Mountains, dirt roads and cooler weather on the radar for the Tour of Alberta

The recent summer snowfall across Alberta last week wasn't considered too out of the ordinary for locals, especially those who live at higher elevation, but it could have caused concern for the international peloton participating in the upcoming Tour of Alberta.

Fortunately, much of the snow dusted the southern areas of the province, near Calgary, and were no danger to the race, which is set to start further north in Grande Prairie on September 2 and finish on September 7 in Edmonton.

Tour of Alberta President and CEO Duane Vienneau reassured those with concerns over the weather, telling Cyclingnews, "The long-term forecast for our stages is good with temps in the 15 to 20 degrees Celsius projected. If we run into a scenario that the route is deemed unsafe to race we would make alternate plans as we go. The number one goal is safety to all involved."

There won't be snow in the forecast during the six-day race, but the peloton should expect cooler temperatures and chances of rain during the opening two stages in Grande Prairie and during stage 3 to Jasper National Park (Miette Hot Springs), which is the first of two summit finishes.

Though temperatures will stay on the cooler side, the sun is expected to shine on stage 4's summit finish to Marmot Basin Ski Area, which includes a 12km ascent that finishes at more than 1,600 metres of elevation.

The weather should continue to be agreeable through stage 5 into Spruce Grove and stage 6 in Edmonton.

The UCI 2.1 event is embarking on its third edition, and although Alberta is famous for its mountainous terrain and ski resorts throughout the Canadian Rockies, this is only the first year that the Tour of Alberta's parcours will include stages in the mountains.

The additions of the two mountain stages will play a key factor to the overall classification and suit strong climbers in the race like top-10 Tour de France finisher Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing), Clasica San Sebastian winner Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Simon Spilak and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), who won the Tour de Romandie and a stage at the Giro d'Italia this year. It will also suit the Cannondale-Garmin duo of 2012 Giro d'Italia overall winner Ryder Hesjedal and 2015 Giro stage winner Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Garmin).

Continental riders in the field who should not be discounted over the mountainous terrain are Michael Woods (Optum), who was second overall at the Tour of Utah, and Lachlan Morton and Gavin Mannion (Jelly Belly), who were in the top 10 overall at the USA Pro Challenge.

Changes to the parcours this year also include the addition of nearly 60km of dirt roads during the penultimate stage 5 from Edson to Spruce Grove, where the gravel challenge will no doubt play a factor in the outcome of the stage. It is a place where cycling fans could see cyclo-cross specialists like Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin), Logan Owen (Axeon), Derrick St. John (Silber Pro Cycling) and Jesse Anthony (Optum) take the fore of the main field.

"The new route is very challenging, and it provides a lot of additional opportunities for the team," said Optum Performance Director Jonas Carney. "In years past, we have focused on a strong leadout for Alberta, and that has earned us some stage podiums. This year, we want to contest the overall. That will be our main focus. There will also be plenty of opportunity for stage wins with the team we are bringing."

There will be chances for the sprinters in the field during stage 2 in Grande Prairie, stage 5 in Spruce Grove and stage 6 in Edmonton, where the likes of Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) will show their speed. Matthews has had wins at Tour de Suisse, Pais Vasco, Paris-Nice and the Giro d'Italia, and will push for stage wins, while Bennett is showing himself to be a world-class sprinter, with a stage win at the Arctic Race of Norway.

Canadian sprinters to look out for are Zach Bell (Team SmartStop) and Ryan Anderson (Optum).

"Michael will be focusing on stages, and it looks like there is going to be quite a few stages that will suit him," said Orica-GreenEdge sport director Dave McPartland.

Another highlight to this year's edition of the Tour of Alberta is the opening team time trial. The 19.6km course in the city of Grande Prairie has attracted the bulk of Orica-GreenEdge's team time trial squad, led by Canadian Svein Tuft, Luke Durbridge, Jens Mouris, Michael Hepburn and Sam Bewley.

"The team time trial will be our first priority," McPartland said.

The opening stage will be a suitable test for the teams participating in the team time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, at the end of September.

"Although it’s only raced on road bikes, and there's no time trial equipment allowed, it's still the perfect preparation for the worlds because a lot of the team are coming off a training camp on the discipline and there is nothing like competition."

2015 Tour of Alberta

Stage 1: Grande Prairie - 19.6km (Team Time Trial)
Stage 2: County of Grande Prairie - 171.6km
Stage 3: Grande Cache to Jasper National Park - 181.8km
Stage 4: Jasper to Marmot Basin - 162.1km
Stage 5: Edson to Spruce Grove - 206.2km
Stage 6: Edmonton circuit race- 124.1km

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