Cycling: A fan’s perspective on following the Tour Down Under

By Anne Federowytsch

Adelaide’s East End is renowned for its fine dining, designer clothing stores and classy nightspots but Sunday 17 January saw the adjoining roads and parklands turned into an UCI Pro-Tour cycling track for the Tour Down Under Cancer Classic warm-up event.

Professional cyclists from all corners of the globe had begun descending on Adelaide a week before the event’s starting date. Most had decided on riding through the docile Adelaide hills to get some practice under their belt except for one ‘Superstar’ of cycling, Lance Armstrong. The man, with seven Tour de France titles under his belt, put out an early call for Adelaide riders to join him on a ‘Twitter ride’ or in other words a public bike ride advertised through the social networking site Twitter.

I decided to drive down to the seaside suburb of Glenelg, the starting point of the ride, to see how big this thing was really going to be. Initial expectations were that Adelaide was going to beat the crowd of around 1,500 public riders in a previous Twitter ride in Dublin but I don’t think anyone quite expected nearly 10,000 people to show up.

Upon my arrival at the Bay I suddenly realised the magnitude of the event and felt somewhat out of place without a bike. The stream of cyclists lined up raring to go behind Lance and a few notable companions, the RadioShack team plus Robbie McEwen and George Hincapie, went on for as far as my eyes could see.

Once the pack got going the story was no different. I quickly got a glance at Lance before witnessing thousands of lycra-wearing cycling enthusiasts follow behind. The stream went on for a good handful of minutes, after which I spotted an old fellow on a penny-farthing and a young gentleman on a uni cycle.

Witnessing the ride was fascinating and most certainly an experience that I won’t forget in a hurry.

But back to Sunday now and an estimated 108,000 fans, including myself, packed the city circuit to watch 30 laps of road racing. Here I was able to familiarise with the 18 competing teams and their riders and see an exciting finish with two riders from the new team Sky, Greg Henderson from New Zealan and Christopher Sutton from Australia, nab first and second place.

Later in the week on Wednesday evening a few girlfriends and I ventured down to King William Road for the annual Unley Council Street Party on the eve of Stage 3. We enjoyed strolling along the brick-paved road back and forth and sampling some of the best wine, food and fashion that Adelaide has to offer.

I backed up the following morning with a return to the precinct with two of my cousins for the start of Thursday’s race. Despite the weather forecast of 40 degrees, thousands of people packed the usually quaint street to see the cyclists off for the day. Lance Armstrong was quickly spotted, as well as Cadel Evans, and swiftly snapped on my camera from just metres away.

Straight after they rolled over the start line we hopped in the car and headed for the hills. The finish line for Stage 3 was in Stirling, a small town that came alive under the TDU spell, with local businesses reaping the rewards of unprecedented visitor numbers. The riders also complete two laps of the area before returning for the finish, meaning everyone got to see them two or three times, unlike other areas of the race.

After scoring a car park we settled at a shaded table outside the Stirling Hotel and tucked in to a hearty hotel meal of fish and chips. We finished just in time to find a shaded roadside spot a little beyond a feed station and a roundabout. It was a favourite spot of mine that I had discovered the previous year and was never short of excitement.

The riders whipped past at great speed and where only centimetres away from spectators as there were no restrictive fences. A person dressed as a kangaroo, who was standing next to us, was attracting plenty of attention and received a squirt of water from a cheeky passing rider. By the second time the riders passed through, we had headed a bit further down the road, to avoid the moving sun, and we luckily snared two disposed Powerade drink bottles from the riders. I even scored the one from the leading rider at the time.

We then tried to head towards the finish line for the end of the race but were unable to see much due to the large crowd. Once the race had finished, we walked back to the air-conditioned car and made our way back to Adelaide. While we were leaving Stirling, I had to be extra cautious driving as amateur and professional cyclists alike had begun to make their journey back, too.

The following day saw shopping and restaurant precinct Norwood host the starting line for Stage 4. I live only a short drive away and ventured down with one thing in mind: to get Lance Armstrong’s autograph. I didn’t really plan ahead how I was going to snag the champion’s scribble but the cards certainly fell my way.

I arrived at 10.15am and was surprised to see the cyclists and their vans were already there. I walked up to the commotion and easily grabbed a spot in the gutter that just happened to be a couple of feet away from the RadioShack van. RadioShack is Lance’s team. How lucky was that?

Half an hour or so passed by and in that time I got Robbie McEwen’s autograph and a random rider’s, number 76 to be somewhat exact, but there was still no sign of Lance, who had opted for the comfort of the team van. As the start time drew nearer fellow RadioShack riders grabbed their bikes that were leaning against the fence a metre or so away from me. Next thing I know Lance is out and getting his bike about three feet away from me but before he hops on he starts signing autographs.

‘Quick! Quick!’ I thought as he hurriedly signed anything that was passed his way. I was still a bit too far away to reach out to him so I gently pushed past people who were just taking photos and thrust my volunteer’s pass in his reach. And he grabbed it! With my hands shaking I took it back and said, ‘Thanks Lance!’ just in time as he disappeared to the other fence to do some signing.

‘Wow’ I thought glancing down at my pass, ‘Is that it?’ His signature was pretty much just a scribble and didn’t look anything like his name at all. I was told later though that it was the real deal and not just some phony scribble.

I felt a small pang of guilt as I walked away with my Lance signature in tow. Groups of people with their Lance paraphernalia and young kids with their Lance hand-created posters walked away empty-handed.

I saw the riders off one last time and went home reflecting on the event. The race expanded to new heights in 2010. I noticed more people out on the streets than last year. Perhaps this was due to a larger contingent of Australian riders, including the current Road Race World Champion Cadel Evans. The event continues to be so inclusive of the South Australian public and people from interstate and overseas that I believe it can only to continue to grow.

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says:

    What a buzz to be so close to all the action and to see Lance himself.
    S.A must be thrilled with the popularity of the event.

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