The Devon to Red Deer route of the Tour of Alberta went off without a hitch despite a tailwind that brought in riders an hour ahead of schedule causing volunteers to scramble along the route.
Riders started in Devon around 10:50 a.m. and were expected to reach Red Deer between 3:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
“They were riding so much faster this year than they have in past years,” said George Berry, local organizing committee chairman. “There was a 20 to 30 km/hr tailwind out there coming from Devon. They were in Ponoka when we thought they would be in Wetaskiwin. They were going up hills faster than anybody thought.”
Despite the hiccup, Berry said the 200 volunteers quickly mobilized everybody on the street corners in Red Deer ensuring that the course would be in pristine shape for the elite cyclists. He said the crowd in downtown Red Deer was larger than expected.
“I couldn’t tell you the exact number,” said Berry. “Looking out there were wall to wall people from the west end of Ross Street to the east end of Ross Street.”
Berry has been out in the community talking to people about cycling and professional racing since Red Deer was named one of the communities along the inaugural Tour of Alberta route. He said the turn out was awesome and may have turned a few people into cycling fans.
Berry estimates the economic impact in Red Deer to be between $500,000 and $ 1 million.
Mayor Morris Flewwelling echoed Berry’s sentiments indicating this world class event was a money maker in the city and put Central Alberta on the map. He said the race is a showcase for Red Deer and Alberta.
“It was wow from start to finish,” said Flewwelling. “It was just so exciting … All of Red Deer turned out. When I got up to speak I was a little stunned. I looked down the street and there was a crowd shoulder to shoulder and they were hyped to the eyeballs.”
Duane Vienneau, Tour of Alberta executive director, said Red Deer’s organizing committee did a great job finishing Stage 2. Vienneau said there has been tremendous fan support since the prologue kicked off in Edmonton on Tuesday. Vienneau said these races cannot go ahead without the support of the community. He said Red Deer did a tremendous job.
“When you do an inaugural event, you really don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Vienneau. “You build it for the best case scenario and right it’s all working out and weather has been on our side. All things considered, we’re very happy.”
Like the Tour de France, the route changes every year. As soon as the Tour of Alberta wraps up on Sunday, organizers will begin planning for the next one.
Berry said the committee will definitely be looking to hosting a “bigger and better” stage in 2014.
Cyclists now race from Strathmore to Drummheller in the third stage of the Tour of Alberta. The race wraps up in Calgary on Sunday.