On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Posts tagged ‘Tour of Alberta’

My Time with the Pros

The Tour of Alberta is a professional, UCI 2.1, road cycling stage race and has been held in Alberta for the past 3 Septembers. It is the highest ranked professional road bike race in Canada, participated in by many of the same riders who ride in the Tour de France, Olympics and World Championships. I have volunteered at many of the Edmonton area stages in a number of capacities for the first 2 years – as course marshal, crowd control, team parking, and anti-doping chaperone – but this year I decided to go all in and follow the tour around the province. Through a friend with connections, I was able to snag a position as “hydration staff” in the VIP tent. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I mean, how much work can it be to be a bartender? In this case – lots! It was supposed to be a plumb job but I haven’t worked that hard for years! Long hours and more physical than I imagined because we were considered as part of the crew, helping set up and take down the show every day. One of the regular crew described it as like working for a traveling circus.

There were 4 of us volunteers in the VIP area – 2 hydration staff, 1 hospitality manager and 1 hospitality front door manager. None of us expected the work to be as physically exhausting as it was. For the four of us, it meant setting up the VIP area at each of the 6 finish locations – hauling and setting up tables, chairs, and enough cases of beer, wine, pop, juice and water to serve up to 300 guests; decorating the venue with sponsor banners, flags, etc.; serving the guests for a 3 to 4-hour duration; deconstructing the place back to how we found it in the morning; loading it all back into our supply truck, then helping the finish crew pack up everything else on site in preparation for the move to the next day’s finish line. It wasn’t often that we got to sit down. At least contractors set up and took down the tents each day so we didn’t have to do that too! Besides the long hours and the physical effort, the abnormally cold and wet weather was draining as well. The longest day was September 5th, the mountain top finish at Marmot Basin. We were up at 5 a.m., on the road by 5:30, and at the top of Marmot by 6 to start setting up. We opened the bar by noon, “hydrated” the guests until an hour after the race ended at 3:30 p.m., then started the tear down. Once our work was done at 6 p.m., we were able to start the 4-hour drive back down the mountain and home to Edmonton. After 2 nights in Grande Prairie and another 2 in the Jasper area, the next day’s stage was in Spruce Grove so at least I got to sleep in my own bed that night!

All this is not to say that we didn’t enjoy the experience. It gave us a great insight into how a well-coordinated, time-constrained operation worked and was an eye-opening example of organized chaos.

It was also great to see how the pro riders and different teams dealt with the day-to-day challenges. Weather that I wouldn’t think of going riding in, these guys did it for over 200 kms. Of course, that’s their job but it still takes a special type of person to love the sport that much to endure that much discomfort and pain. Dirt – no, check that – mud roads, temperatures barely above freezing, pelting rain and buffeting winds were all in their days work. And the riders we got to talk to were all regular guys. No prima donnas with elite athlete arrogance, just regular guys who like to ride bikes very fast over long distances.

Also a hoot for Chris, my hydration partner, and I was a chance to ride in a VIP pace car for 2 laps in the Edmonton circuit. My driver was an ex-highway patrolman from the U.S. who also taught pursuit driving to his officers. Whoa – what a ride! It wasn’t long on lap 1 before the circuit went downhill and the riders were doing 70 kph. Blasting through the red lights and stop signs and cutting corners very fast was a little unnerving and VERY fun! Something we don’t get to do every day – or ever.

I came back from the tour with a bunch of team bidons (water bottles), hats, and musettes (courtesy of friendly soigneurs) and a ton of respect for the people who put this show on, from organizers to racers. And I’d love to do it all over again next year.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Cycling Team members rode into the VIP tent to have a pre-race coffee.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Cycling Team members rode into the VIP tent to have a pre-race coffee.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Team Cipollini bikes. Yes, I was drooling.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Team Cipollini bikes. Yes, I was drooling.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Bauke Mollema after sign in. He was the GC winner after 6 stages.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Bauke Mollema after sign in. He was the GC winner after the 6 stages.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Ryder Hesjedal after sign-in. First Canadian winner of a Grand Tour (2012 Giro d'Italia).

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Ryder Hesjedal after sign-in. First Canadian winner of a Grand Tour (2012 Giro d’Italia).

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Setting up the finish on a foggy, cold day.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Setting up the finish on a foggy, cold day.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Snow line almost down to race level.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Snow line almost down to race level.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Great view of the stage from the bar but the speakers were deafening.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Great view of the stage from the bar but the speakers were deafening!

2015.09.04 Miette5

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Stage 3 winners.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Cloudy below but sunny on top.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Setting up at 7 a.m. Cloudy below but sunny on top.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Setting up the fences and banners.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Setting up the fences and banners.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The presentation stage and beer garden area. Still cloudy below the summit finish.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The presentation stage and beer garden area. Still cloudy below the summit finish.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The crowded VIP area.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The crowded VIP area.

Sep 6, 2015. Spruce Grove. Mike and Chris in their bar.

Sep 6, 2015. Spruce Grove. Mike and Chris in their bar.

Sep 7, 2015. Edmonton. The Timeboard moto message, taken on my VIP car ride.

Sep 7, 2015. Edmonton. The Timeboard moto message, taken on my VIP car ride.

Tour of Alberta 2013

Wow! What a week for cycling fans in Alberta! The inaugural Tour of Alberta, a UCI 2.1 road bike stage race, was held at various venues across the province and was it ever a hoot. I watched the prologue in Edmonton on Tuesday evening, then volunteered for Stage 1 in Sherwood Park (road marshal) on Wednesday and at Stage 2 in Devon (team parking) on Thursday. Of course, the stars of the show were Peter Sagan (the number 2 ranked cyclist in the world), Cadel Evans (winner of 2011 Tour de France), and Ryder Hesjedal (winner of 2012 Giro d’Italia). But there were lots of other world ranked cyclists taking part too, as well as a bunch of up-and-comers. Since the Vuelta a Espana, the 3rd of the big 3 races (with the TdF and Giro), was taking place at the same time, it was nice to get such a quality group.

This was the first time that most Albertans had been exposed to riding of this calibre, except for the lucky few who have purposely gone to Europe for the big races. And I have to say that these guys came as advertised – regular, friendly guys who just happen to be able to ride their bikes insanely fast for hours and hours. Some of the teams arrived in Edmonton a few days before the start and could be seen riding around the city, checking out the prologue route while avoiding traffic and finding out where the potholes were. Traffic wouldn’t be a problem on race day but the potholes surely would be. Some of our club riders, out for our usual Tuesday morning ride, encountered one of the teams when both groups happened to stop for a break at one of the local cafes. Apparently they were very accommodating in answering questions (How much did your bike cost? About 10,00. Dollars?  No, Euros) and posing for pictures.

Of course, there was some complaining from the car-centric portion of the population due to the fact that the centre of the city would be closed to all motor vehicles from 2-9 pm on a workday. But they were in the minority, judging by the festival atmosphere and the number of bikes taking advantage of the car free roads downtown. Churchill Square, the start/finish area, was packed.  I was lucky enough to get a spot right beside the start house, where I got a good view of all the riders and could see the big screen so I could follow the action on the course.

 

Peter Sagan and a pensive looking Cadel Evans at the prologue.

Peter Sagan and a pensive looking Cadel Evans at the prologue.

Peter Sagan waiting his turn at prologue start

Peter Sagan waiting his turn at prologue start

Peter Sagan at prologue start

Peter Sagan at prologue start

 

Cadel Evans at prologue start

Cadel Evans at prologue start

Ryder Hesjedal at prologue start

Ryder Hesjedal at prologue start

My volunteer job in Sherwood Park involved guarding a parking lot for a condo complex on the neutral lap route. Not onerous, by any means, but necessary. The people I dealt with all knew about the race, had no problem with losing access to their driveway for half an hour and were keen to watch the caravan of cops, teams cars, riders, and more team cars go by their door. A fellow volunteer across the street, though, said that one resident came up to him and asked “What’s going on?”.  How is it that people can function in society without reading the papers, listening to radio or watching the news? This event has been publicized heavily for weeks and this guy wasn’t aware of it?  It boggles the mind.  The only disappointing part of the day was the abysmal tv coverage of the Stage by Sportsnet. They lost their remote transmission signals, the ones from the camera motos that ride along with the riders, and the commentators were left to their own devices to try and fill 2 hours of air time with no action video.  There was a lot of cutting to commercial and blathering on while we looked at an empty finish line.  You would think that they would be better prepared with emergency contingencies. The video feed was going to over 100 countries so you would think that maybe checking the equipment to make sure that it worked would be a priority. Because of their screw up, Eurosport dropped their live coverage of the next few stages of the race. How embarrassing. If you want to play with the big boys Sportsnet, get your shit together!

My job for Stage 2 in Devon was a little more interesting.  A number of us were to monitor access to the team bus parking area – not to keep fans out of it but to keep them from getting smucked by the riders as they rode through the mass of humanity up to the start line to sign in, then back to the bus, then back to the start line when it was time to go.  (Any rider that stopped to ask us a question, that question was always “Where are the bathrooms?” Some teams have nice tour buses but not fully equipped apparently.) These pros are not like football or hockey players, with private entrances to their workplace so that the fan cannot interact with them. No! Fans here have full access to the team parking area.  As soon as, say, the Garmin-Sharp bus parks, it is surrounded by autograph seekers, school kids, Ryderphiles, and just the simply curious. As our “boss” said, we had to keep our heads on a swivel to prevent someone from getting hurt. Bikes were coming from both directions through a 10-foot wide entrance to the course that was frequently clogged with fans. The riders must be used to this though – they are not only fast on the course but are very nimble biking through crowds!  The one good thing is that all the riders had to pass us slowly, and in close proximity, at least 3 times.  Most escaped my camera while I was trying to keep fan and rider from an intimate encounter. But not Cadel Evans.

Cadel Evans returning to his team bus after signing in.

Cadel Evans returning to his team bus after signing in for Stage 2

Thankfully, Sportsnet got their technical problems worked out for the remaining Stages.  The one video shot I will always remember, and is sure to be iconic for the tour, is when a group of horses started racing the peleton during the Strathmore to Drumheller stage. Lovely Alberta shot!  This still shot, taken by VeloImages, captures Robert Gesink with 1 of the horses.

Robert Gesink with another racer. Photo by VeloImages.

Robert Gesink with another racer. Photo by VeloImages.

All in all, this has been a wonderful 6 days for this cycling fan.  Got to see some of my favourite racers in person, got to experience a major bike race traversing my province (in Stage 1 on roads that I ride with my buddies), and witness the sheer power and speed of the peleton (they generate a wind like a semi). What a rush!  Sure hope that they are able to get the funding to keep it going for next year.

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