Edmonton Journal

Tour heads for the hills

Mountain in Stage 4 set to challenge cyclists

- John MacKinnon

The Tour de France has L’Alpe d’Huez, one of the legendary race’s famously “beyond category” mountain stage climbs, and the 2015 Tour of Alberta has Marmot Basin.

About time, plenty of cycling fans are saying as Tour of Alberta organizers know only too well.

“We’ve had a lot of people around the world ask us, ‘Why aren’t you in the mountains?’ ” said Duane Vienneau, the race’s executive director, at a Wednesday news conference.

It’s because of red tape mostly. The usual. It was a two-year process.

“It’s just a different level (of bureaucrac­y),” Vienneau said. “There’s a bunch of things that you do in the (National) Parks that you don’t normally have to do. But they’ve been awesome. Everything we’ve asked of them, they’ve done.”

Well, the race is headed into the Rockies now and organizers are clearly excited about their mountain stage on Sept. 5.

This year, the third goround for the pro cycling road race, Stage 3 of the six-stage race will roll from Grande Cache to the Miette Hot Springs near Jasper. Stage 4 will loop around the town of Jasper, then grind uphill to the top of Marmot. This will at once test the physical limits of the 120 riders on 15 pro teams and showcase the grandeur of the mountains to a worldwide TV audience.

“For the Tour of Alberta to go into the Rockies is big for a number of reasons,” said Alex Steida, the former pro cyclist who in 1986 became the first North American to wear the leader’s yellow jersey at the Tour de France.

“It’s big from a tourism perspectiv­e — the Rockies are such a picturesqu­e (part) of Alberta and we want to be able to show that to the world. But also, from a sporting perspectiv­e, I think it’s important for the guys who are racing the pros to have that challenge. It doesn’t have to be every day that we have a mountain stage, but to include a mountain stage in a six-day event like this is really important.”

The Tour, which runs from Sept. 2-7, opens with a flat team time trial in Grand Prairie and finishes with an 11-lap, 11-kilometre circuit race through the streets of Edmonton.

The race also includes a road race of more than 200 kilometres from Edson to Spruce Grove, the lead-in for that final-day circuit race in Edmonton.

“It really challenges the best rider to be the best overall rider,” Stieda said of the varied character of the Tour’s stages.

Anyone who has witnessed the Tour de France in person or watched it on TV can easily call to mind scenes of gritty, intrepid cyclists parting thick rivers of spectators as they dance on the pedals, struggling up impossibly steep grades to the summit of an alpine resort or one in the Pyrenees.

This will be the first time such a scene will unfold in the Tour of Alberta, but Stieda thinks it will be both fan and family friendly.

“Following a bike race is sort of an art for people,” Stieda said. “In Europe, you camp out for a week on one of the mountains with your mobile home and all your camping equipment and you wait for the race to come by. That’s the big thing, that’s what people do.

“For the Tour of Alberta, you won’t have to do that. On any given day, you could drive into Jasper, get on a bike and ride up Marmot mountain before the race. Take a backpack with you. Take some lunch and just camp out and wait for the race to come up. You could do that on the same day. It’s going to be a fantastic opportunit­y.”

That f inal , severe 200-metre stretch up to Marmot, Stieda reckons, will be the prime spot for spectators on Sept. 5.

Stieda knows about cycling excursions, having made a living leading such outings during the Tour de France, for one thing. He has also ridden up the road to the summit of Marmot at training camps and other occasions.

“You get to know that mountain and the rhythm of that mountain,” Stieda said. “What’s interestin­g about this race is the guys who’ll be racing have never seen Marmot Basin before.

“They’ve seen the profile on the map, but they don’t really know what the race is like until you’ve been on the road. That’s going to be a challenge for all of them.”

The Tour announced the first five of the 15 teams that will be competing, a list that includes Orica-Green Edge, which won the 2014 race, Team Giant Alpecin of The Netherland­s, Russia’s Team Katusha and Team Cannondale-Garmin, the U.S.-based team that includes Canadian star Ryder Hesjdal. Also competing this year will be Drapac Profession­al Cycling, another Australian team.

The rest of the Tour lineup will be announced at a later date, as will be the roster of competing cyclists.

The lineup of athletes could be particular­ly strong this year because the Tour is being held two weeks before the world road cycling championsh­ips at Richmond, Va. Vienneau said more pro teams than the Tour can accommodat­e have applied for entry to this year’s race, a nice problem to have.

“It’s 100-per-cent related to that (event),” Vienneau said, without complaint. “You’ve got to be good to be lucky to be good, right?”

Taking the Tour to the Alberta Rockies is by 100-percent design and Stieda believes it will be worth the wait for cycling fans.

“A profession­al cycling race needs to encompass all the regions of the place it’s being held,” Stieda said. “Finally, getting to the Rockies is really a culminatio­n of the vision that I had.” jmackinnon@edmontonjo­urnal.com Twitter.com/@rjmackinno­n Check out my blog at edmontonjo­urnal.com/ Sweatsox Facebook.com/edmontonjo­urnalsport­s

 ?? ED KAISER/ Edmonton Journal ?? Duane Vienneau, executive director of the Tour of Alberta, announces that Stage 4 finishes in Jasper National Park during a news conference Wednesday at the Garneau Theatre. The stage concludes with an uphill grind from Jasper to Marmot Basin.
ED KAISER/ Edmonton Journal Duane Vienneau, executive director of the Tour of Alberta, announces that Stage 4 finishes in Jasper National Park during a news conference Wednesday at the Garneau Theatre. The stage concludes with an uphill grind from Jasper to Marmot Basin.
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