It is always a good idea to have a ‘theme’ for a trip. It is easy to stay focused and gives a point of reflection for the events of each day. It makes for an easy trip when the theme is a given. Somebody decides to put on the Tour of Alberta bike race. We decide to follow, theme provided.
Today is the day we head out on the road, just like the peleton, which leaves from Devon this morning and will finish in Red Deer. Red Deer is too far for a day trip so we pack up the car with bikes and camping equipment and head south. Our goal is just north of Ponoka on highway 2A for the feed zone. Highway 2 is the fastest route, we drive it often heading towards Canmore or Calgary. We are not used to driving short distances on this 4 lane freeway and we blow by our intended turn off without even realizing it. In fact we are so far along we have to turn into Ponoka and backtrack along 2A. We still arrive at the feed about 45 minutes early.
It is time to chat with the behind the scene workers. The guys that drive here and there, pack the lunches the riders will pick up and eat on the fly, and assorted other duties that need to be attended to in order that the race team machine continues to function. I chat with the lady from Smartstop, totally pleasant and seems to be enjoying life. I ask how hard it is to not get her arm taken off when a rider grabs a musette from her while passing by at 30km/hour. She tells me she is as steady as an oak and if anyone is going down it would be the rider so they had better learn how to do the job properly or it is their demise.
I try to speak to the Orica/Greenedge crew but they seem completely aloof. I speak to them in English and they ignore me. I say something else and the one guy’s response is in some other language. I do not get it and say ‘excuse me’, he repeats and I ask him ‘say again’ the other fellow says they are French. They obviously understand me, they work for an English speaking team and must be able to communicate but choose not to, they are downright rude about it. I do not think they understand part of their job is public relations and like it or not they must be pleasant to the general public without whom their jobs would not exist.
Me being me, I am not dissuaded and stop to talk to the fellows putting together the feed bags for Belkin. Both super guys, one from Holland and one from Belgium. They travel the world doing their work, Europe of course, North America (they are here), China, Australia, Africa, Japan, wherever the team goes, they go. Pay is only OK but the benefits are very good.
Debbie’s Note: While Murray is chatting up the team crews, I am sitting on the shoulder further down the road contemplating. I am of two views about staying connected to the world. In one way it is serene to just sit and stare off across the fields watching the clouds and the long grasses dance in the breeze, listening to the grasshoppers and the wheat brushing against each other in the wind. The other side of me wants to know what is happening in the race. Where is the peleton? Is there a break? When will they arrive at the feed zone? To be connected to the world, or not? Serenity and not knowing or being up to date and knowing?
The peleton blasts through at 40 or 50 km/hr. They have a tailwind and the break is getting too far ahead. After all that lunch prep only 2 musettes are grabbed. Twenty people line up at the side of the road and the riders blow by. With no one interested in lunch we are totally unsuccessful at collecting any swag today. Oh well. When the bags are not taken by the riders the team cars make a quick stop and take the food on board to pass out to the riders on the move. This to me looks twice as congested as when the riders themselves grab the loot.
We fall in behind the entourage and start our trip to the finish line. We try to out fox the line a couple of time but not knowing the back roads it is us that gets outfoxed. Once passed Ponoka and back on Highway 2 we make time and execute our plan to the letter, entering Red Deer as anticipated and finding a parking space 2 blocks from the finish.
Wow, is it crowded. Truck drivin’, bike hatin’ Alberta, where they fill 1/2 the highway shoulder with rumble strips impossible to ride on and the streets are packed to watch a bike race? It is a world class event and any world class event is worth a look see but I am really impressed by the numbers that have turned out to watch as skinny spandex clad young men aboard carbon fibre steeds hurl themselves at 50km/hr around the city streets. There are even people installed at most of the little highway pull outs or in the driveways sitting on lawn chairs patiently awaiting the 10 sec blur of color that is about to pass by.
The end of the race is again 3 laps of a 3km circuit in downtown and Red Deer has responded. The finish area is lined 2 deep and there is very little space. Debbie manages to secure a spot for us about 3M after the finish line and once ensconced we guard our space like it is gold, or chocolate, or Coke! One lapse of concentration and the tallest guy in the area will be standing between my camera and the spot where the winner will cross the line.
Today is one of those rare times when the break manages to fend off the chasers and they are able to finish about 30 seconds before the group makes their mad dash. It must have been a harder day than yesterday because the riders finish in dribs and drabs over the next few minutes.
We skip the podium ceremonies and go in search of the team buses and maybe a few autographs. Don’t know what we will do with them but it does give us a chance to talk to a few of the warriors. Most of the guys are super, some not so much but they seem enthusiastic about what they are engaged in.
The theme for this jaunt is the bike race. We are trying hard to see as many aspects of the race and the set up as possible. We have taken in a couple of feed zones and a couple of finishes. Tomorrow is one of the big hills and we intend to ride our bikes to the top and see who is going to collect the king of the mountain points. It is all downhill back to the finish where we will again witness the dash for the line.