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Tour of Alberta route includes opening team time trial in oil country

The stage race will have a team time trial for the first time in its three-year history, which organizers are calling a worlds preview.

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Alberta (VN) — The Tour of Alberta begins Wednesday with many firsts bundled into the third-year event’s six days of racing. A short, evening team time trial will initiate the newness in a city where the oil and gas industry rules.

Canada’s fastest-growing area is accustomed to the constant groan of heavy equipment. But it’s involved in the Tour of Alberta for the first time and is thus unfamiliar with pro bike racing, particularly cyclists riding in tight packs at high speeds.

The Tour of Alberta has also never featured a team time trial. The race’s 15 teams will pedal 12.2 miles beginning at 6:15 p.m. on a course established as a preamble to the TTT at the UCI Road World Championships on Sept. 20 in Richmond, Virginia.

“It’s took us a few minutes to convince the city, but they soon embraced it,” Jeff Corbett, the race’s technical director, said with a smile Tuesday at the press-race press conference. “It’s a final tune-up for the world championships, and basically it’s half the distance. It’s a flat, fast 20k and a bit technical.”

The opening day of the 538-mile race will also include a few other differences then the pending TTT in Richmond. The riders in Alberta will race on road bikes, not specialty time trial bikes. And for most of the 120-rider field who will compete in Richmond, the configuration of their squads will be different.

Correspondingly, while some of the cyclists, including Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), have ridden TTTs several times this season, the infrequently contested discipline will present its challenges to other riders.

“It’s really hard to train in the situation where you all line up on the start ramp together,” said Hesjedal, who competed in TTTs this year at the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. “There’s nothing like it in sport. The more times you can practice, the better you are.

“Definitely, in the last two years, you’ve really seen the teams that really perform well in the team time trial are the teams that practice a lot. I think you’ll see the difference in the race from those teams that practice and are really able to ride well together.”

Cannondale hasn’t fared well in recent TTTs. The squad was 19th of 22 teams on the opening-day route of the Giro and was 12th in the discipline on stage 9 of the Tour de France. BMC Racing, which is not competing in the Tour of Alberta, is the reigning Tour de France TTT champion and the current world champion.

Orica-GreenEdge, which won the TTT at the Giro, is among the favorites in Alberta, with nine-time national time trial winner Svein Tuft, a home country favorite, as its catalyst. Tuft powered the squad to runner-up finishes in the world championship team time trial in 2014 and 2013, and third in the 2012 event.

“When you do a team time trial it’s about how the team gels together,” said Fred Rodriguez (Jelly Belly), who early in his long career finished 86th in the Tour de France with his Mapei squad placing eighth in the team time trial. “There will be a big difference in bikes; we’ll run a lot slower (in Alberta). The higher speed time trials, of course, would actually be more dangerous.

“There’s a big difference when you’re going 65km per hour than 55km per hour. The bikes make a big difference and the teams will have to take that into account when they get to worlds.”

In the opening Tour of Alberta stage, the teams will negotiate city streets in downtown and pedal in the southern edge of the Peace River region on the highway. The winning team, of course, will place its first finisher in the race leader’s jersey for stage 2. That is a 106.6-mile road race starting and ending in Evergreen Park in the county of Grand Prairie.

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