Must See: Tour Down Under

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City of Adelaide goes all out to welcome UCI cycling event Santos Tour Down Under and its fans.

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.

Signing autographs at BMC booth.
Cadel Evans, Tour de France champion, now retired, is Australia’s most successful cyclist and a huge favorite with 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).

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Free haircuts for gents in the Village by one of the sponsors. I do not understand: caffeine shampoo by Alpecin.

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”.

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Jens Voigt signing autographs and posing for photos with fans at the Trek booth.

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.

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View the race from Victoria Square on the big screens.

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.

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Cyclists ride to the start of Stage 6. The final stage is 20 circuits through the Adelaides CBD.

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.

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My candidate for a new logo!

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.

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Lots of people rode their bikes to watch the race. Cycling clubs from around Australia made this a club outing for the entire week.

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!

Santos Tour Down Under encourages a new generation of cycling fans.
Stage 6 was family day and these kids got their faces painted in the village.

Prep to Watch Tour de France 2015

Tour de France 2015

With only 2 days until the start of the Tour de France 2015 on July 4, it is time to get serious about the apps and other tools you need to watch every stage. I need multiple platforms and options for tracking, since I am going to be in Portland, Oregon and riding RAGBRAI (Iowa) for half the stages.

First I need a way to stay on top of the Tour when I am riding my bike, so I need an app for my Android. Cycling News Tour Tracker. The basic app is free but they are asking for a small donation of $1.99 to GoPro and get more features to help cover the cost of building the app.  I am willing to do this for $1.99. I opened the app and it defaults to the info page and already I am getting psyched: “Utrecht Individual Time Trial Starts at Saturday, July 4, 5:00 a.m. Welcome to our live mobile coverage of the 2015 Tour de France. While we await the start of the race, you can find previews of each stage…”

Teams will be introduced in a ceremony tonight. Let’s see if Utrecht can do as good a job as Yorkshire in making the teams feel welcome. I’ll check back with Cycling News Tour Tracker and see how quickly they load the names of the riders.

Phil Liggett with American Julie
Phil Liggett with American Julie

Next up is my iPad. I could download the official Tour de France app from NBC Sports on my Android for $19.99 but if I am going to spend that kind of money I want to be able to view it on a larger platform. I again have the option of the Cycling News Tour Tracker for free or GoPro and a couple of other options that are free. None, including Cycling News, of the others are rated yet. NBC Sports has 3.5 stars with 9 reviews. When you open the app, the splash page is the official logo of the Tour de France, which entitles them to the camera feeds from Tour helicopters and motorbikes.

Everyone once in a while I see a snarky comment from a cycling fan who tracks the Tour from a European channel with different announcers. I discussed this with fellow avid fan Brian Lovell and we both agree that Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett are the voice of the Tour and we cannot imagine a July without their commentary. It is like the attachment you get to the home team baseball announcer for your favorite team. Once I heard them criticize Paul for giving us so much information about the French chateaus. Guess what? If you watch the race in Norwegian or French you get those too. I am pretty certain that the Tour organization requires it as part of their boost for tourism. I meant to ask when I met them but forgot in the excitement.

Paul Sherwen with kids in London after stage.
Paul Sherwen with kids in London after stage.

Finally, I do not own a television. I have Comcast but refuse to figure out how to watch television on my computer because I really do not want the temptation to watch more programming than I already do on websites like Comedy Central, PBS and Netflix. Still I want to be able to get up early in California and watch as much of each stage as possible. Even if it means my morning ride starts a little later and I catch more heat.

The web application costs $29,99 for the Full Tour Access. Single Day Access is $4,99. I am opting for Full Tour Access, which allows me to watch all 21 stages for the entire distance of 3,360 kilometers. I used this method 2 years ago when I was not watching the Tour in person and my only disappointment is that you do not get the color commentary with Bob Roll and others. This year NBC is adding Jens Voigt to the team. So I will check out Capitol Dime bar, although you can never hear what the announcers are saying in a sports bar. Or hang out at my daughter’s house to watch a couple of stages. When I am in Iowa I will have to use my hot spot and watch it on my computer or find it on in a bar?!

Back in the day when the Tour was on Versus cable channel, I used to watch it 3 times a day!

Tour de France Rest Day: Behind the Scenes

Imagine two small cities quickly constructed for the departure and arrival of the Tour de France stages each day.  The finish is a much bigger production because all of the media broadcasting from wherever the finish is that day.  Just moments after the finish, crews begin breaking it all down to move to the next town. It reminded me of the circus, except the circus does not move everyday.

 When you walk behind the scenes you have to watch your feet. There are wires snaking everywhere.  There are also water tanks and septic tanks. Surprise, there are also open air urinals. There are trailers and tents for every imaginable kind of media.

 I was walking by one smaller trailer and I saw a photojournalist with large lenses hanging off every each arm. “Are you one of those photographers who bravely takes pictures hanging off the back of motorcycle?” I asked.  He said yes and invited me to step in the trailer and see the small tribe of photographers all hurriedly downloading their photos to send to AP or Reuters or other news services. I snapped a few photos and he introduced me to Jesus– “one of the best”.  I left them to their work and continued exploring.

 I found the NBC Sports trailer and the announcer Paul Sherwen hugging his kids. There was a tent where the stage winners went from one interview to the next in English, French, Italian, Spanish or German.IMG_1152

 The packing up was getting more intense and I realized that I better stop taking pictures and pay more attention to where I was walking. Where is my lens cap? Not my pockets. Oh fudge.   A few moments later I passed the photojournalist’s trailer and there was Jesus holding out my lens cap. I thanked him and wished him good luck and a safe tour.