The Tour of Alberta has thrown a lot of different terrain and elements at the peloton over the years, from long, flat grinds through the farmland and plains to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains on the western border of the province. Gravel sections and "Canadian Pavé" have also tested riders' mettle. But it is the winter-like weather in 2015 that has stuck with the 2.1 Canadian race's reputation as this year's edition starts on Friday in Jasper National Park.
Rain and wind have battered at least one stage of nearly every edition of the race, but the six-day 2015 contest that started in the northern end of the province and worked its way south has a special place in the memories of most riders. Rain started on stage 2 and by the time the race reached the mountains, winter had apparently already arrived as snow fell lightly on the riders. Rain and gravel mixed on stage 5 to create a special kind of hell for the riders, but the weather finally cooperated for a dry final day.
The 2015 race is likely why riders often refer to 'rain bags' and 'warm clothes' when they talk about Alberta. So far the weather for this year's four-day race looks dry and clear, but the mountains usually have the final say in these things.
No matter the weather, all eyes will be on the green argyle kit of Cannondale-Drapac when the race takes off from Jasper. Not only is the US team the only WorldTour squad in the race – down from a race-high of six in 2013 – recent news about the sponsorship woes for the team and possible shuttering of the doors next year have only intensified the spotlight. Morale within the squad has got to be teetering, but riders will be motivated by another opportunity to show off their skills for potential employers.
The Cannondale-Drapac riders will have to deal with Pro Continental outfit UnitedHealthcare along with the rest of the top North American domestic teams, including defending champions Holowesko-Citadel, Tour of Utah winners Rally Cycling, longtime stalwart Jelly Belly-Maxxis and up-and-coming Silber Pro Cycling. Other teams on the start line include Aevolo, Medellin-Inder, Elevate-KHS, Garneau-Quebecor, H&R Block and Amore & Vita.
Cannondale-Drapac's Tom-Jelte Slagter has proven his mettle on the race's Queen stage before when the same route was used in 2015. That year, Slagter won both stages 3 and 4 and finished third overall in what was then a six-day race. He'll have plenty of support from Nathan Brown, Lawson Craddock and Alex Howes, who was recently third at the Colorado Classic. Cannondale-Drapac is also loaded for the flat stages, with Wouter Wippert available for the sprints and Kristijan Koren ready to look for breakaway opportunities.
With defending champion Robin Carpenter recovering from a crash in Utah and not on the start line in Alberta, Holowesko-Citadel will likely look to TJ Eisenhart to shine at Marmot Basin and pick up the general classification banner. Utah stage winners John Murphy and Ty Magner will also be on hand to look for daily victories.
The biggest challenge for the general classification win could come from Rally Cycling, which has three riders capable of wearing the final leader's jersey in Edmonton.
Rob Britton has been on fire this season and should be relatively fresh after coming off of a brief break following Utah and the Colorado Classic. Britton, who moved from British Columbia to Calgary last year, says the Tour of Alberta is the closest thing he has to a home race. Evan Huffman has two stage wins earlier this year at the Tour of California, and he won the overall at the Tour of the Gila, a race that requires significant climbing abilities. Sepp Kuss wore yellow for a day in Utah and should find the Marmot Basin stage to his liking.
Jelly Belly-Maxxis will bring Serghei Tvetcov, who was third in Utah and second in the Colorado Classic. The Romanian, who was second to Huffman at Tour of the Gila, would no doubt like to add the elusive overall win to his 2017 palmares.
UnitedHealthcare, the only Pro Continental team in the race, will have Janier Acevedo, Jonny Clarke and Alex Cataford for the general classification, while sprinter Travis McCabe and strongman Tanner Putt will be hunting stage wins.
The 2017 Tour of Alberta route is front-loaded with the longest and most difficult stage coming on the first day.
The 162km opening stage on September 1 reprises a route from the 2015 race, taking the peloton over three loops through Jasper National Park before the final climb to Marmot Basin Ski Resort. Cannondale-Drapac's Slagter survived a barrage of attacks on the final climb in 2015 to take the win on the same course and eventually finish third overall.
Stage 2 starts in Spruce Grove about 30km west of Edmonton and finishes there 139km later with three short circuits in town and a likely bunch sprint at the finish.
Stage 3 starts and finishes in Edmonton near the University of Alberta on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River that snakes through the city. The 116km route will take the peloton north to the turn around then back to what should be a fast finish at Windsor Park.
The final stage on September 4 will take place on what has become the traditional final stage 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 battleground for the general classification.
Four is the lowest number of race days since the Tour of Alberta took off in 2013, when there were six days of racing and six WorldTour Teams. Five WorldTour teams came to the race in 2014 and 2015. The race dropped to five days in 2016, when only two WorldTour teams attended. This year's single WorldTour team is the lowest number there has been at any Tour of Alberta so far.
Rohan Dennis, riding for Garmin-Sharp at the time, won the inaugural edition in 2013 with a general classification raid in crosswinds on stage 3 that saw nearly 20 riders go clear and finish with more than 16 minutes on the rest of the field. In 2014, Daryl Impey (Orica-Scott) snatched the overall win on the final day from Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), who led from the opening prologue time trial. The next year saw Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) take the overall win after an impressive ride to Marmot Basin, where Slagter won the stage. Carpenter surprised the WorldTour teams in 2016 with the overall win, taking the lead in the Merckx-style individual time trial and hanging on through the final day.
Peter Sagan came to the race with Cannondale in 2013 and promptly won the opening stages in Edmonton and Camrose, leading the race for three days. He closed out his only Alberta appearance with a third stage win on the final day, the most any rider has won at the race. Slagter is second with two stages wins, both in 2015.
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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