Although the forecast threatened showers, fortunately 120 of the world’s top cyclists were treated to sunshine during Stage 3 of the Tour of Alberta in Strathmore.
The Tour of Alberta is Canada’s first 2.1 UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) sanctioned professional men’s cycling race and it brought some very impressive athletes from over 20 countries around the world.
The idea was first a dream of pro cyclist Alex Stieda after he moved to Alberta in 1997. It took some time, 16 years actually but finally his perseverance paid off and with the help of many dedicated volunteers and funding from the Rural Alberta Development Fund (RADF) the Alberta Peloton Association (APA) was formed and this week, his dreams became reality.
The Tour of Alberta is a six day race with an approximate total distance of 850 kilometers (530 miles) made up of 6 separate legs across Alberta. It includes teams from three levels of racing which creates the unique opportunity for athletes on the Continental Teams to compete with riders in the International Pro Tour, some of whom have competed in one of the world’s most famous cycling race, the Tour de France, including the 2011 Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans.
Tour of Alberta’s Executive Director, Duane Vienneau says “The goal was a simple one: to put on a great event with the hope to become an annual event because we want to become a part of Alberta’s traditions”.
The race winner is determined based on the cyclists overall time, accumulated over the six days. It began in Edmonton on September 3 and continued each subsequent day with the different stages moving throughout Alberta, including a leg from Strathcona County to Camrose; then from Devon to Red Deer; Strathmore to Drumheller; Black Diamond through the Foothills and concluded with the final stretch from Okotoks to Calgary in Stage 5 on September 8th.
Stage 3, which began in Strathmore on Friday September 6 and finished 169.8 kms away in Drumheller proved to be an exciting day for the small town nestled along the TransCanada. Strathmore’s mayor Steve Grajczyk; the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, Jason Hale and Alberta’s Minister of Transport, Hon. Ric McIver were all on hand to welcome the athletes and showcase this beautiful community.
The Stage 3 festival began at 9:30am in downtown Strathmore where this leg of the race began at noon. The festival included a free breakfast & fun activities for children as well as a mascot tricycle race. Children and sports fans alike were thrilled to meet the athletes and have the opportunity to get their autographs while the racers met them in the “autograph alley”.
Many schools came down with students to take in the festivities and watch the athletes roll up to the start line. Jodi Carlson, a teacher at Westmount School in Strathmore walked downtown with the students in her Grade 4 class, many of whom were obviously excited to be there with their homemade signs and decorated t-shirts.
Kyle Mckinnin and Sophia Saunders, both grade four Westmount students were cheering for the Bissell Pro Cycling Team from the United States. When asked why they like that team best the student’s unanimous reply was “Because they’re number one.” The students looked especially happy when racer Carter Jones from the Bissell Team came over to the children and handed out cow bells for them to make noise and cheer with.
As the various members for the 15 competing teams signed-in on the main stage, crowd watchers got to hear from some of the favorites. Nic Hamilton, the only Canadian on Team Jelly Belly from the U.S. told the excited students “The louder you cheer the faster we go”.
Champion System Pro Cycling Team member and Canadian Zachary Bell said “This event has a unique atmosphere with all the youth spectators, it is really great”. The student’s energy certainly contributed to making this event so special and really shows the world what makes us Canadian.
This is an important event for Canada, and the first of its kind. According to the Tour of Alberta website, this event will generate long-term prosperity for the Alberta tourism industry by showcasing the rural communities and their assets via international broadcasting. According to organizers, over 180 million households worldwide tuned in to watch this dynamic event on TV.
On September 8th, below the skyscrapers of downtown Calgary, after six incredible days of racing, the first ever champion of the Tour of Alberta was determined. The winner was 23 year old Rohan Dennis of Australia. Ryan Anderson was the top Canadian coming in 8th place.