Some of the top cyclists will pedal through the foothills in a grueling six-day race with stops in Okotoks and Black Diamond this summer.
More than 120 professional cyclists will start their fifth day in Black Diamond and their final day in Okotoks in the 850-kilometre Tour of Alberta pro cycling event that takes place Sept. 3 to 8.
Okotoks cyclist and owner of Ridley’s Cycle in Calgary Ron Uhlenberg, said he is thrilled to get the chance to see high caliber-riders in the flesh.
“I don’t think any of us have seen an event like this up close before,” he said. “This is an opportunity where we can see a lot of the pro teams riding on TV, riding in our own back yard. I will definitely be out on the course somewhere.”
Uhlenberg said winning the sport is more than just being the fastest cyclist.
“The intricacies of it being an ultimate team sport is very interesting,” he said. “They nominate a leader and you have different roles different rides on the team play protecting the leader. There is quite a bit of strategy on how to ride as a team and how to ride as individuals.”
Tour of Alberta event organizers and the Alberta Peloton Association announced
Tuesday the 11 host communities for the inaugural event, modeled after the Tour de France. Edmonton, Camrose, Devon, Strathcona County, Red Deer, Strathmore, Drumheller, Canmore and Calgary were also selected.
“They asked us to keep it quiet for a bit,” said Black Diamond economic development and events coordinator David Petrovich, who has known since last month. “They swore us to secrecy. It’s been really tough. I can’t wait to tell the world.”
Petrovich said it was the Alberta Peloton Association that put Black Diamond on the tour’s list of host communities.
“They are the driving force behind this,” he said. “They have come here and said, ‘We believe in you and we support you.’”
Association spokesperson Val Mellesmoen said rather than having communities bid for the tour’s inaugural year, municipalities were selected based on locations that are iconic areas in Alberta, experience hosting large events and charm.
She said it was Black Diamond’s small town feel, passageway to the Rockies and ability to hold large events that made it a community of choice.
The impact will be huge for Black Diamond, said Petrovich.
“It’s a multi-million dollar tourism boost that hits the region,” he said. “It’s an expediential rise in our exposure and nothing we will ever be able to do will match that.”
Each host community is expected to organize a festival showcasing their municipality’s character and attractions and give fans an opportunity to mingle with the athletes, said Petrovich. They are also expected to hold events promoting the race.
To help municipalities prepare for the Tour of Alberta, a logistics operations meeting was held in Red Deer last week giving tips and information on road closures, marketing, parking and accommodating thousands of people.
Petrovich said Black Diamond should have no problem hosting the event.
“We have a thriving business district that helps support these events,” he said. “We are looking at 150 vehicles coming in just for the setup team and the riders. When you are looking beyond that we are expecting thousands of people to be here.”
Mayor Sharlene Brown is excited to embrace the world this September.
“It’s an international event and we get to showcase our community to not only the rest of Alberta but the rest of the world,” she said. “We are expecting potentially 3,000 people embracing our community on Sept. 7.”
Brown said it’s too early to determine if hosting the event will cost taxpayers any money. A committee will be established to organize the town’s festivities and establish sponsorship and financial assistance to host the event, she said.
“I think we can make a splash in this,” she said. “It’s one of the things council has been trying to do is become a tourist destination.”
Okotoks will host the event on Sept. 8, the final day of the race that will have the cyclists racing to the finish line in Calgary.
Mellesmoen said Okotoks was selected based on its western family feel, character and beautiful scenery that will make great television. She also knows the town’s residents will rally behind the event. More information on the Tour of Alberta can be found at www.tourofalberta.ca