The inaugural Tour of Alberta, which kicks off next week, might look more like a race through Belgium or northern France
Peloton-busting crosswinds, breakaway-encouraging rollers, and the possibility of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) mimicking a roaring T-Rex await next week’s inaugural Tour of Alberta.
Shorn of a trip through the Canadian Rockies by floods that rocked the province in late June, the six-day, UCI 2.1 America Tour event instead borrows its flavor more from northern Europe, where short climbs and echelons often make the race and break the racers.
“I think Alberta is definitely going to be a strongman’s course, one for the classics rider,” said Jeff Corbett, technical director for Medalist Sports and the Alberta route’s architect.
When former pro Alex Stieda — an Edmonton resident and the first North American to wear yellow in the Tour de France — began thinking/planning for the race a decade ago, he saw it as a way to showcase the province’s varied terrain, including the Rockies. But floodwaters washed out bridges on the main road of what would have been the Tour’s queen stage. The mountains, Stieda said, will have to wait for subsequent years.
Nature, though, will have its say.
“This isn’t going to be a big race sorted out by climbing, but how the riders handle the winds,” Stieda said. “This is going to be like Belgium or Holland or northern France. The teams will have to know where the winds are, pay attention and understand where the route is taking them.”
After Tuesday’s difficult prologue in Edmonton there will be five sprint finishes. That sets up nicely for Sagan, assuming he isn’t worn out from his four wins at the USA Pro Challenge. The stage 3 finish in the town of Drumheller, under what’s billed as the “world’s largest dinosaur” statue, could allow Sagan to add to his victory celebration quiver of wheelies, Forrest Gump, and the Incredible Hulk.
Along with Sagan’s squad, other UCI ProTeams teams on hand are Argos-Shimano, Belkin, BMC Racing, Garmin-Sharp, and Orica-GreenEdge. They’re joined by Continental teams Champion System and UnitedHealthCare, and Continental squads Bissell, 5-Hour Energy, Garneau-Québecor, Jelly Belly-Kenda, Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies, SmartStop-Mountain Khakis, and the Canadian National Team.
Tuesday, September 3
Edmonton to Edmonton
4.5 miles/7.8 kilometers
Starting and finishing in Sir Winston Churchill Square downtown, the technical course has 11 turns, a screaming 1-kilometer downhill that hugs the North Saskatchewan River and a testy 1km climb up Fortway Drive with sections steeper than 7 percent.
“We pushed the limits of UCI rules, which says [prologues can be] a maximum of 8km,” Corbett said, “and we also tried to make it hard and technical because we did want some [time] separation.”
Wednesday, September 4
Sherwood Park to Camrose
97 miles/158 kilometers
Leaving from the suburbs east of Edmonton, the stage heads north along the river to Fort Saskatchewan and the first intermediate sprint at 27km. From there, riders turn for the most part south along open, rural roads to another intermediate sprint, this time at Androssan at 60km. Rollers take over for the next 80km into the finishing town and three circuits. Assuming a bunch finish occurs, sprinters’ teams will face a 90-degree right turn at 500 meters, then a 200-meter climb before a flat last 200 meters to the line.
“It is wide, wide open farmland out there,” Corbett said. “There’s a lot of exposed terrain … and I would expect to see four, five, or six echelons forming, with the ProTour teams staying together because they know how to race those kinds of races.”
Thursday, September 5
Devon to Red Deer
108 miles/175 kilometers
Leaving from just south of Edmonton, riders encounter the first intermediate sprint at 57km in Wetaskiwin and the second at 95km in Ponoka. Then the rollers start for the next 58km, including the first KOM points on a sharp, 1.6km climb up from the Red Deer River with a section at greater than 10 percent. A fast descent takes the riders into the town of Red Deer and a three-lap, downhill finish.
“About halfway through stage 2 is where the race kind of changes its tone,” Corbett said. “We get away from the flats and finally into some topography, with good rollers and the first KOM. It’s the first chance for the guys who are sitting there biding their time to come out and play.”
Friday, September 6
Strathmore to Drumheller
106 miles/170 kilometers
Riders pass through wide-open prairie land for most of the day as the race reverses direction, starting from Strathmore east of Calgary and heading northeast to the Badlands. There’s an intermediate sprint at the finish line at 93km, then a loop to the north with two KOMs: The first is a 5km climb out of Drumheller and another 3km climb up from the Red River on Highway 27. Then it’s back into Drumheller, which bills itself as “the dinosaur capital of the world.”
“There’s about 1,000 meters of rollers, some good leg softeners, before we get to those two KOMs,” Corbett said. “The thing I like about this stage and these climbs is that makes them challenging is that both of them don’t have direct descents. You climb up to a plateau, so if you get dropped you can’t just tuck and bomb.”
Saturday, September 7
Black Diamond to Black Diamond
105 miles/169 kilometers
The stage originally called for a climb over the 7,300-foot Highwood Pass, but the flood damage to the roads and bridges through the Rockies called for a change of plans. Instead of an uphill finish to the Canmore Nordic Center, there’s now a start and finish in tiny (population 2,000) Black Diamond. On the way are 10 distinct climbs, among them two KOMs on a 40km loop north of town that racers will see twice.
“It was a real queen stage, a high-altitude climbing day and an uphill finish, but once we realized [repairs] couldn’t be done in time, we had to look for something that could replace it,” Corbett said. “So we found a number of smaller climbs and did them cumulatively, and we only have about 100 meters less climbing.”
Sunday, September 8
Okotoks to Calgary
82 miles/132 kilometers
The race leaves Okotoks and heads toward the Rockies foothills, climbing gradually for the first 64km (with a KOM point at 42km) before a 58km run down into Calgary. The riders will skirt the Bow River along Memorial Drive (site of some of the city’s worst floods but since repaired) then cross the river into downtown. A three-lap finish ends five blocks north of the Calgary Tower at the corner of Centre Street and 4th Avenue.
“It’s not all that different from the last stage of Colorado when we left Golden, climbed Lookout Mountain, and then into Denver for circuits,” Corbett said, referring to the inaugural USA Pro Challenge in 2011. “We threw in a KOM early, and there’s a run into Calgary for some fast finishing circuits. That model played really well in Denver, and it should be a fun sprint.”