After three days of racing at the Tour of Alberta, the final general classification looks like it will come down to a battle between US Continental team Rally Cycling and US WorldTour team Cannondale-Drapac.
Rally has stage 1 winner Evan Huffman in the race lead, while teammate Sepp Kuss is second, 18 seconds back. After Sunday's stage win, Cannondale's Alex Howes jumped to third place overall, with teammate Tom-Jelte Slagter in fourth, both at 31 seconds.
The dynamic with two teams stacking the top four should play out dramatically on Monday's tricky, hilly final stage in Edmonton's city centre.
"We're not totally out of it on GC, so, Evan, you're on notice," Howes said at the post-stage press conference, turning to Huffman on the dais a smile. "But we'd like to win tomorrow, and at the same time we want it to be a race all the way to the end for GC."
The final Edmonton stage, which consists of 11 laps around a 11.3km circuit, has been used for the past four years, with Daryl Impey dramatically stealing the overall win from Tom Dumoulin in 2014 after Dumoulin led the race from the opening prologue. On a wet and cold Monday afternoon, Impey took the stage win and the 10-second time bonus that went with it, moving past Dumoulin by just one second.
The Cannondale riders will need to do more than win the final stage if they want to overtake Huffman, however, and it's a tall order for any team. Unlike previous years when the race has blown apart on the final day, the weather for Monday's stage looks dry and moderately warm, making the task of isolating Huffman from his team all the more difficult.
In 2015, the stage ended with a sprint win for Nikias Arndt, while last year saw Francisco Mancebo slip away from the pack on the last lap to take a solo win four seconds ahead of the bunch.
Cannondale, which missed out on the stage 1 win but bounced back with Wippert's stage 2 sprint victory and Howes' win on Sunday, could be tempted to play things conservatively and ride for Wippert in another field sprint, but Howes indicated the team would be willing to trade the stage honours for a chance to take the overall crown.
"If we have to sacrifice the stage in order to improve on GC, maybe we'll do that," he said. "We're ready to race."
Sunday's third stage was similar to Monday's in nature – the stage 3 route was also 11 laps of an urban circuit – but Howes, who raced the final stage for Cannondale last year, said the final stage is more difficult and harder to control.
"It's hard, very hard," he said. "It's hilly and technical and kind of complicated like today in that it's up and down and you don't really know who's going to be good and who's going to be best on that kind of circuit.
"I'd say it's harder than today, in that it's a little more technical," he said. "Today, the hills weren't easy, but they're straight and they kind of drag on like that. It makes things a little more predictable. Tomorrow is a little more open."
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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