This Labour Day, hundreds of cyclists will race through the streets of downtown Edmonton, descend through the picturesque grounds of the Alberta Legislature, jaunt through the river valley and clamour towards the finish line at Churchill Square — all before the pros on the ATB Tour of Alberta even unload their bikes.
Velothon Edmonton, which allows locals to experience road cycling just like a pro, is returning to the city's streets for a second year as part of the ATB Tour of Alberta. Not only do amateur cyclists get to race much of the same course as some of the world's best professional cyclists, they are also treated to full mechanical support, feed stations, professional timing services and, most importantly, roads that are fully closed.
"The fact that we have the ATB Tour of Alberta on immediately following the Velothon gives us that opportunity to take advantage of those same road closures," said Scott Fisher, president and CEO of Alberta Peloton Association, which owns and operates the ATB Tour of Alberta. "It’s generally a very daunting task to close down kilometres and kilometres of roads, so it’s not a very common experience."
The International Cycling Union (UCI) Velothon series is held across the globe, in conjunction with major races. The unique concept grew out of European centres, where cycling is the number one pro sport, and made its way across the Atlantic last year with the inaugural Edmonton event. Velothon Edmonton is the only velothon in North America.
Last year, city Coun. Michael Oshry was among the 600 riders who participated in Velothon Edmonton. Originally signing up for the 60-kilometre ride, he just kept going and ended up cycling the full five-loop, 100-kilometre course.
"It was just a really fun day and it was pretty cool to ride on closed roads, so I just kept going," he said. "It was great, except for my time showed up as a 60-kilometre time, so I ended up being the second-worst person in the 60-kilometre, which was a little embarrassing."
This year, Oshry signed up for the full 100-kilometre ride.
While big international events are good for promoting the city, Oshry says the Velothon is particularly interesting because it allows members of the community to participate in a similar event to the pros.
"They're not going to send someone down the (Red Bull) Crashed Ice course, for example," he said. "Although I asked."
This year there are even more ways to participate in Velothon. Cyclists choose between 60- and 100-kilometre Velothon courses, the two-kilometre ATB Family Ride supporting CASA, which supports children and family mental health initiatives, or the new two-kilometre fun run/walk component.
If spectating is more your sport, there is something for you, too. Several spin studios have partnered with Edmonton Economic Development Corporation to take cheering to a new level and liven up the course in the early morning hours with an event called Spin the City. From 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Monday Sept. 24, patrons and instructors from Spinunity, HiveFit Co, YEG Cycle and Blitz Conditioning will line the bike lanes along the Velothon course — cheering the participants on from their spin bikes.
"We've all done our races or runs, and we always find it's such a great thing to have people out there cheering," said Chris Tse, founder of Blitz Conditioning. "So whenever we are able to go out there and cheer other people on, it's like contributing back to the community."
Velothon Edmonton begins at 7:30 a.m. at Churchill Square, followed by the ATB Family Ride and Run/Walk supporting CASA at 11:30 a.m. The ATB Tour of Alberta pro race starts at 1:50 p.m. All races start and finish at Churchill Square.
Spinner or spectators needing a buzz can stop by Café Lavi starting at 7:30 a.m. The coffee shop will be open for the duration of the races and is located along the the course at 9947 104 St.
Spin the City cheer sections
All spin cheer sections are located within the city's new downtown bike network and take place from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. during the Velothon. The festival at Churchill Square, which includes a live stream, beer garden, family-friendly activities and live entertainment, takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cheer Section 1 – Join HiveFit Co on the north side of 100 Avenue just before 107 Street.
Cheer Section 2 – Join YEG Cycle on the south side of 102 Avenue between 105 and 106 streets.
Cheer Section 3 – Join Spinunity on the west side of 103 Street next to 103 Avenue.
Cheer section 4 – Join Blitz Conditioning on the west side of 103 Street next to 102 Avenue.