“To be a really top end bike racer you have to be tough. Tough tough tough.”
Jasperite Dana Ruddy is driving the Athabasca Falls loop, south along Highway 93A and back towards town via Highway 93. It’s part of the same route that, in September, the world’s best cyclists will ride during the Tour of Alberta’s much-vaunted mountain stage. Ruddy, who’s accepted a volunteer post with the Tour of Alberta’s local organizing committee (LOC), is slowing down at spots along the road which he thinks might work for potential supporting—or ancillary—events. As the LOC’s ancillary event coordinator, he is taking the lead on ensuring that some of Jasper’s most unique imagery will be on display when the peloton of 120-plus riders go screaming by. The Tour of Alberta’s television broadcasters will beam the race to an estimated 41 million households across the world and when the cameras aren’t focused on the racers, it’s part of Ruddy’s job to help take advantage of every tilt, track, zoom and pan that can capture what makes Jasper National Park special.
The problem is, he’s a bit distracted. Instead of thinking about what would really make for stunning images at Horseshoe Lake, for example, Ruddy’s talking racing tactics.
“Typically the Tour of Alberta will be won by a few seconds. This year, because of the mountain stages, it will be more selective. You’ll see bigger gaps. It’ll be a different type of racer who’ll win.”
Ruddy has a deep knowledge of the sport in large part because he himself used to compete. Beginning as a mountain biker racer at age 16, then switching to the road scene when he turned 18, for two years Ruddy raced against the best amateur road cyclists in the world. He spent two summers in Belgium, where he quickly learned how serious the Flemish take their cycling.
“Everybody follows it there, and the races go through the villages,” he said. “It would be a comparable level of excitement in Canada if the Stanley Cup was being played for in the streets.”
“It’s such a different culture,” Ruddy said.
Cycling culture is rich and storied, but its recent past is ugly. Blood doping among the sport’s most prominent figures has marred cycling in the mainstream media. Ruddy, however, says the scandal only adds to the intrigue.
“It’s a soap opera that plays out on the highways,” he said. “And the most exciting race of the Tour of Alberta, by far, will be here in Jasper.”