 visitors and generated gross economic activity of $23.5 million in the province.

It was broadcast to 162 countries and had 41 million international viewers.

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