Yes, I know everyone’s getting ready for the TdF right about now (me too), so why am I writing about the Tour of Alberta? Well, first because I live in Edmonton, Alberta, the city where it will start – and the advertising and media around the ToA is really kicking up lately. They had an announcement of race partners last week, which included the unveiling of the leaders’ jerseys. They’ve made more team announcements other than the initial one of Garmin-Sharp (Cannondale, Blanco, BMC , Argos-Shimano, Champion Pro Systems, Quebcor-Garneau, Smartstop Pro Cycling p/b Mountain Khaki, and Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies). And also, as it’s the end of the school year here so the traditional "start of summer", I realized I should start planning how I want to watch the race that comes right at the end of summer (directly after Labour Day).
The day before the ToA starts, there will be a fun ride in Edmonton, entitled the "Tour of Alberta Family Ride", with ride distances of 2, 5 and 12 km planned. This will support a local organization providing mental health services for children and adolescents. I guess that means patrickbpenguin and I have just over 2 months to make sure our now-4-year-old daughter can ride her bike for 2 km. She’s come a long way since her days wearing a Podium Café onesie ;-), and is the main reason that I have much less time to watch cycling these days (let alone post here).
The ToA officially starts on Tuesday September 3, with a 7.3 km prologue in downtown Edmonton, starting and finishing at Churchill Square
via photos.edmonton.ca (via Creative commons license).
The stage map suggests the start might even be in the square itself, or perhaps on the road on the east side – so lots of spectator viewing area from the square itself. However, I will most likely be watching by the only climb on the course, on the east side of the Alberta legislature grounds, part of the course used by the long-standing Canada Day criterium held there until 2011. To watch along Jasper Avenue near the start or along 107 Street when they cross Jasper Avenue could also be interesting, just in terms of seeing how Edmontonians cope with major downtown roads being closed on a weekday evening.
Unfortunately I have to work on Wednesday, September 4, so watching any part of Stage 1 won’t be an option for me. The start will be at the Festival Place complex in Sherwood Park, with a few laps around before heading north. I would imagine a lot of truckers heading to "Alberta’s Industrial Heartland" near Fort Saskatchewan will be annoyed by closures on Hwy 21. Looks like this stage will mostly be on rural roads/secondary highways, and should be quite flat before finishing with a loop around Camrose. There certainly would be opportunity to drive from the start to the finish, and maybe watch somewhere in between as well.
On Thursday, September 5, seeing as I live only 25 km from the Stage 2 start in Devon, aka "Bike Town Alberta" , that's where I’ll be. Again it looks like a flat stage for the most part (in this area, any climbs are generally down into and back out of a river valley). They’re utilizing Highway 2A for a big stretch, as well as some other prominent highways – I’m really interested to see the reactions to road closures (as I mentioned before). With the QE2 Freeway paralleling a lot of the route, it should be easy to get to the finish in Red Deer on time as well. I’m hoping that the feed zone is in a convenient place to stop at and watch as well.
I have managed to get off work on Friday September 6, so I'm hoping to be able to watch some of Stage 3. (The issue will be CFL season tickets with the annual Labour Day Rematch/Battle of Alberta that night in Edmonton). Since they're going south-to-north mostly, I'd probably try to watch from the finish in Drumheller as the peloton will be going through that town twice with a sizable loop in between. Drumheller is in a valley so there will be some (minor) climbing in and out of town.
They’re going to tackle the pass from the south, meaning that they’ve got the longer uphill and the steeper downhill. There’s an elevation profile on the above Highwood Pass link, and there are a number of photos from a cycling perspective on the Gran Fondo Highwood Pass website. The stage actually covers the entire Gran Fondo route, but is longer with additions at the beginning and end (presumably to start and finish in larger communities). The finish will be at the Canmore Nordic Centre, which is partly up the mountain from the town of Canmore, and apparently no vehicle parking on-site which would mean you’re either walking or riding up to the top to see the finish. The highway over the Highwood Pass has only some picnic sites but no actual campgrounds – not sure about road closures, but I suspect they’d be limiting access for a large part of the day. One option might be to get into one of the campgrounds in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park the night before, as the turnoff from the highway is just north of the winter gate (ie just north of the end of the descent, in cycling terms). Or, as I’ll probably do if I get there, I’ll watch them ride through the town of Canmore itself (or maybe the finish if I’m feeling energetic).
For the final Stage 5, Sunday, September 8, they’re going from Okotoks to Calgary via Bragg Creek (seeing that Okotoks has almost become a suburb of Calgary in recent years, they’re taking the very-long-way-around, 132 km). There’s definitely some elevation gain, as Bragg Creek is in the foothills – none of the maps/profiles posted on Map My Ride for Okotoks to Bragg Creek use the same route as the stage map shows, so I can’t give you more details about the profile. If I make it there, I’ll probably go to the finish in Calgary, but it would certainly be doable to go to the start and then to the finish as well to watch.
Sadly, southern Alberta is in the news today because of major (for here) flooding in Calgary and several other communities the race is scheduled to go through, including Canmore, Okotoks, Bragg Creek, and Black Diamond. Hopefully there will be no loss of life as a result (and much less important at the moment, hopefully they can get roads and other infrastructure repaired in the next 2+ months before the ToA starts).
So, any PdC'ers out there planning to come visit Alberta for the race?