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St. Albert should grab the bike by the handlebars

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 25, 2012 06:00 am

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Last Sunday, some 1,300 people hopped on their bikes for a glorious ride through the Alberta countryside. The reason was the 18th edition of the Tour de l’Alberta, an event that has grown steadily in popularity and sophistication over the years. It now offers routes of varying length to accommodate cyclists of differing abilities. Mechanics and other support staff are available to make repairs. There is a fine meal of pasta and fruit at the end. To the organizers and volunteers, a round of applause is in order. Bravo.

Cycling is a hot sport these days. Part of this is due to the focus on professional riders like Lance Armstrong and, more recently, Ryder Hesjedal, the Canadian cyclist who won the Giro d’Italia. As well, there has been a growing recognition of the many benefits of cycling. It provides an excellent cardiovascular workout. It’s easier on the ankles, knees and back than running. It is a great way to spend time with friends and family. Cycling is, or should be, a social event as much as a physical activity. That is certainly how it is practised in the great cycling nations of Europe – Belgium, Germany, Spain, France and Italy.

Indeed, more and more Canadians are now taking part in what is known as a Gran Fondo, a phrase that comes from Italy and means big ride. In practical terms, it is a mass participation cycling event, and there will probably be several dozen Gran Fondos in Canada this year. Alberta alone has four, and one of them is the Tour de l’Alberta. True, it’s not called a Gran Fondo, but that’s what it is and it is part of a wave of enthusiasm for cycling that is sweeping the country.

There are opportunities for St. Albert in this phenomenon. For several years now, cycling legend Alex Stieda has been working to bring a professional bike race to Alberta. Steida, who now lives in Edmonton, was the first Canadian to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, the most prestigious cycling race in the world. Stieda’s dream is to bring a shorter version of the Tour de France to Alberta in 2013, a six-day race that would begin in Edmonton and end in Calgary. Each stage in the race would cover, say, 150 to 200 kilometres. Day one would might start and end in Edmonton, but the rest of the day would be spent outside the city.

St. Albert should do everything in its power to ensure the race comes through here, right up the trail through the centre of the city. Thanks in part to the Tour de l’Alberta, St. Albert can lay claim to a legitimate cycling pedigree, and it should capitalize on that to secure a place on the race route. If local MLAs are unaware of this event, the city should let them know. A big chunk of the funding for this race is coming from provincial coffers.

One more thing. The 1978 Commonwealth Games saw the construction of many sporting venues, including the outdoor velodrome on Edmonton’s south side. That facility is now dying. The local cycling community has approached the city of Edmonton about building a new velodrome – this one indoors – but with no success.

St. Albert, again with its cycling pedigree, should seize seriously consider the opportunity to help build a new velodrome, maybe linked to Servus Credit Union Place, that would serve the region and beyond. The dividend would be paid out over decades in better health, community spirit and provincial and national prestige.


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