The decision by Tour of Alberta race organisers to add two new summit finishes to the 2015 edition of the race has not only attracted world-class climbers like Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), but it has them revelling in the prospect of winning the overall classification.
The three riders were on hand at the event's opening press conference at the Pomeroy Hotel in Grande Prairie on Tuesday, where they each discussed their ambitions for the mountaintop finishes in stage 3 to Jasper National Park (Miette Hot Springs) and stage 4 to Marmot Basin Ski Area.
"This is the first time for me here and it looks like a very interesting race with these two uphill finishes," Mollema said. "I heard from riders last year that this race was flat, windy and a lot of rain and cold, so I was not really motivated when I heard that, but when I saw the new course with the uphill finishes, that made me really happy."
The Canadian 2.1 race, which is set to start on September 2 in Grande Prairie with a team time trial, is Mollema's first race back since finishing seventh overall at the Tour de France in July. He will face a list of strong climbers including Yates, Hesjedal and Hesjedal's Cannondale-Garmin teammate Davide Formolo, and Katusha riders Simon Spilak and Ilnur Zakarin, among others.
"After the Tour de France I needed a break, so this is my first race in one month," Mollema said. "It is always interesting to see where you are. I think there are a lot of strong GC riders here so it will be hard to find the first positions but I'm here and it is a good race to prepare for the World Championships race, and the classics in Quebec and Montreal next week. I'm happy to be here and looking forward to racing."
The Tour of Alberta will see the return of Hesjedal, who opted to compete at the Vuelta a Espana last year instead, and so hasn't raced since the inaugural year in 2013 when his then-teammate Rohan Dennis won.
"It is great to be here," Hesjedal told reporters. "I was sad to not be here for this stretch of racing last year, but the Vuelta went well for me and you have to take those chances and do other races."
Hesjedal, who won the overall title at the Giro d'Italia in 2012, was fifth overall at the Italian Grand Tour in May after taking second places in the mountains on stage 19 to Cervinia and stage 20 to Sestriere. He also raced the Tour de France in July and placed third during stage 20 to Alpe d'Huez.
"It was always in the mindset to get back here," Hesjedal said. "It was always the goal to get to the Giro and the Tour, and then be here and race here in September."
Hesjedal, who resides in the neighbouring province British Columbia, has never ridden in the mountains surrounding Jasper but is nonetheless looking forward to the two summit finishes.
"Obviously I'm Canadian but I still keep exploring my home country. I've come to Grande Prairie for the first time to race my bike here, and riding through Jasper will definitely be something I can check off the list and I'm looking forward to that also."
Hesjedal said in a teleconference earlier last week that he was excited about the two Jasper stages and that he "hoped to be in the mix and contesting the overall, or a high overall placing, you know, looking at winning a stage and just getting the most that we can out of the team."
Orica-GreenEdge has brought a well-rounded team to the six-day race with team time trial specialists to contest the opening stage on Wednesday, Michael Matthews for the sprints and Yates for the mountainous stages.
Yates recently won the Clasica San Sebastian and is confident that he can pull off a top overall result at the Tour of Alberta.
"We've come here with a strong team, especially for the team time trial, but the mountains are there for me and hopefully I can do a good GC," Yates said.
"I won San Sebastian, which was the biggest win in my career, so I'm in the best condition of my life. We'll see, the gravel day [stage 5] is not to my liking but hopefully with the team we have here, they will look after me and put me in the competition."