UCI ProTeam Cycling Comes To Alberta!

Alex Stieda is making his dream come true - a UCI sanctioned multi-day cycling race hosted in his home province of Alberta.

He's been mulling the idea around for a number of years. About 6 years ago he first shared with me some of his ideas about a Tour of Alberta. At the time, he spoke about starting up in Fort MacMurray, in the shadows of the oil sands mines, and completing the tour in downtown Calgary, at the doorsteps to the corporate headquarters of the companies that own and operate those same mines. It was a pretty grand vision for a bike race in Alberta.

But big visions usually start their lives on a smaller scale. Right now, we're not talking about a race that covers the province from north to south. But don't get me wrong - what Alex and the Alberta Peloton Association (the leadership team behind the Tour) have been able to bring to fruition is really not that small after all!

Let me explain...

The Big Idea

The inaugural Tour of Alberta is slated to run as a 6 day stage race from September 3 to 8, 2013. It will start in Edmonton and finish in Calgary and race through the roads and communities of central Alberta in between those dates. This pegs the race to begin right after the Labour Day long weekend, so hopefully cycling fans will use that holiday as a launch ramp to come watch the race.

The big idea is to create a season-long festival of cycling leading up to and through the event. This means that us amateur cyclists should have lots of additional event and race opportunities throughout the 2013 cycling season (and future seasons), promoting not only the Tour of Alberta, but our wonderful sport of cycling itself!

With The Big UCI Sanction

The Tour has been sanctioned as a UCI 2.1 race. This is big, really big, for our little province. It means that up to 50% of the teams will be UCI ProTeams. These are the same teams that get automatic entries to the Grand Tours - Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España. It is the first UCI 2.1 sanctioned race to ever be held in Canada. This designation alone, and the cadre of professional cyclists it should bring to our province, is what makes this event so spectacular!

But is this just another, "Let's build it and they will come," crazy idea? It would have to be more than just a crazy idea to get the UCI to sanction something like this. Now I know the UCI at times can get up to some pretty crazy antics - just look at what they've done with bike form-factor rules, let alone the more scandalous accusations surround the Lance Armstrong affair. But the UCI generally does quite well in organizing the professional cycling calendar, and I think that was a main selling point to the UCI for this race.

Filling A Big Hole In The Calendar

You see, when I had the chance to talk again with Alex this past summer, he pointed to a hole in the North American race calendar, a hole that the Tour of Alberta could successfully fill.

The USA Pro Challenge runs from August 19 to 25, 2013. This is basically the "Tour of Colorado". It ranks a UCI sanction one step higher than the Tour of Alberta at 2.HC - meaning up to 70% of the teams can be UCI ProTeams.

Then, Canada hosts two one-day UCI WorldTour sanctioned races in Quebec - the Grands Prix Cyclists des Quebec et Montreal on September 13 and 15 respectively. Now these are really big races, because the WorldTour sanction is the highest sanction that the UCI grants and all of the ProTeams must participate.

You see, there is a hole in the North American calendar between these two big race events.

Straddling the same time-frame is the Vuelta a España, with the 2013 edition running from August 12 to September 15. But of course the ProTeams don't send everybody on their rosters to the Vuelta. They couldn't anyway, because each team is limited to 9 riders, and their rosters are at least twice that size. They send these other riders to North America. Last year it was riders like Jens Voigt (a true fan favourite if there ever was one), Christian Vande Velde and our own Ryder Hesjedal.

Stick a UCI 2.1 sanctioned race in Alberta in that calendar hole and they will come. It only makes sense to keep these boys in North America after the USA Pro Challenge, and keep them in race-shape for the Grands Prix Cyclists that follow. It's simply the best thing all around for true world-class professional cycling in all of North America!

With An Experienced Professional Race Organizer

The other huge coup for Alex has been getting Medalist Sports on board as the tour organizer. If you've had any experience trying to run a bike race at our local Alberta Bicycle Association sanctioned level, that alone can be a logistical nightmare. But the Tour of Alberta will be run in a truly professional manner by Medalist Sports, the very same organizers that operate the USA Pro Challenge.

The Alberta Peloton Association estimates that about 300,000 on-site spectators will watch the event. If I make a conservative assumption that half of these people spend at least 2 nights in Alberta hotel rooms during the event, at an average of $150/night with the Alberta hotel room fee tax at 4%, we would see $1.8 million in hotel revenue alone that could be earmarked for the enduring funding of this event. I hope our Alberta Provincial Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation sees the logic in this, and will secure continuing funding for the Tour. Financially, this should be sustainable.

And of course this doesn't even consider the further business benefit to the hotel operators themselves, and restaurants to feed these spectators. Overall, the Alberta Peloton Association estimates more than $30 million of potential economic benefits that the Tour of Alberta can bring to the province.

Small Conversations Can Lead To Big Change

It began as his idea. Then he had some small conversations. And he kept having those conversations until they grew into something bigger. And now we've got The Tour of Alberta - Canada's Pro Cycling Festival.

So "kudos" to Alex Stieda for pulling this off for us. I'm behind him and the Alberta Peloton Association 100% of the way to make this an enduring success for years to come!

Please visit The Tour of Alberta to read all that's coming!

P.S. You see, your conversations can lead to big changes! One such conversation is the Change Cycling Now movement. Please read my post to see how you can be a part of that conversation too!

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