I went downhill skiing in Jasper this past weekend, taking full advantage of the Jasper-in-January discounts. While driving up Marmot Basin Road en route to the ski hill, I kept thinking to myself, man, I’ve got to ride my bike up this mountain someday! The road up to Marmot is a stunning and steep ascent of a full-on mountain road, one of those climbs that just keeps going up and up. Think mountain goats and yetis. Yet I, somehow, had never cycled up it. I’ve ridden my road bike in the Jasper area, and, in fact, cycled right past the turn off a few times. How is it that I’ve never thought to cycle up to the chalet?
So imagine my surprise when later that day I stopped for coffee on the way back through town and saw this headline in The Jasper Local: “Tour of Alberta creates mountain stage in Jasper.” Seems I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about riding a bike up to Marmot. In the article, Tour Executive Director Duane Vienneau explains that the September 5 stage of the Tour will begin in the Jasper town site and end at the top of Marmot Basin Road. He wouldn’t reveal any more about the specifics of the route at this point, but that hardly matters to Tour organizers and fans who can finally say that the Tour of Alberta has a true mountain stage.
This is welcome, if overdue, news. The lack of a mountain stage in last year’s route was something of an embarrassment. And the year before that organizers had to settle for a stage over the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country. For a while now, it’s been obvious to cycling fans that for the Tour of Alberta to have any long term chance at success, it needs to get into the national parks in the Rocky Mountains, where Alberta keeps some of its best scenery. With the announcement of the Jasper stage for 2015, the Tour seems to have, at last, gotten that elusive foothold.
|Image courtesy http://margsrace.blogspot.ca/2014/06/road-bike-hill-climbs-in-jasper.html|
Now the organizers need to make the most of this opportunity by putting together an interesting route. The options are somewhat limited given the scarcity of paved roads in the park. Marmot Basin Road is an understandable choice for a summit finish, given the ski resort infrastructure at the top. But an even better cycling road in the park is the recently paved one up to Mount Edith Cavell (next door to Marmot), more twisty and more scenic than Marmot. However, it doesn’t really have the facilities at the top to handle a summit finish. And the problem with all of the climbs in Jasper is that there’s only the one paved access road for each, which means either finishing at the top or having two-way bike traffic, one lane up and one down, which presents some problems for a professional bike race.
With this news, I’m even more motivated to bring my road bike to Jasper some time before September. So when I watch the stage finish on September 5, I’ll have a small but still-first-hand inkling of the suffering involved in riding the Tour of Alberta’s first mountain stage.