When I was following the Tour de France in 2014, the Aussies I met encouraged me to come down for the Tour Down Under. The City of Adelaide really commits to making the Tour Down Under a success. Victoria Square is completely dedicated to the 6 stage race with a festival open to the public (free access) all week. It is right on the streetcar line and just across the street from the Adelaide Hilton, headquarters for the Tour Down Under race management, all of the cycling teams, and many fans.
While the race starts and stops all over South Australia, it returns every night to the Victoria Square to turn over bikes to mechanics set up in a main tent. Thus there is a routine for cyclists and fans that makes the race easier to watch (and probably to ride).
There is Willunga Hill, but South Australia does not have Alps or big mountains, so the race favors sprinters. It is also a great race for tuning up your legs and fitness as teams enter the new season after 2 months “off”.
This is a UCI sponsored event so it draws the main European teams, but a mixed bag of headliner riders and domestiques. Just as the Tour of California attracts all of the American riders, this race draws all of the Australian cyclists.
When I arrived on Thursday, Stage 3 was taking place outside of town. I had to wait to check in so I stowed my bags and headed downtown to find a bookstore. I got distracted and returned to the hotel just in time to watch Simon Gerrans (Orica Greenedge) nip Rohan Dennis (BMC) at the finish line. The bonus points extended Gerran’s lead. He was heading towards his 4th win (nonconsecutive).
I met up with my Tour de France friend from Perth for dinner. He and his cycling club spent the week cycling out to the race course. They were having an absolute ball riding, watching the race and having a few beers. They were not the only bike club, every day the festival area and the race course were awash in Aussie cycling clubs, including Greg’s club the Eaton Dogs from Bunbury, Western Australia.
The next day I spent about 18 hours going to Kangaroo Island for a wildlife safari. Fortunately I caught the tail end of the highlight television broadcast. Simon Gerrans won his second stage win and solidified his lead.
I was tuckered out from the big day out on Kangaroo Island and thought I would just watch the race and call it a day. So I bought a wood-oven pizza in the village and found a seat to watch the last hour of the Queen Stage on the big screen. Tassie rider Richie Porte (BMC) won the biggest climbing stage for the third straight year. He wrote his name on Willunga Hill–no one could beat him, not even the Columbian climber Sergio Luis Henao winner of the King of the Mountain jersey, could catch him.
The final day was a 20 lap circuit through the central business district. Because it was only 90 km it started at 1:30 instead of 11ish. This allowed me to relax and enjoy some time to read before slathering on the sunscreen and heading out. I checked out the course on King William Street just as the peloton was headed to the start. I realized that while it would be thrilling to find a shady spot on the street, I would only be able to see them go by 20 times and I would not see the finish. I opted for the village again at Victoria Square. The big screen projection screens allowed me to watch the televised version of the race.
Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen announce the race with assists from Robbie McEwan and Jens Voigt. On Australian television they show about 10 minutes of racing and then 10 minutes of advertising. It is a bit frustrating. Still, it was great to see the entire race, including the sprint finish with Caleb Ewan (Orica) beating Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) by a comfortable margin.
The overall race was won by Simon Gerrans, though this was never in danger. Team Orica controlled the race and Richie Porte, who moved into second place with his win on Willunga Hill, was quoted as saying, “I cannot sprint out of sight on a dark night.”
Adelaide is a smaller city and very walkable. I loved staying at the Hilton, but there are lots of hotels to choose from at different price points. The CBD is a $20 cab ride from the airport. Buy bus tickets to get out to the racecourse, or ride your bike. Or focus on downtown Adelaide like I did and enjoy the village and the rest of the city. There are VIP tickets for better viewing spots with grandstand seating and better access to alcohol. One of the most endearing aspects of the Tour Down Under was the easy access to so much of the race and amenities without having to buy expensive access. I was able to meet Jens Voigt and Cadel Evans at events in the festival village. I could have easily collected signatures by handing out in the mechanics tent.
The weather was sometimes broiling or hot and humid. Yet I would say this was well worth the time and expense to get to Adelaide to see the Tour Down Under. Well done everyone!