Any rider hoping to win the 2017 Tour of Alberta next month will need to get a good warm-up. The race's longest stage with the most difficult finish will come on the opening day when the peloton travels through Jasper National Park amid the Rocky Mountains to a mountaintop finish at Marmot Basin.
The 162km opening stage will reprise a route from the 2015 race, taking the peloton over three breathtaking loops through Jasper National Park before the final climb. Starting in the town of Jasper, the 162km route heads south down the Icefields Parkway along the Athabasca River before veering right onto Highway 93A and the start of three circuits. The route crosses the river on the southern end of the loop at Athabasca Falls. From there, the course heads north up the Icefields Parkway to cross the river again and meet up with 93A, completing the loop. After slightly more than three circuits, the race will make a right onto Marmot Road for the final ascent.
Cannondale-Drapac's Tom-Jelte Slagter survived a barrage of attacks on the final climb in 2015 to take the stage 4 win on the same course, while Trek-Segafredo's Bauke Mollema finished second and preserved his slim lead over Orica-Scott's Adam Yates. Mollema held onto his six-second gap over Yates over two more stages to win the six-stage race in 2015.
With the GC players firmly established on day one, the race could quickly turn into a game of king-of-the-hill for the rest of the week, depending on time gaps at Marmot and time bonuses on offer for intermediate sprints and stage finishes. In 2014, Daryl Impey (Orica-Scott) snatched the race from Tom Dumoulin on the final day by taking the stage win on the urban Edmonton circuit and a 10-second time bonus that went with it.
The rider wearing yellow after stage 1 and his team will need to be on-guard throughout the week, lest the peloton of opportunists find a way to topple them from the top of the heap.
Stage 2 starts in Spruce Grove about 30kms west of Edmonton and finishes 139km later with three short circuits in the town of 34,000 residents. Between the start and finish, the peloton heads north for a large clockwise loop around Sandy Beach and environs.
The 116km third stage will start and finish in Edmonton near the University of Alberta on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River that snakes through the city of one million. The route will take the peloton north up Groat Road to the turn around at 111th Avenue and then back to what should be a fast finish at Windsor Park.
The race concludes Monday, September 4, with what has become the traditional final day in the Edmonton city center. The challenging urban loop that has been used for the finale since 2014 includes two climbs on each of the 11 laps and will provide the final battle ground for the general classification.
Impey used the 10-second time bonus for the stage winner to jump past Dumoulin in 2014, but Nikias Arndt and the bunch sprinters had their day in 2015. Arndt won ahead of Michael Matthews and Dion Smith, relegating the general classification riders to minor places as Mollema held onto the overall lead.
Last year in Edmonton, Robin Carpenter (Holowesko-Citadel) fought off a slew of attacks over the 11 laps on the final day to keep his yellow jersey intact, while Francisco Mancebo announced his return to North American racing with an impressive solo win in Edmonton from a day-long breakaway.