The Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies men head north this week to begin the third leg of their summer of stage racing, the UCI 2.1 ranked Tour of Alberta. This year significantly retools the race’s traditionally sprinter friendly route, adding several challenging stages in the Canadian Rockies. The Orange & Black will field a well-rounded roster, with the hopes of contesting both the yellow jersey and stage wins in Alberta.
Four of Canada’s most popular road racers will lead the team, and should receive a rousing hometown welcome in Alberta. Leading the fight for yellow will be rising star Mike Woods, who should carry over incredible fitness from his breakout performance at the Tour of Utah. Supporting Woods will be The Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies men head north this week to begin the third leg of their summer of stage racing at the UCI 2.1 ranked Tour of Alberta. This year’s edition significantly retools a traditionally sprinter friendly route, adding several challenging stages in the Canadian Rockies and an opening team time trial (TTT). The Orange & Black will field a well-rounded roster capable of contesting the yellow jersey and stage wins in Alberta.
Four of Canada’s most popular road racers will lead the team, and should receive a rousing hometown welcome in Alberta. Leading the fight for yellow will be Mike Woods, who should carry over incredible fitness from his breakout performance at the Tour of Utah (watch a CBC News feature on Woods’ rising stardom). Supporting Woods will be three of Canada’s most beloved veterans – Alberta native Ryan Anderson, the two-time Top Canadian Rider at the race, 2014 Tour of California King of the Mountains Will Routley, and PanAm Games bronze medalist and current Canadian road race champion Guillaume Boivin, who brings his new red-tinted, maple leaf-themed kit and bicycle to Canada for the first time.
The U.S. half of the team will feature Optum p/b KBS’ strongest time trialists, Tom Zirbel and Scott Zwizanski, in the hopes of making a run at the TTT in Grande Prairie. All-rounders Jesse Anthony and Tom Soladay will hunt for stage wins, support Woods’ overall aspirations, and assemble leadouts whenever possible at the six-day stage race.
“The new route is very challenging, and it provides a lot of additional opportunities for the team,” said 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 – Anderson and Boivin had good form in Colorado, and will be extra motivated to perform on home turf. We know what Woodsy is capable of in the mountains, and being home should be extra motivation for him as well. It’s very cool that the race opens with a TTT – it will certainly shake things up on the overall, and we are bringing a team here that can excel in the discipline. It should be a very interesting week.”
The new route focuses on 3 distinct locations. The first lies along the western edge of the province, in the city of Grande Prairie. The opening TTT has unique context given the rapidly approaching TTT World Championships in Richmond, VA (September 20). It will set the tone for the general classification in Alberta while serving as final race prep for Richmond. The peloton stays in the county for stage two, with a circuit race that stays flat until a technical finishing circuit, featuring a 1.5 km climb that should put many of the race’s sprinters in difficulty.
The midpoint of the race sees two days of true mountain riding in and around Jasper National Park. Stage three’s road race travels from the town of Grande Cache to the heart of the national park, with two steep sections of climbing before a final 5 km push to the line with grades reaching 8%. The fourth stage will continue to punish the peloton with a 3-lap circuit along iconic Icefields Parkway, followed by a 12 km ascent to Marmot Basin. These back-to-back mountaintop finishes will be Woods’ chance to shine, and should go far in sorting out the general classification picture.
For those who survive the 2-day trek through the Canadian Rockies, a flat route from Edson to Spruce Grove awaits in stage five, the race’s longest at 206.2 km. Stage five is flat, but not easy – six sections of what the race is calling “Canadian pave”, essentially dirt paths with crumbling asphalt, should make it a day for only the most resilient riders. The final stage brings the peloton back into an urban setting for an 11-lap circuit race through downtown Edmonton. Stage six is no parade lap – the circuit includes a summit on Bellamy Hill, which should be the final nail in the coffin for the peloton’s most fatigued riders.
2015 Tour of Alberta Roster
2015 Tour of Alberta Route | September 2 – 7
Stage 1 | Grande Prairie TTT | 19.6 km
Stage 2 | Grande Prairie Country Circuit Race | 171.6 km
Stage 3 | Grande Cache to Jasper National Park | 181.8 km
Stage 4 | Jasper to Marmot Basin | 162.1 km
Stage 5 | Edson to Spruce Grove | 206.2 km
Stage 6 | Edmonton Circuit Race | 124.1 km