It’s the last day of the Tour of Alberta, it is the weekend and we are in Okotoks, near Calgary, so we notice the difference in the size of the crowd. I have been impressed with the crowds up to now, but I think today at the finish in Calgary we will see really big numbers.
On the very first day we chatted with a couple of Irish expats, J and O. O is one of the race photographers and J is responsible to navigate the race route for the driver of one of the cars that transports photographers around the route. They do this for all of the big races in North America. Every day of the race, till now, we have crossed paths with them. Today, with the number of people about I do not think we will meet up. Too bad, I would like to say so long and see you soon, but it may just have to wait until next year. Check out O’s photos on his website. www.eibhir.com (Eibhir is Irish for granite, the material the Romans used to build the cobble stone roads traversed by the riders during some of the spring classic races in Europe.)
After watching the roll out in Okotoks, Debbie and I jump in the car and head to her cousin’s place in Calgary. We want to park outside the downtown area to avoid what we assume with be a nightmare. G & M live about 2 blocks from the C train so we are going to use public transit. We arrive downtown about 1 hour before the riders, there are a few people about but it is not crowded. I have predetermined where I want to watch the city circuit from and we are well ahead of the crowd so we secure a spot and wait.
Often the last day of a ‘tour’ type race is a procession and there is not much racing involved. The last day at the Tour of Alberta does not seem to be playing out that way. There is a break of 8 or 9 riders up the road and the chase is on. There are plenty of folks about with smart phones and they are following the race on Tour Tracker so it is easy to keep up with the whereabouts of the riders.
Today is the big show and show they do. The four laps in downtown Calgary are fast, really fast. The corner where we are is about 150 degrees, we are sitting at the exit and the riders take the entire road to corner safely at speed. We are on the curb and they are riding the gutter, there is about 6 inches between us. Exciting for me, but the folks beside me are completely taken back by how fast the group is going and how close they are to each other. I do not know how many spectators there are in attendance today, lots, I am sure there are more than a few new converts to cycle race viewing.
The Tour of Alberta did exactly as the name suggests. Debbie and I have previously visited all the places the race touched, but this trip gave us an expanded look at each of them. For a person unfamiliar with our province it was showcased very well. As the race progressed, each stage took place over different terrain with totally different environmental conditions to overcome. The pancake flat stage from Sherwood Park to Camrose was very different from the rolling hills in the south around Black Diamond. The sunny fall weather enjoyed during most of the days of racing was in total contrast to the cold Alberta rain that was endured on the day the racers rode in the foothills.
The colors in the landscape are outstanding at this time of year and I enjoyed being a passenger and observing the richness of them as we passed. The grain in the fields is ripening and the deep golden color is stunning as it appears with the green of the adjacent trees and the blue of the water that sits in low lying areas.
Something very evident this year is the amount of water. It is the first year in many I have observed large expanses of water in the fields and in every pond there are ducks and geese. I’m quite sure they are loving this small change from the recent past.
The last 6 days have been a blast. Following the race, seeing all the behind the scenes action and hobnobbing with some of the people involved has been a highlight. I think 6 days in a row is about enough. It is way harder work than it may sound. We are both tired and have seen just about all the aspects of the race there is to see. We do not want to wear out our interest or curiosity. Will we do it again? I think so. On the drive home we were talking about what we learned this year and how we will alter our approach next year to make the trip even more rewarding.