The only thing certain about this year's Tour of Alberta is that nothing is certain. The five-day race lacks any summit finishes or major climbs to break up the peloton, and the most decisive day for the general classification could be a short 12.1km time trial in the penultimate day.
Time bonuses for the intermediate sprints and stage finishes will also be an important factor, but will those bonuses go to breakaway opportunists, or will the peloton find itself in a stingy mood?
"It's going to be a very tactical race, and that can make it difficult," Trek-Segafredo's Fränk Schleck told Cyclingnews. "On any big race, I'd be able to tell you with my experience what's going to happen, but here I'm not because it's going to be very tactical, and we don't know what's going to happen.
"Talking about the parcours, there are no big climbs, so that's not good for me, but we should never forget that the race parcour is not challenging the winner," Schleck said. "It's the riders themselves who make the race hard."
Schleck's Trek-Segafredo team is one of two WorldTour teams in the race along with Cannondale-Drapac, and while Schleck seemed to imply his team, which features 2015 overall winner Bauke Mollema, would take a wait-and-see-what-happens approach, Cannondale's Michael Woods said his team would go on the attack.
"We don't have a pure sprinter on the team," Woods acknowledged to Cyclingnews. "We're definitely more of a rouleur/climber team, so we can't just sit back and hope for a field sprint and hope someone on the team can win it for us. We're going to have to really try and take the bull by the horns.
"And I think that is going to play into the same tactics as Trek," Woods said. "They don't have a pure sprinter, but they've got a lot of strong guys, so the race is going to be really interesting in that aspect. We're just going to have to be aggressive, and we're going to have to light it up."
That may be easier said than done, as both Trek and Cannondale will be heavily marked by the other 11 teams in the field. Schleck said he expects the teams will be loathe to let any WorldTour riders escape the pack.
"It's a small peloton with two WorldTour teams that have the experience, so I imagine that with all the teams the meetings will be, 'The break can go, but make sure none of Trek and none of Cannondale is on there, otherwise we have to chase it down,'" Schleck said.
Woods also said he expects the Pro Continental and Continental teams to make it rough on the their WorldTour rivals.
"It's definitely going to fall into that kind of team meeting for the Conti guys," he said. "As a WorldTour team coming down to the 2.1 level, that's how it always plays out.
"The other teams look to the WorldTour teams to control, but in this instance you've got a guy like John Murphy, who is super strong on UnitedHealthcare, Travis McCabe [Holowesko-Citadel], who is sprinting really well, and Eric Young [Rally Cycling], who is a very dangerous sprinter. Those three teams and guys are probably the best sprinters in the field. So if they just look to us to control it could end up not going well for them as well."
Even before the race starts, the dynamics among the teams and riders are getting interesting. One of the riders hoping to throw a spanner in the works of the WorldTour teams is Holowesko's Robin Carpenter, who said the relatively flat parcours mean the race is wide open.
"The race is going to be a little bit more wide open, and if the right mix of riders gets up the road, you might see a situation where the race is won on the first day out of a larger-size breakaway group that has all the right teams represented," Carpenter said.
"For myself, this is a race that doesn't have any high mountains, so it offers me a little bit more of an opportunity to go for the overall if I have a good time trial, and to maybe get in one of those splits if we have a crosswinds day or make one those breakaways stick, which is usually my M.O.," Carpenter said. "I'm really excited to be here and I think we have a really fit team that's super motivated. Whoever is smart, savvy and strong will win this race."
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