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Breaking Away

The New Year in Adelaide generally delivers beautiful warm long days, the sound of resolutions being broken and, most importantly, the Tour Down Under. The tour is a fillip for bike-minded people, offering a week-long feast of cycling – a chance to get out there and immerse oneself in all things bike. You can watch cycling, think cycling and talk cycling. You can even get on your bike and cycle!

One of the treats of the tour is the opportunity to ride on the same circuit as the professional riders. Amateur cyclists can do this twice as part of the Breakaway Series and, if the desire is there, one can ride a whole TDU stage when undertaking the Challenge Tour.

Fun Tour

This year’s Fun Tour was held on January 20th and took riders from  Kurrangga Park in the South Parklands down to beautiful Glenelg, scene of the Down Under Classic, the curtain-raiser to the tour proper. The twelve kilometre route allowed riders safe passage along Anzac Highway before providing the chance to ride the street circuit used to stage the race.

Riders and bikes of all ages, sizes and shapes presented themselves at the starting line on Unley Road before the flag was waved and the ride commenced. It was a beautiful day and the swarm of riders, resplendent in sky blue t-shirts, took to the road. There were bikes everywhere; it was certainly an exercise in staying alert and served as good practice for those who had also registered for the Challenge Tour.

at the start

Our small group ambled along the highway, chatting while remaining ever-vigilant – it seemed bikes could be upon you from almost any angle. We were in no particular hurry; we were keen to make the most of our short ride.

Arriving at Brighton Road we joined the Down Under Classic circuit. We took great delight in completing a couple of the two kilometre laps before we dismounted and deregistered.

We rode home, got changed and returned to Glenelg to watch the Down Under Classic which was the second-best fun I’d had that day.

an ocean of ochre

Challenge Tour

I’d made the decision quite early in my thinking that I’d only ride the Woodside-Strathalbyn leg of the Challenge Tour. I didn’t fancy a night in a tent at Mannum; I get enough of that on the Annual Tours. Nor did I relish getting up at 4.00 AM to make the journey. Remembering how I felt in the latter stages of the Sea to Vines last year, I wasn’t really sure that I fancied 134 kilometres in any event. There were plenty who did however, and the Mannum start featured loads of riders who were keen to do a whole TDU stage.

I got to my starting point, Woodside, with plenty of time up my sleeve to get the bike set and to register. It was a crisp, sunny morning. Once again, there were cyclists all over the place, looking the part in their new jerseys. An ocean of ochre! As usual, I bumped into quite a few people I knew from other rides, so in the time that remained before the start I happily talked bikes with new and old friends.

The start was without incident, with all riders in my vicinity managing to negotiate the hundreds of bikes and make it onto the road safely.

I spent the first few kilometres sorting myself out, finding my legs and setting myself for the morning’s fun, perhaps wishing my Christmas break hadn’t been quite so excessive. There was a steady climb early on, just the thing to help blow out the cobwebs and get the joints working. Bikes sailed past me as riders got into the swing of things. My overall average for the day was significantly higher than usual so I wasn’t disappointed with my own pace – it’s just that a lot of riders are faster than me!

A few cars got caught up amongst the bikes in some of the earlier, undulating stages. Not the best way to ride; getting up close and personal with exhaust fumes while climbing up a hill. Getting around the vehicles was a challenge as there wasn’t a lot of space and there was always the chance of traffic coming the other way. Before long the gentle hills gave way to longer stretches of road which allowed the cars to leave us behind. It also meant that the peleton stretched out considerably.

The only negative aspect of the ride from my angle was the littering that went on. Some riders think it is part of cycling. I just think it’s wrong. I saw energy bar wrappers, bottles, tissues, banana peels (yes-it’s still rubbish) along the route. I saw one fellow, obviously living out his pro-riding fantasies, theatrically hurling his empty water bottle into the bushes on the side of the road. It made no sense at all. As far as I’m concerned, if you can carry it when it’s full, you can carry it when it is empty. A no-brainer in every sense…

Nairne, Kanmantoo and Callington all came and went. Nice places that had gone to some effort to welcome the riders. In fact, there were spectators dotted all along the route. They were mainly there for the professionals but I saw a few messages specifically aimed at Challenge Tour participants. The day was warming up nicely and on more than one occasion I was grateful that we’d started early.

The little climb at Woodchester was the last, and from there it was more or less a straightforward ride to Strathalbyn via Langhorne Creek.

Entering Strathalbyn was a blast; the town had done a great job in preparing itself for the Tour Down Under and the crowd was building nicely by the time I rode down  Commercial Road and passed under the finishing arch at 11.25, smiling for the camera.

I deregistered, lined up for lunch and then got changed and stowed my bike. Waiting in the Terminus Hotel for a beer was hard work. The place was full of sweaty, lycra-clad cyclists and the air conditioner was struggling on what was becoming a hot day. The Terminus is ordinarily a great little pub but it was (somewhat understandably) struggling to meet the demand for beer. Of course, once the beverage arrived it proved to be another highlight of the day!

anyone need a ride?
I walked around the town, chatting with friends and acquaintances, feeling the rush, and I watched the exciting climax of stage four of the TDU from a spot between the finish line and the head butt that brought Mathew Hayman down. Ouch. It looked nasty from where I stood and worse when I saw it on the telly. Credit must go to Mathew for getting up and completing his race.

Overall, the Challenge Tour was a very pleasant, well-organised ride. Not much climbing (which suits me) and some lovely scenery to take in, if you could remember to look around every now and again. Thousands of cyclists were stretched out along the route. Some stages of my ride were spent shoulder-to-shoulder with mobs of other riders; at other times I managed to enjoy that wonderful sense of peace and solitude that goes hand in hand with long(ish)-distance cycling. Great stuff. The police and ride marshals did a great job in keeping most riders safe and happy. There were plenty of opportunities for rest and rehydration for those that wanted to take a break.  

The recently acquired UCI pro tour status of the Tour Down Under assured huge crowds for the whole week and I can only hope that the race continues to grace our state, along with the associated Challenge Tour. Long may it reign!

yep. that's me...

© Copyright David Robinson, 2008

Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author