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Floods delay route planning for inaugural Tour of Alberta

Organizers are studying alternatives and say they’ll make final decisions by July 15

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Late June floods that left of many parts of southern Alberta under water have hit the pause button on final plans for September’s inaugural Tour of Alberta.

Roads mapped out for the final two stages — from Black Diamond to Canmore and from Okotoks to Calgary — were among those washed out or otherwise swamped by the floodwaters that caused an estimated $5 billion in damage.

Organizers are studying alternative routes and say they’ll have final decisions on any course corrections made by July 15. The race is scheduled for September 3-8.

“If there are any changes, we’re not straying very far,” said Val Mellesmoen, the tour’s communications director. “The route from Black Diamond to Canmore was our queen stage and still will be.”

That route was to have steered cyclists over 7,238-foot Highwood Pass as part of a 124-mile stage. But a 46-mile stretch of the mountain road remained closed to the public as of Friday afternoon.

“That’s on Highway 40, and that was the main part of the stage. That’s the only way you can make the connection” through the mountains, Mellesmoen said.

It’s also the only road through some of the prime recreation area in the Canadian Rockies. That has workers from Alberta Transportation and the province’s Tourism, Parks and Recreation Department combining on a fevered recovery and restoration schedule.

“There were several sections of the road that were washed out and some bridges and culverts in other sections that were washed out as well,” said Dave Hanna, Kananaskis Country area operations manager for the provincial tourism and parks department, who has surveyed the highway’s length from the air. “The Alberta government is working from the north end of Highway 40 and so far has access almost to the Highwood summit.”

While working on various plan-B routes, though, tour organizers have no plans to change any of the start or finishing towns.

“Our No. 1 thing is that we want to support the host communities,” Mellesmoen said. “Over that first week [after the floods] everyone reached out to us and said, ‘Hopefully, you’re not changing anything.’”

Among them was the city of Black Diamond, starting point of the queen stage.

“We did have a bit of a washout, but none of our starting facilities were affected and the place will be up and running,” Mayor Sharlene Brown said. “I’m not sure what direction they’ll take but as a starting community, we’re okay.”

A 10-mile finishing stretch of Alberta 1A along the Bow River into Canmore had been closed until Wednesday. Farther east along the Bow, a half-mile stretch of eastbound Memorial Drive on the run into the next day’s stage-5 finish in Calgary remains closed. The rest of the downtown, though, was open for business Friday and hosted an estimated 400,000 people for the parade that opens the annual Calgary Stampede.

“They’ve pretty much recovered in Calgary,” Mellesmoan said, noting that the parade route was “on some of the very streets we’re cycling on.”

“There still is some pavement crumbling here and there, but we have two months. When you see it from what it was two weeks ago, you’re going to be amazed.”