The Ponoka Stampede notwithstanding, the Tour of Alberta might be the biggest world-class sporting event ever to whizz through Ponoka.
And you don’t know about it.
Ponoka was identified last winter as a community in stage 2 of the inaugural bike race that will see 118 cyclists and their entourages cruise through Alberta in a six-day 900k race through small towns, big cities, river valleys, prairies, badlands and the foothills. It’s a great opportunity for community leaders and businesspeople to showcase our community to a world television audience estimated at 168 million households in 162 countries. That’s more than will see the bogus Keep it Real commercial filmed here last fall.
Eight months later we’re not ready for it.
We’ll be quick with the excuses: School’s back in. Gotta work. Town doesn’t have the money in the budget. Really? Too busy to host a children’s bike rodeo at the school and have the kids line the route waving flags? Too busy to have a bicycle clearance sale? Too busy to have a barbecue at the skatepark along the route?
Yes, it will be disruptive. There won’t be any parking on Main Street Thursday. What a great opportunity to have a sidewalk sale.
Only diehard cycle buffs would know Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, Cadel Evans or Peter Sagan with or without their spandex suits bespeckled with advertising patches, so it is a $6-million question whether Ponoka residents and Albertans will line the stage routes this week. These athletes are not household names and they participate in a sport most of us have never seen up close. Cycling is something you have to do to get to work or school when your car won’t start in the morning.
Outside of racing, cycling tourism is one of the fastest growing tourism trends in the world and communities who don’t soon cater to these well-heeled visitors who want to ride through their town, visit their attractions and natural areas will be left behind.
The first Tour of Alberta has been funded by several provincial departments, local organizing communities and corporate sponsors; future tours are expected to eventually become self-sustaining. Expect regions of the province to get into a bidding war to have the event zip past their communities and tourist attractions.
The Tour of Alberta is a tremendous opportunity to promote Alberta to the world and communities along the route can easily piggyback on the groundwork laid by the provincial organizers. This first race is estimated to generate more than $30 million of economic impact.
Maybe if we thought about it as a cattle drive down Main Street, the Tour of Alberta might have generated more interest among community leaders.