World's top cyclists racing in inaugural Tour of Alberta
Published Tuesday, September 3, 2013 11:16AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 3, 2013 12:41PM EDT
Some of the world's top cyclists are in Canada this week to take part in the first ever Tour of Alberta – a six-day international professional stage race.
The race, which kicks off in Edmonton Tuesday, will see 118 cyclists tackle approximately 850 kilometres of urban and rural roads in more than 18 communities before concluding in Calgary on Sunday.
The event, which is sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale and the Canadian Cycling Association, has received a 2.1 ranking – the highest-ever for a Canadian stage race.
Former professional cyclist and Canadian Olympian Alex Stieda has pushed for a race of this stature to come to Alberta for nearly 10 years. He told CTV Edmonton that seeing it become a reality is a dream come true.
"I'm so happy just to see everything come to fruition," said Stieda, who was the first North American to lead the Tour de France in 1986. "It's amazing. We've got the best riders in the world here. The weather's perfect. You couldn't ask for anything better."
Among the riders competing in this year's Tour of Alberta include 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, the world's No. 2-ranked rider Peter Sagan and Canada's own Ryder Hesjedal.
Hesjedal, who won the prestigious Giro d'Italia in 2012, said he's impressed with the cycling culture in Alberta.
"I can see the passion for the sport here … it's just great to be here," the Victoria native told fans at a news conference Monday.
Tour of Alberta director of marketing and communications Val Mellesmoen told CTVNews.ca that the race will highlight the province's unique terrain, bringing competitors through urban and rural communities, rolling hills and open prairies.
"All the stages have a unique aspect to them," she said. "Every day is going to be different and every day will have different view of different parts of Alberta. And for cycling fans, there's the potential that somebody different will be the leader every day."
This year, however, riders won't be able to compete in the mountain stage of the race after severe flooding in June damaged large parts of the planned route between Black Diamond and Canmore. Instead, competitors will face a series of rolling hills.
"From a sports perspective, it's going to be a real up and down," Mellesmoen said.
The province's Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson said the race presents an incredible opportunity to put Alberta in the spotlight.
"I can't think of many opportunities one would have to showcase that to a hundred million people around the world in a hundred countries or more," Olson said.
Stieda said the race, which organizers say will be available in 168 million households, will help boost the sport's popularity here in Canada.
"It's not about bike racing, it's about people riding bikes and enjoying our beautiful sport," he said.
Mellesmoen added that one of the goals of the Tour is to inspire a new generation of cyclists. "We're not necessarily a cycling-crazy country, but we hope we will be."
The race is free for spectators to watch and will pass through Edmonton, Strathcona County, Camrose, Devon, Red Deer, Drumheller, Black Diamond, Okotoks and Calgary.
With a report by CTV Edmonton's Susan Amerongen