City closer to hosting elite cyclists

Some of the best cyclists in the world could pedal to Red Deer as part of the Tour of Alberta.

Some of the best cyclists in the world could pedal to Red Deer as part of the Tour of Alberta.

On Tuesday, city council agreed to allocate $77,000 towards the expenses related to the Tour of Alberta, subject to a letter of intent between the city and the local organizing committee.

The city is being considered the third-stage finish community.

The international cycling event will race through small towns and communities between Sept. 3 and 8. Communities will be announced in March and the route unveiled in April.

Although the route and the communities it visits have not been officially announced, the Tour of Alberta would start in Edmonton and end in Calgary.

It is proposed that Red Deer be the finish of a stage of the tour, with the race picking up the next morning in a different location.

On Tuesday afternoon the group of Liz Taylor, Tourism Red Deer executive director, Val Mellesmoen, Tour of Alberta director of marketing and communications, and Jenny Pogue, Tour of Alberta director of festivals and events, made their pitch to city council. Council voted in favour of being a finish stage, seven to one with Coun. Tara Veer absent and Coun. Chris Stephan voting against.

Competitors would stay overnight in Red Deer before heading out to their next stage.

One of the key people behind the tour is Alex Stieda, who lives and works in Edmonton. In 1986, he became the first North American to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France.

“He’s always wanted to bring a Tour de France-style race to Alberta,” said Mellesmoen. “With a bunch of like-minded people, including George Berry (the chair of the local organizing committee), they worked for many years to put together the kind of structure for it.”

But it all came together fairly quickly when the group was able to secure funding through the Rural Alberta Development Fund in January 2012.

The group was then able to go to the Union Cycliste Internationale and get the race sanctioned. The Tour of Alberta was officially sanctioned as a 2.1 race, one step below the Tour de France.

“It is a very high sanctioning for a first-year event,” said Mellesmoen. “With that 2.1 level, it makes us the highest ranked race to be held in Canada. Up to half of our teams can be of the same pro-level calibre that is in the Tour de France.”

The race will feature more than 150 elite cyclists in 16 teams, including up to eight international pro teams.

Part of the Rural Alberta Development Fund’s interest in the tour lies in the ability to showcase the province as the race traverses Alberta.

“It’s not just a major international sporting event to come to Edmonton or Calgary, or even Red Deer,” said Mellesmoen. “Its an opportunity for smaller communities to be able to host this kind of international festival.”

Mellesmoen said the economic impact would be significant, although it is difficult to put a hard figure on a first-time event. But the conservative estimate is between $30 million and $35 million for the province, and about $650,000 for Red Deer.

“We’re expecting up to 300,000 people (as spectators) for the six days of the race,” said Mellesmoen, including cycling enthusiasts and people who will travel from around the province and country to be a part of the event.

The other impact is from broader exposure to Alberta, which Mellesmoen said is hard to quantify. But organizers expect five million television broadcast viewers over the six days.

“If this race comes to Red Deer, which we hope it does, with that coming in you’re going to have probably a good hour of televised time across Canada within that live broadcast,” said Mellesmoen.

The route would showcase the variety of landscape in Alberta. Mellesmoen said it could include the hoodoos, mountains and prairie fields.

“For the first year in particular, we did look for some very iconic images for the province,” said Mellesmoen. “And some routes that will profile Alberta very well.”

Taylor said this is something Red Deer really should be involved in.

“It is a tremendous opportunity to be involved in something so big.”

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