International stage race in the works
In the wake of the first Banff GranFondo, work continues to bring many of the top road cyclists in the world to Alberta for a Tour de France-style race, including a stage that climbs Highwood Pass and finishes in Canmore.
Alex Stieda is one of the architects of the race. Stieda was the first Canadian to ever wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, and is planning for a Sept. 3-8, 2013 timeframe.
Speaking to the Outlook on the eve of the Banff GranFondo, he outlined the timetable for the race future.
“By the end of September, we’ll have word from the UCI (International Cycling Union) if our dates work,” Stieda said. “We’re getting good signals and would love to have a stage finish in Canmore.”
Stieda said Highwood Pass is a natural choice, and he’s in discussions with Canadian Pacific to work with traffic, ensuring a freight train would not halt the race.
The race would likely start in Edmonton, finish in Calgary and use some of the province’s classic cycling routes as part of a massive, made-for-television stage race.
“The first year, we’re bringing the race to the people, creating awareness in Alberta and beyond, making it a sustainable race,” Stieda said.
He’s confident the terrain is challenging enough to attract top riders. Organizers want an international-style race, similar to the Tour of Utah. That would make it the largest race of its kind in Canada.
“In British Columbia and Edmonton, they go through the mountains, not over them like in Europe. We don’t have the switchback climbs, other than the Norquay road and the Edith Cavell Road in Jasper. It’s just a different style of riding,” Stieda said.
Since both of those sections of roads are in national parks, they won’t be part of the first year’s event, but Stieda said he’d love for them to be a part of future races.
He’s seen the sport explode in recent years and believes races would attract lots of fans.
“I’ve been around the game for 30 years and seeing the growth of road cycling has been phenomenal,” Stieda said. “The Lance (Armstrong) effect was huge, as from 1999 to 2006 the sport got mainstream attention.”
The doping scandal surrounding Armstrong will do little to deter cyclists, he said.
“The sport is big enough, we don’t need Lance to carry it on his shoulders any more,” Stieda said. “Everyone is already hooked.”
Ryder Hesjedal’s emergence as a top racer hasn’t hurt either, he said.
“Ryder created a buzz like we’ve never seen before in Canada. Steve Bauer was racing before the Internet, but everyone is able to follow Ryder much easier. He’s really changed the game.”
Stieda still rides and said it’s a great low-impact workout with a great social side.
“I’ve never had a knee operation and I keep riding because I love the social aspect of riding.”
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