End of the road for popular Tour of Alberta cycling race

The race, which started in 2013, was the biggest professional cycling event in the country, involving 29 Alberta communities that hosted over 525 professional cyclists over the years.

Economy, finances force Alberta Peloton Association to cease operations

Racers ride past open fields near Edmonton during the Tour of Alberta cycling race in 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson) (The Canadian Press/Jason Franson)

It appears the Tour of Alberta has held its last professional cycling race.

With too much financial uncertainty, the Alberta Peloton Association said Thursday it had no choice but to cease operations.

The decision "did not come easily," said the association, which hosted the event for the past five years.

"There's a change in economic times from when we started the race in 2013," said Scott Fisher, president of the association. "And it's a pricey event to put on and tour through the province. 

"The funding sources we've traditionally relied on have decreased and, in some cases, dried up."

The tour was the biggest professional cycling event in the country. It cost about $1 million per day to run, Fisher said. 

There were few ticket-selling opportunities, since the race was held outdoors. 

"That means we rely on funding from host communities, the provincial government, and corporate funders. At some level, all of those have been impacted.

"It's Alberta, so I'm sure the price of oil has an impact. It's just a different time for the funds available for these types of events." 

Major funders included ATB Financial and the province of Alberta. 

Fisher said the province had agreed to help get the event started but did not want to fund the tour indefinitely.

"Their funding was significantly pulled back and we weren't able to replace that with corporate funds to the extent we felt the event was viable."
Benjamin Chaddock with Team Smartstop-Mountain Khakis is cheered on as he rides during the Tour of Alberta cycling race in 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson) (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

While the cycling race captured the interest of Albertans and cycling fans from around the world, it did not attract the level of financial support needed from public and private-sector partners to be sustainable, even with government support, said Marion Nader, press secretary for Ricardo Miranda, the minister of culture and tourism.

"Therefore we have made the difficult decision to not provide further provincial funding for the Tour of Alberta. We feel this is a prudent decision in the best interest of Albertans."

Since 2013, the government has provided over $10 million in financial and in-kind support, Nader said.

Seen around the world

The Tour of Alberta, which started in 2013, has involved 29 Alberta communities that have hosted more than 525 professional cyclists representing 33 countries.

Racers pedalled through the Rocky Mountains, past prairie landscapes and through urban streets. The event was broadcast around the world in more than 150 countries and reached millions of viewers.

Supporters said it was a way to showcase the vistas of Alberta.

"We think it's something where we showcase Alberta, our people, and our communities to the world," Fisher said. 

"So it's sad to see it go but it's been a great five years."

The Tour of Alberta was named the 2017 Road Cycling Event of the Year by Canadian Cycling, the national governing body for the sport.

Fisher said he hopes the sport grows in popularity in Alberta and one day another version of the race might return to the province.