In Episode 3 of The Outer Line “Retrospectives” podcast, we talk with Alex Stieda, the first North American to wear the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, Canadian ambassador of cycling, and current FloBikes cycling announcer. Alex reflects on the flyer he took at the 1986 Tour de France that resulted in five category leader’s jerseys, how track cycling launched his pro road career, his love of technological influence on cycling, and the highs and lows of founding Canada’s first national tour – the Tour of Alberta.
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Like many Canadian kids, Alex Stieda grew up dreaming of being a professional hockey player – not a bike racer. After a stint in figure skating as a youth, where he learned how to skate fast, Stieda was a dedicated hockey player through his teens. But as he wondering what to do during the summer to stay in shape, he took up cycling, and before long he was winning every bike race he entered. He later started riding on the track, where he eventually represented his country in the Olympics, and finally found his way to the road. He went to Belgium, and entered “every kermesse I could find,” and gradually built up his road racing chops.
His break came when he was asked by Jim Ochowicz to join the original 7-Eleven team. Stieda’s biggest and most memorable moment came during stage 2 of the 1986 Tour de France, where he broke away unnoticed and managed to garner enough intermediate points to grab the yellow jersey. In those days, the Tour sometimes ran two stages in one day, and Stieda only managed to hold on to the maillot jaune over lunch, losing it in the afternoon as his team faltered badly in the team time trial. He laughs as he remembers the team’s horrible performance that afternoon, but he says, “They can’t ever take that away from me – the first North American to wear the yellow jersey!”
Since retiring from the sport, Stieda has worked in the IT business in his adopted town of Edmonton – but cycling is still a central part of his life. “Sometimes I can make a living from cycling,” he says, “and at other times I don’t, but that’s OK.”
Stieda’s profile within Canada and specifically his adopted province was re-energized through the Tour of Alberta. The event claimed several high-profile stage winners: Cadel Evans, Michael Matthews, Peter Sagan, and Tom Dumoulin. Overall racer winners were Rohan Dennis, Bauke Mollema, and Daryl Impey, with category winners including Canadian hero and past Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal as well as the Yates twins. Stieda is proud of the race’s accomplishments, which included the highest-ranked stage race in Canadian history, and the historic achievement of being the first to stage a cycling race in a Canadian National Park (Banff and Jasper). Unfortunately, the race ultimately faltered as a result of differences between the main hosting cities of Calgary and Edmonton.
Stieda remains actively involved in the sport and rides regularly, including right through the tough Edmonton winter. He follows the pro sport carefully and has just finished a stint of commentating on the Giro d’Italia for the streaming site FloBikes. He also closely monitors technological change in the sport and believes that graphene-reinforced carbon fiber will be the next big revolution in the sport.
“The sport of cycling has been really great for me,” Stieda says. “Even today, 35 years later (from historic Tour de France ride), I still get a lot of free coffee and beers! Cycling is still my passion. It’s a sport that has given a lot, and I just want to try to give something back.”