More than 40 million worldwide viewers are expected to tune in to the Tour of Alberta six-day race — and catch a glimpse of Ponoka.
The tour is set for Sept. 3 to 8 and Ponoka has been chosen as one of the pass through towns Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. during phase 2 of the race. Planning for this race has been seven to 10 years in the making, which started with Alex Stieda, a Canadian biker who always wanted to see a race similar to the Tour de France in Alberta, says Duane Vienneau, executive director for the tour.
After some planning and networking, the Alberta Rural Development Fund jumped at the chance to make the dream a reality and provided seed money with $3.5 million, about half of the full cost of the tour.
“That’s really what started the ball rolling down the road, if you will,” said Vienneau.
Some funds have already been secured to continue the race and Vienneau hinted at the possibility of an announcement in the near future. Flooding in southern Alberta affected some of their plans with one leg of the race finishing off in Canmore in Kananaskis County but the town was unable to deal with the race and repairs.
Canmore lost the finish on that leg but the tour will return another year.
“We’ve already committed to them for the future that we are going to go and give this race back to them,” said Vienneau.
The intention is to be around forever.
“We have the ability to go forever as long as it’s feasible and sustainable,” he added.
Ponoka is one of many communities that have been tied into the race and spectators can look forward to a sprint on 50 Street. The racer to win the sprint will receive a sprint jersey for that day.
“It’s a big deal for these cyclists, they want to have that jersey…There will be lots of excitement coming through Ponoka,” explained Vienneau.
He feels stage 2 will pose a different level of challenge as there are not too many elevations but a strong headwind could slow down bikers. The Tour de France is a three-week race and Alberta’s challenge is six days so there are some differences. Vienneau looks forward to establishing the Tour of Alberta as a premiere international bike race.
“It’s just a very different event for what Albertans are used to,” he said.
Most events in the province are held in a stadium or show grounds but the stadium for this event is Alberta. “It’s constantly moving down the road to the next location.”