More mountains and a lot more dirt for 2015 Tour of Alberta

Canadian 2.1 race will feature first mountaintop finishes and nearly 60km of dirt roads

The third edition of the Tour of Alberta won’t be pulling any punches when the peloton rolls up to the start line of the six-day race scheduled for September 2-7. The 2015 route, announced Thursday via teleconference, will easily be the toughest to date.

Opening with a 19.6km team time trial at the northern end of the province in Grande Prairie, the 2015 race will feature its first-ever mountaintop finishes during stages 3 and 4, and it has nearly 60km of gravel and dirt roads lined up for stage 5.

Although last year’s overall battle came down to the time bonuses on offer during the final sprint on the final day, there may be a few more chances for the general classification riders to distance themselves from each other during the 2015 race.

“This is a whole different tour entirely,” said Team SmartStop’s Rob Britton, a Canadian who recently won the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico and finished 10th at the Tour of California.

“With the team time trial on stage 1, a proper mountain-top finish on stage 3 and then with stage 4, who knows what will happen there, it’s going to make for an amazing race. You’re never just going to be able to sit down and relax.”

The race will travel to the north end of the province for the first time in its three-year history. Grande Prairie, about four hours northwest of Edmonton, will host the 19.6km team time trial – or roughly half the distance of the TTT course that will be used for the World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, later that month.

“It’s flat, fast and has a few long straightaways,” said race technical director Jeff Corbett. “It’s punctuated by a few technical sections as we leave from the East Link Center and head north into downtown Grande Prairie.”

Corbett said stage 2 in the County of Grand Prairie starts out relatively flat for the first 130km before ending with “a real sting in the tail.” The 171.6km route ends with two 20km circuits that feature a 1.5km climb out of the scenic Wapiti River valley and a flat 8km run to the finish.

The next day will introduce the Alberta peloton to the nearby Rocky Mountains for the first time. The 181.8km third stage takes the peloton south to Grande Cache for the start before riders travel along the edge of the Rockies and into Jasper National Park. Once inside the park, the peloton will turn toward the finish at Miotte Hot Springs, but not before some major climbing in the final 17km.

“This is a really interesting climb that should see a lot of action,” Corbett said. “It’s not a pure climber’s climb. It’s a unique climb that is broken into almost two climbs, the first climb being about 5km, which is the harder of the two climbs, followed by a kilometre descent that has some technical switchback turns, then a few kilometres along the river valley, with the last 4km being a climb to the line.”

Stage 4 will take place entirely within Jasper National Park on a 54km circuit, which riders will cover three times before turning toward the finish at Marmot Basin. The final climb is 12km long and finishes at more than 1,600 metres elevation, the highest in the event’s history.

“This is a true mountaintop finish of the variety the tour has never had before,” Corbett said. “I’m looking forward to a beautiful and exciting stage that day.”

Stage 5 is the “joker in the deck,” Corbett said, as the 206.2km route includes 56.4km of dirt and gravel roads over six sectors from Edson to Spruce Grove.

“This stage could really make or break the race,” Corbett said. “It could blow it wide open, or it could end up producing nothing. We’re not really sure what to expect.”

The west-to-east course actually loses elevation over the 200-plus kilometres, and if prevailing winds are blowing, the conditions could push the peloton up to remarkably fast speeds.

“It’s the longest course we’ve ever had at the Tour of Alberta, but a lot of different factors are going to play into this day,” Corbett said, adding that this year’s dirt roads are not similar to the “Canadian pavé” that was introduced last year.

Britton said last year's stage that included several gravel sections was tense and nervous all day long, and he expects the same this year.

“I think the sections near the end of the stage there at the finish, there will really have the opportunity to affect the race,” Britton said.

The race will conclude with 11 laps of the same downtown Edmonton circuit where Orica-GreenEdge’s Daryl Impey took the final stage win – and time bonus – to snatch the overall victory last year by a single second from Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin. That stage took place in torrential rain, and Corbett said organisers want to try it out again in what they hope will be better conditions.

“We like the course, we think it’s a challenging course, a spectator-friendly course, and we wanted to give it another crack and see how it plays out in hopefully better weather,” he said.

In April, the Tour of Alberta announced the first five teams that will be competing at the 2015 race. Impey’s Orica-GreenEdge team will return, as will Giant-Alpecin. Other teams on the initial list include Cannondale-Garmin, Team Katusha and Drapac Professional Cycling, the top Australian Pro Continental squad.

 

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