Stieda's Point: People Riding Bikes

The Tour of Alberta has almost toured through Alberta and soon the usual questions will come into view: was it worth the investment? should it be an annual event? are you really trying to tell me the peloton has a mind of its own? And, of course, what the hell is a peloton and is it native to Alberta?

But there is another question that has been quietly dropped into the mix, or maybe it's a reminder, or a challenge or a nudge. And it came from Alex Stieda, the driving force behind the Tour of Alberta. It hasn't gotten much attention.

What has gotten the attention are those usual questions. The economic development questions. They are legitimate questions. Here is where I am going:

@jdkrabbe asks
@doniveson What can you do as Mayor to make the Tour of Alberta an even bigger success in 2014?

@doniveson is a thoughtful city councillor running for Edmonton mayor. He rides a bike, his wife is a bicycle-riding blogger, he routinely leaves us with thought-provoking questions about the shape and health of cities. Faced with that question, he pedalled his answer carefully on his blog (at

First and foremost, I have to hand it to the Tour of Alberta organizers for running a top-notch event. The Edmonton ‘prologue’ kick-off was a great sporting spectacle, and thousands of Edmontonians flocked downtown to watch. The CASA family ride the day prior was a wonderful way for more than 500 Edmontonians of all ages and abilities to test out some of the course. I think they’ve got a recipe for continued success here. Cities are keen to attract events like these for good reason: they showcase our city, often provide significant economic impact by filling up hotel rooms and restaurant tables, and they instil pride. Anyone who was around for the 2010 Grey Cup celebrations in Edmonton will tell you that even people who aren’t fans of the sport or celebration in question can still find ways to have a great time. That said, cities need to be careful that they don’t lose their shirt (as we did with Indy) when trying to attract these events, ensuring that the net-benefit argument remains rational.

Yes, well said. Showcasing the city, filling hotel rooms and restaurant tables, instilling pride. All g, as my nieces say. And that's the same good songsheet provincial officials sing our song from. The Tour of Alberta became a real thing only when the Alberta government agreed with the concept and kicked in $3.5 million from our Rural Development Fund. Verlyn Olson, who is now the minister of agriculture and rural development, put it this way in an interview with the Globe & Mail: 

"The premier challenged me about a year ago when I was appointed to raise the profile of agriculture in rural Alberta," he said. "And I can't think of a better way of doing it than two hours a day on Sportsnet and reaching 100 countries and 30 to 40 million people. It is going to give us the chance to tell the story of what life is like out here." 

Again, well said. Watching on TV these racers move through downtown Edmonton, into Red Deer, through the Badlands, knowing that others in other corners of the world are seeing the same, sending the message the weather here is beautiful, the people friendly and not all hockey-consumed, the sky endless, the cities sophisticated, yes, that is so worth transmitting along good radio frequencies. 

But it's not all. 

Alex Stieda is the first North American to claim the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France. He lives in Edmonton. He worked for 10 years to transform the idea of the Tour of Alberta into the reality of the Tour of Alberta, in part, by employing the usual equation. Here, disguised as a Rapha Continental video, is a short biopic. 

On the eve of the prologue, Alex Stieda told CTV Edmonton that the Tour of Alberta was "not about bike racing; it's about people riding bikes."

I don't know Stieda, and I did not hear the entire interview, and, so, I admit that I could be reading more into that comment than he intended, and that I am using it for my own reasons. And that it could simply be a tactical comment from him, knowing there are more bicycle riders in the viewing audience than bicycle racing fans.

But, still, it strikes me as a remarkable thing for Stieda to say. The Tour of Alberta is about people riding bikes.

When big sporting events roll into and out of cities, a typical question is the legacy. What facilities are left behind? how are community programs activated?, that sort of thing. Yes, the Tour of Alberta came with neither big infrastructure builds nor Olympics-sized social upheavals, but we should not let Stieda's quiet exclamation point be swamped by the typical questions.

It's not just about restaurant tables and hotel rooms and foreign media exposure. It's also about people riding bikes. And how we safely get more people riding more bikes. I wish I heard just a little more of that.


  1. You need to keep writing this blog, Glenn. This is the first day I read it - and I went back to look at other posts - and please keep sharing. You have a very unique gift. Like John Irving, you can make the ordinary seem extraordinary. I had no idea your life took the arc that it did but, looking back, I am not surprised.

  2. Well, thank you very much for the too-kind review. And for sharing it. Because good thoughts and good thoughts delivered are two different things. I will keep writing the blog. Just spending most of my writing time finishing up my degree work. Thanks again.

  3. Well said. What degree? Ever thought of a Northeast Edmonton memoir?

  4. nobody would believe my northeast edmonton memoir! here's a start, in a different medium:

  5. I like bikes. And your video is fantastic.


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