Tour de France heroes, big-race winners and top Canadian talent are among the field of 120 racers wheeling into the city for the first leg of the Tour of Albertacycling event on September 3.
The Lethbridge course, spanning 142 kilometers in six laps through the city, was planned to provide maximum viewing options for local residents hoping to cheer on their favorite rider and team or for those just wanting to see some of the top cyclists in the world close up in action.
“The Lethbridge event, designed as a circuit race with several laps, is a very fan friendly style of race where spectators can stay in one spot and see a lot of race action,” says Duane Vienneau of Edmonton, executive director of the Tour of Alberta.
“The Lethbridge segment is also unique because it features a later afternoon start, as local organizers wanted residents to be able to watch when they finished work for the day,” he says.
Although this is the first time Lethbridge has hosted a stage of the race, it is the second year Vienneau’s team has organized the Tour of Alberta.
Touted as being the only event of its kind in Canada, last year’s event attracted 15 of the world’s top cycling teams and was viewed by 200,000 live spectators. It was televised to 41 million viewers in more than 162 countries.
The economic impact for Alberta was estimated at $24 million, he says. The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world's governing body in the sport of bicycle racing, has given the event a 2.1 rating.
“We were very, very happy with last year’s race,” he says. “The feedback from the racers was tremendous – many of them were shocked it was a first time event because the communities really got behind it.”
This year’s Tour of Alberta is expected to do as well or even better than last year. It will kick off with the Calgary Prologue, a four-kilometre time trial, on September 2.
Vienneau says the Tour of Alberta team – consisting of about 1,000 stage, course and support personnel - will then travel to Lethbridge and join about 300 local volunteers in conducting Stage 1 of the event.
A festival – complete with a family section, food vendors, live entertainment and retail vendors - will begin at 11 am in Galt Gardens. A beer garden will start at noon.
“The team buses will all be lined up at Galt Gardens and will be humming with activity,” says Local Organizing Committee Co-Chair, Chris Witkowski. “Anyone can go and see them, ask questions and get autographs – not just VIPs.”
The field of 120 cyclists will include Belkin Pro Cycling’s Dutchmen Bauke Mollema, the 10th place finisher, and Steven Kruijswijk, the 15th place finisher, at this year’s Tour de France, the 2014 Tour de France stage winner Ramunas Navardauskas of Lithuania, Americans Tom Danielson and Tom-Jelte Slagter, two-time Tour of Italy stage winner Matthew Goss and Dutchman Tom Dumoulin of Team Giant-Shimano, who placed 5th overall in the 2014 Tour of Switzerland and 2nd overall at 2014 Tour of Belgium.
Canada will be represented by a composite National Team, Garneau-Quebecor, and Silber Pro Cycling, led by 2012 Canadian National Champion Ryan Roth.
“The downtown festival is also a good time to figure out what jersey your favorite rider will be wearing in the race, which makes spotting them easier as they whip down Scenic Drive,” adds Rob Kossuth, Local Organizing Committee Co-Chair.
Aside from team jerseys, there will be a number of special jerseys worn by leaders in various categories. Kossuth says to keep an eye out for the yellow jersey that will be worn by the winner of the first day’s racing in Calgary.
A complete guide to the team colours and the special jerseys is included in the official Event Guide, which will be available at no cost at sponsor locations around town in the days before the race and at Galt Gardens and the ENMAX Centre on race day, he says.
Witkowski says the racers will start from an area in front of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery downtown and will take Scenic Drive to the Enmax Centre. They will then race north on Scenic Drive to Peenaquin Park on the north side of the city and then take Stafford Drive south to 5th Avenue North, turning west back to Scenic Drive and the downtown area.
This route is expected to take the cyclists about a half hour to complete and will be taken a total of six times, with racers expected to cross the finish line in Galt Gardens in about three hours, he says.
“What we love about our course is all the great viewing areas for spectators all along the way,” Witkowski says.
“Hosting an event of this caliber is such a fantastic opportunity for our community to take part in.”
Sportsnet will be televising two hours of live coverage daily from each stage of the Tour of Alberta and spectators in Galt Gardens will be able to watch the live action as it unfolds on large screen TVs, says Kossuth.
Food, entertainment and race viewing will also be at the turn-around at the ENMAX Centre starting at 2 pm and will include baby back ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, a beer garden, and Johnny Korthius doing bike stunts to the music of Gray Matter.
Because the local course utilizes major roadways in the city, residents can expect road closures and detours. The organizing committee recently held two open houses to explain the event and the changes residents can expect on race day.
“Most people, including businesses along the route, have been very supportive and we would like to thank them in advance for their patience,” says Witkowski.
Driving on the route will not be allowed, but selected intersections will be opened up for 10-15 minutes to allow motorists to cross the route. A parking ban will be enforced beginning at 7 p.m. on September 2 for the entire route and will last for 24 hours or until the race is over on September 3.
“Please plan ahead and expect delays if you will be driving near the race that afternoon and evening,” says Witkowski, adding parents should also expect possible delays with school buses after school.
To help ease traffic woes on race day, free shuttles to the downtown core will be operating every half hour starting at 7 am from Exhibition Park until 8 pm. The Lethbridge Transit hub will be relocated to City Hall from 12 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Upon the completion of the Lethbridge event, the Tour of Alberta participants will travel to Innisfail for Stage 2 on September 4. Wetaskiwin to Edmonton Garrison will be the route for Stage 3 on September 5, while Edmonton Northlands to Strathcona County on September 6 will be the route for Stage 4. The Tour of Alberta wraps up with the Stage 5 circuit race in Edmonton on September 7.
For more information about the event or to volunteer on September 3, sign up at www.tourofalberta.ca
or email email@example.com
For information about road closures, traffic flow and local festival events, check the City of Lethbridge website at http://www.lethbridge.ca/Things-To-Do/Events/Pages/Tour-of-Alberta.aspx