The prologue time trial at the inaugural Tour of Alberta could do more than just set the pecking order for the first stage of the six-day UCI 2.1 race, with time bonuses on the other five stages expected to shape the final general classification when the race ends on Sunday September 8.
With flood damage reducing the queen stage to a lumpy circuit race, Cannondale's Peter Sagan, who won four stages last month at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, is the natural favourite for overall success.
Sagan has won 19 races so far this season and was untouchable in the sprints in Colorado. He is hoping that the same form can lead him to the overall win when the Tour of Alberta ends Sunday in Calgary.
“It's a good parcours for me,” the Slovakian champion said Monday at the pre-race press conference.
“The organization did a very good parcours. But we will see day by day. [Today] is the prologue, and then we will see how we can control the race. There are also some good sprinters here, so we'll see.”
Sagan spent two weeks at altitude before the Colorado race, and he spent the following six days training there in Nederland at nearly 2,500 meters of elevation.
His only handicap this week is the short-handed six-rider team Cannondale brought to the race after several of his teammates fell ill or were injured in crashes. The green-clad Cannondale riders will face eight-rider squads from the five other WorldTour teams present, along with the two Pro Continental and seven Continental teams.
Sagan didn't appear too phased by the smaller team he'll be relying on to control races and bring a compact bunch to the finish.
“We are a little bit fewer riders than the other teams, because we have only six,” Sagan said. “We have too many riders sick or crashed, but I think it's no problem. It's very important here to do good [today] in the prologue, and then we will see what we can do here.”
Sagan will face challenges each day from many of the same sprinters he faced in Colorado.
Optum-Kelly Benefits' Ryan Anderson finished on the podium twice there and led Sagan on the last day until the final meters. Argos-Shimano's Luca Mezgec finished second to Sagan twice, and Belkin has Australian fast man Mark Renshaw at the race.
UnitedHealthcare brought its speedster team, led by Luke Keogh and Grand Tour stage winner Robert Forster. Despite Sagan's success in Colorado, US road champion Freddie Rodriguez said the Slovakian phenomenon can be beaten.
“We might want to give him some kind of a handicap, that's how good he is right now,” Rodriguez joked.
“But in sprinting there are always a lot of variables. Sagan definitely has what it takes to control those,
but he's not always going to be able to do that.”
Bell predicts a fast prologue
Canadian national champion Zack Bell (Champion System) said the 7.3km TT course is going to be very fast despite some technical sections and a 1km climb.
“It's going to be some pretty high-speed riding through the whole course, despite the corners,” Bell said.
"They're ones you can take at speed, well at least the left-hand ones should be OK. It's going to be really exciting and a close finish for sure. With a short course like that the top guys are going to be pretty tight together, so the stakes are going to be high, and you're going to have to stay in the bars the whole time.”