Australia · Cycling

Week 68: Watching the Women’s Tour Down Under

On Monday morning in Adelaide, I had to take mum’s car in to the shop to be fixed. I would later go and pick it up on Wednesday, but I took the opportunity to head into the city to head to uni to catch up with old friends once more. It was a rather relaxed afternoon there, much discussion was had about the new Google Home that several people had purchased.

On Tuesday however, my old friends were coming up to my place instead. They made it up in three car loads: Jason, Urwah, Racquel, Josh, Ryan, Rob and Kim. It was mostly relaxed, I put some food on the barbecue, we hung out in the quiet, rural property. We took turns flying down the flying fox, and throwing the frisbee to Stella. That afternoon, we put the mountain bikes in the back of the car and drove into the forest to get the view from Mount Misery. I wanted to go a different way up the hill, so I went up a track I hadn’t been up in ages. What I didn’t realise was that a series of floods had made the track unstable and overgrown. I ventured on, making it most of the way up the track through the blackberries, ruts and rocks, until we reached a fallen down tree and could go no further. A rather tricky three point turn followed, heading back down the track in search of a more well-trodden route.

We eventually made it to the top of the hill, looking out over the beauty of the hills. On the way down, we stopped at the top of a bike trail to let Jason and Josh ride down on mountain bikes. The rest of us drove around to the bottom of the path, and waited what seemed like an age for them. When they eventually arrived, on the last bend of the trail, Jason came off the trail, falling into a ditch and making Josh crash into his bike. Jason’s ankle was swelling, so we put him into the car and brought him home to put ice on it.

 

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After everybody had left, Mum came home from work. I met her at the car and suggested that we should head back down to town to go to the Big Bash cricket that evening. This was the T20 cricket tournament run through December and January, and the Adelaide team were looking like a good finals chance. She agreed, so I quickly booked tickets, we got changed and headed for town. We parked on the edge of town and rode scooters in to the Adelaide Oval. We were seated high in the Donald Bradman stand, up above the bowler’s arm. The Adelaide Strikers were playing the Melbourne Stars, who were playing poorly this season. We managed to make it in time for the second ball. The Stars batted first, only managing a modest total, which Adelaide managed to chase down with 8 balls to spare.

 

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The start of the academic term was next week, which unfortunately clashed with one of my favourite events of the Australian summer: the Tour Down Under. Hence, instead of being by the roadside watching top professional cyclists batter the heat up local climbs, I would instead have to be in the cold and dark UK. But all hope was not lost, I was determined instead to follow the Women’s Tour Down Under, in part to enjoy the spectacle of the racing, but also to support Women’s sport more broadly. The race began on Thursday in the blistering heat in Gumeracha, the next town over from home. I set out with enough time to make the start, not intending to go directly there but instead detouring over a small, unsealed road to make my journey more interesting. However, my journey was cut short almost immediately, puncturing my bike tyre on the driveway, about a kilometre from home. I tried replacing it with a spare, but it burst as well as soon as I tried to pump it up. The side wall of the tyre was busted, and I needed to walk it back home. I ended up borrowing the wheel from Dad’s bike and heading out again.

I made it to Gumeracha as the cyclists were signing on ready for the start of the race. They would head out on a nearly 60 km circuit through the northern Adelaide Hills; all places and towns I was deeply familiar with: Birdwood, where I used to play soccer; Mt Pleasant, where Mum would enter her giant pumpkins in the local country show; Mt Torrens; where I once won a junior cricket final, and Lobethal, where Nana was now living. The heat and the fact that it was a weekday meant the turn-out was around a hundred people. The cyclists were having photos taken with a kangaroo joey brought around from a local wildlife centre. I stood next to the local mayor as he fired the starting gun. The race took off, leaving us all behind to wait around for about 90 minutes for the second lap.

I briefly went to walk around the local park and grab a sausage from the local rotary club. A number of local clubs had set up stalls selling coffee and trinkets to the passing cyclists. There weren’t all that many people around, so I sat down in a bus shelter near to the start/finish line, listening to the local commentator chatting with the other volunteers. Soon, Olympic cycling legend Anna Meares arrived and joined in on the PA, which made it much more exciting to listen to.

Suddenly, drama struck. The start/finish arch was an inflated banner crossing the road, which had been open to the public under a reduced speed limit since the race started. A pair of large trucks carrying hay came down the road at speed, and the top of the hay collided with the banner, pulling it off its supports and dragging it down the road. The driver didn’t realise and made it down to the pub before cars started flashing lights at him and he stopped. A TV camera was rolling on the banner at the time; a reporter was preparing to give an update for the afternoon news, and the replays showed how some people sitting next to the banner only narrowly escaped being hurt. It was chaotic, nobody really knew what to do, and there wasn’t really a protocol for it. They ended up pulling the banner off the truck and laying it down on the footy oval to patch it up. But in the meantime, the race was approaching Gumeracha for the end of the first lap, and there was supposed to be an intermediate sprint under the banner. The organisers borrowed some flags from the neighbouring bowls club to mark the sprint line. The riders came past at high speeds, trying for the points on offer for the sprinter’s jersey. Chloe Hosking from Victoria won the sprint, followed by local girl, Annette Edmonson. They went off for the second lap, and we were left alone in the quiet again, checking for race updates on Twitter, as the volunteers worked to reinstate the finishing banner.

Soon enough, the race was approaching again. The final 10 km were rather exciting, after a crash on a roundabout near Lobethal, there was an attack by Katrin Garfoot, which was brought back by Team Wiggle-Honda to deliver Annette Edmonson for the sprint finish. I stuck around for the winners presentation, before heading for home. I once again took the back-roads, but ended up puncturing my other wheel and having to call for a lift home. That evening, I went down to town to get a new set of bike tyres, hopefully ones that wouldn’t puncture.

 

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Stage 2 of the WTDU was on Friday, starting in Lyndoch. Both Mum and Dad were off work, and wanted to come up with me to see the race. Lyndoch is about a 40 minute drive north of home. Again, the crowds were somewhat small for the race start, which was still somewhat expected. The peleton rode two laps around Lyndoch, before zig-zagging around the wineries of the Barossa and finishing atop Mengler’s Hill. Whereas yesterday was hot, today was raining. I calculated that we would be able to see the riders both at the start and halfway around the circuit. We watched them all get ready to ride, and as soon as the starters gun went, we raced back to our car and drove towards the Whispering Wall. The issue was that to make it there, we had to follow a road marked “Dry Weather Only”, which the rain had turned into mud. The car slipped and slid around the road, churning up mud onto the bikes behind. We made it to the roadside just in time to see the race come past, and happened to run into one of our cousins who was working as a camera operator. On the drive back to Lyndoch, we noticed one of the cyclists had missed the start, and was now following around the course trying to catch up. She wouldn’t.

We drove back to Lyndoch and unpacked our bikes. When the cyclists passed us a third time, we headed out along the Jack Bobridge Cycleway, which links Lyndoch to Tanunda, with a windy detour through the Jacob’s Creek Winery. Dad had recently obtained a Go-Pro and was spending most of the ride practising his filming, which meant trying to get as many inventive camera angles as possible. Instead of riding through Tanunda, we turned off and headed up through Bethany and up the finishing climb of Mengler’s Hill. The finishing line was just short of the top of the climb itself, but the rain had turned to strong wind and the finishing arch couldn’t be put up even after all of the kerfuffle the previous day. We positioned ourselves short of the finishing line, and watched a dramatic finale as Katrin Garfoot outsprinted Lucy Kennedy, with Amanda Spratt coming in third. The benefit of mountain finishes instead of sprint stages is that you get to cheer on the riders one by one for more than 5 minutes, instead of seeing everything happen in 20 seconds.

Once again, we went to the podium presentation, this time held in the carpark for the lookout on Mengler’s Hill. I once again grabbed a sausage in bread, but as I was ordering I noticed that Mum and Dad had run into Ann-Maree, who lived next door to us when I was a baby. Her children Conor and Kieran were childhood friends that I didn’t see much any more. Kieran was here performing with the local town band. I went over with an extra sausage and said hi. We were invited to go visit Conor at the winery he works for, but we unfortunately had to get home so that Dad could go to work. So instead we rode on, I rode down the back of the climb through Angaston and Tanunda, and met up with Mum and Dad again in Lyndoch, were we grabbed pies from the local bakery, which are some of the best pies in the region.

 

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Stage 3 was on Saturday and ran from the new motorsport park in Tailem Bend to the old German town of Hahndorf. I was going down to watch it again, but this time without a bike. Mum opted to come along too. The riders were battered by strong cross-winds for much of the first part of the race, with some images looking more like a desert storm in Qatar than Adelaide. Our first rendezvous with the peloton was to be in Littlehampton, where the riders would come along the main road and turn right at a small roundabout. Mum had brought along Stella, and we sat in the middle of the roundabout waiting for the tell-tale signs of the peloton: the motorcade of  police motorbikes closing the road. While waiting, we got chatting to a Canadian couple from Calgary who where here to watch the race and were looking very stereotypically Albertan. Before the cyclists arrived, Mum commented that the flag-wavers who tell the peloton to turn right were poorly positioned, and by the time the peloton arrived, it was chaotic. Some nearly missed the turn altogether, others went the wrong way and several had to hop over the pavement to avoid crashing into the kerb.

Race passed, we raced back to the car and headed for Hahndorf. By the time we arrived, the usually busy main street of Hahndorf had already been closed, so we parked on a side street and walked into the centre of town. Hahndorf is usually a busy tourist hot-spot, and I think the fact that they had closed the road meant that all of the weekend tourists had lined the streets to get a sense of what was going on. This meant that there were thousands of people out watching the race, instead of the hundred or so earlier in the week at Gumeracha. Additionally, there were hundreds of recreational cyclists riding about as well. The riders would come down the entire main street, before coming back about halfway along a parallel side street to follow the Echunga road. This meant that you could in theory see the race twice, so we carefully positioned ourselves at the Echunga Road turn-off. We watched the breakaway and the peloton pass, before turning and sprinting up the hill, followed by about a hundred other people who had also clued in to what was going on, in what must have been a terribly amusing sight. We made it back to the course where the breakaway had just gone past, and saw the peloton come by again.

We followed the course up towards the finish line near the football oval. As we walked under the freeway, we saw a few of the stragglers of the peloton who had been dropped in the cross-winds as the volunteers desperately tried to maintain the road closure. They missed the turn, and had to come back and make it again, much to their annoyance.

The finishing line was a small, narrow road next to the oval that climbed steeply to the ridgeline where it continued as a dirt road. The riders would only climb to the end of the bitumen, but it was very steep. Most of the recreational cyclists were struggling with the gradient, and it was a bizarre yet perfect place to finish the bike race. The crowd had grown bigger again from stages 1 and 2, as we crammed the fences to watch Amanda Spratt break away from the group and win the stage, and eventually the overall classification. Again, we went to the teams presentation, out on the Hahndorf Oval, with yet another sausage.

 

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The day was not yet over; after dropping Stella off at home, Mum and I went down into the centre of the city to see the Tour Village and Teams Presentation. The Women’s Tour was drawing to a close, but the Men’s Tour was just starting up. It is all held in Victoria Square in the centre of the CBD. We spent an hour exploring the displays in all of the tents, with a quick look into the mechanics section working on the team bikes for the Men’s race later in the week. After grabbing some food, we sat and watched the presentation of all of the Men’s and Women’s teams in the amphitheatre at the north of the square, in front of a packed out crowd of thousands of fans. The crowd favourite was definitely the defending World Champion Peter Sagan, who was making his second consecutive appearance in the Men’s race. We grabbed as much free stuff as we could and headed home later that night.

 

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Sunday morning was mostly spent packing; it was only a day before we were due to leave to head back to England. But there was still a little bit of cycling left. That evening, Mum and I headed back to the CBD to see the final stage of the Women’s race and the curtain-raiser for the Men’s; a circuit race in Parklands and East End of the city. We arrived at the end of a charity fund-raiser, and stayed around for both races, positioned just after the finishing line. The crowd grew steadily over the course of the event, reaching around a hundred thousand by the end of the Men’s race. There were several nasty crashes in both races, but it was won by Chloe Hosking and Peter Sagan. Amanda Spratt won the overall, and we stayed to watch the much bigger and more noisy race presentations, before heading home for a final night in Australia.

 

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