Monday, September 12, 2016

Is it West Texas? Or is it Kansas? Oh no, it's Alberta!

Canada, oh Canada
A week after returning from Rio it was time again to pack the bags. Destination: Alberta, Canada. I was scheduled for a CADF gig at Canada's only international stage race, the five-day Tour of Alberta. With promising weather, I decided to take the Ritchey along, even if it meant that I certainly wasn't traveling light. So, it was a good thing that the race organizer had Lexus of Edmonton on board and I was given the keys to a brand-spankin' new RX-350 crossover, with a mere 61 miles on the odometer. Sweet!
61 miles on the odo, and all mine for a week
I spent the first night close to the airport and then the next morning drove the 300 miles south to Lethbridge, where the Team Managers' Meeting was scheduled on the eve of the first stage. The drive south, mostly on an interstate-like highway, was definitely not the most scenic I have ever taken. Yes, Alberta has mountains (on its west side  are Banff and Jasper, and BC beckons beyond), but dead center it is flat to slightly undulating, for mile after endless mile. Seriously, it was like driving through the area between Tulia and Amarillo and then north, with pasture land stretching as far as the eye can see. Oh, and there were the wheat fields of Kansas, too. The Great White North? In the winter, for sure; but in early September it was hot and windy.
I-27 north of Lubbock? Guess again.
There were the familiar pick-up trucks, and John Deere dealerships and western wear stores completed the picture. The Tim Horton's and speed limit signs in kilometers remind one occasionally that this is Canada, but don't expect a dramatic change from your normal surroundings if you are a West Texan who is looking for an exotic vacation. This ain't it.
Typical town between Calgary and Lethbridge
Once in Lethbridge I got installed in my hotel for the night (yes, we stayed here only one night; we had to transfer about 160 miles after the conclusion of the first stage to the starting point of the second stage--and that even though the opening stage didn't conclude until about seven o'clock in the evening [and my work even later]!) and ventured out for a short ride on the race course, which was a 6-mile loop in and around Lethbridge with a dive into the river valley and climb back out of it. Once again I had to think about Lubbock--we also have holes in the ground, plus we even have some overpasses. I didn't see any of those in Lethbridge.

My second ride of this trip--and as it turned out last, thanks to crappy weather and long car transfers--came the next day when I battled a ferocious headwind for about 16 miles going south of town and then flying back to the hotel. Total mileage for this trip: 46 miles ridden, and about 950 miles driven. Expressed in kilometers, the driving part sounds even more impressive. Oh well, this is after all work and not a vacation.
The first stage was the only one that was sunny and hot
What would a sign-in be without a Mountie? 
The work was easy and pleasant, after the Rio debacle. Medalist Sport, who organized this event, is a classy outfit, and they are supportive and easy-going. I really love working with these folks. Having my car and being my own boss is certainly a big plus, and the fact that the weather unexpectedly turned sour once we hit the hillier parts in the west is just a bad coincidence. The racers had a much tougher time than I who just looked out of the hotel window and said, "OK, it's 38 degrees and drizzling, so I won't ride today." I tell you, being a professional bike racer most of the time is not a glamourous job for the vast majority of these guys.
Locals queuing up at the Beavertails trailer ...
... a lonesome C&W crooner on stage in front of a few picnic tables ...
... and Drayton Valley (really!) celebrates the finish of a ToA stage.
Official mascot of the Tour of Alberta--never caught his name
As always, I can't tell you details about my job, although I wish I could. I would tell you about young men with dreams and an iron will to make their chosen career the best it can be, because they simply love to ride their bikes, and I would tell you about the veteran team directors who in occasional private moments confide their struggles. It's a privilege to be working within this inner circle of professional cycling, a sport that must be tougher than pretty much any other that I have ever witnessed. And to be accepted and respected by these people means a heck of a lot.
My one and only view of the mountains--got here at 1:30 a.m., and left at 9:00 a.m.
We ended up in Edmonton for the last two stages. First came a short 15-minute time trial in the main city park that we shared with an ITU international triathlon event. The last stage was an exciting circuit race right outside of the Westin in downtown, where we stayed for two nights. And then the race was done, and we all celebrated at a fine taproom half a block down the street, and when they closed shop, we moved over to the Irish pub across the street until they closed, too.
Post-race party time
As I told those who wanted to hear it, the Tour of Alberta was a vacation compared to Rio. Things were more relaxed, the support was fantastic, and we all felt appreciated, whatever our role was. The only thing lacking was the exotic aura that Rio did indeed possess--but that's what you gotta expect in West Texas, or Kansas, or Alberta, eh?


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