Cycling: Tour offers one of the highlights of the year for an Adelaide sports fan

By Anne Federowytsch

The middle of January is a time I look forward to every year. And no it’s not because of the chance to spend mornings sleeping in, afternoons lazing on the couch watching Ricky make a double ton, or warm evenings with my toes in the sand at Glenelg; it’s because of the opportunity to immerse myself in Australia’s greatest bike race, the Tour Down Under.

My earliest memories of witnessing the race take me back to my primary school days. I remember sprinting out the front door with my Dad, Mum and older brother in tow as soon as we got word that ‘they were coming’. We would charge down our street to the adjoining main road and line the footpath with neighbours and local shopkeepers.

Policemen on motorbikes would slowly come past, making the most amusing noises for a 10-year-old with their sirens. Motorists were forced to stop and pull over before the procession rode past. Shiny sponsor and support vehicles would follow, waving and throwing freebies from their windows. I recall once catching a colourful packet of jellybeans and thinking they were the coolest lollies I had ever seen.

Then in the distance …  carefully leaning over the side of the road, I could spot a moving haze slowly approaching. Within an instant – whoosh! – the tight pack of lycra-clad cyclists would zoom past. My Dad always called ‘Go Stuey!’ for local hope Stuart O’Grady, but I never had any time to spot him amongst the riders. We didn’t really know any of the other riders, so Stuey was always our favourite.

And just like that it was over for another year. Back then we never really bothered with much else of the race. There was one time, though, when we happened to be in Victor Harbour at the same time as the Tour was due, and my brother and I were offered the chance to wave the official flag at the finish line. But like the great chicken I was back then I shook my head and said no. Initially I was thankful I had passed up the opportunity on account of avoiding the prospect of being run over by sprinting cyclists going a million miles an hour. But then, of course, I regretted my decision the whole way home.

Today the Tour Down Under boasts a significantly different story. Not that it wasn’t a successful event when I was still learning my times tables, but it has excelled to UCI ProTour status and attendance figures have doubled.

Arguably, the main factor in boosting the event’s popularity is seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

Memories are fresh in my mind of seeing Armstrong’s first comeback race at the Cancer Council Helpline Classic, a city circuit warm-up event, last year. It was your typical warm summer evening and the sun had just begun to dip behind the tall gum trees of Dequetteville Terrace. I slotted in to a front-row spot along the fence and found myself only one metre away, at most, from one of the world’s greatest cyclists. Armstrong stood out in his pastel green Astana outfit, yellow Livestrong helmet and black riding boots. His tanned chiselled face set him apart from his competition and not once did I tire of playing a game of ‘Where’s Lance?’

Once the event had officially begun, my brother and I ventured past that main road and into the hills to watch various stages throughout the week.

In Stirling we managed to nab a spectator’s spot just past a feed station and a massive roundabout. Score! We were bound to see something there, and we did. On the cyclist’s first lap around the Stirling town circuit I scrambled in the gutter for strewn drink bottles that had once touched the lips of champions. Unfortunately though I came up empty-handed.

The second lap around there was a collision at the roundabout, where several riders were thrown off their bikes. Some managed to continue racing but several were injured and could not complete the remaining stages. We then wandered down to the finish line and witnessed the winning rider crossing the line.

Besides our hills adventure I made the effort to head down to a couple of race starts. I first spent the morning at Norwood receiving a bagful of sponsor freebies before seeing the riders off for the day. The second start I was amongst the leafy green trees of Burnside where I was lucky enough to be close to the teams and their riders setting up for the day ahead. Here I unknowingly received an autograph from 2006 Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro and snapped a photo of an Italian team mucking about. The Italians then requested I email them my humorous picture!

I had such a fantastic week immersing myself in the cycling fever that had overcome Adelaide. There was such a great feel about the place, a really playful atmosphere. By the end I had lost count of the number of interstate car numberplates I saw, and you’d have been hard pressed to have gone out and found a quiet restaurant in town that week.

So here we are once again. On the eve of the 2010 event I’m wondering whether this year’s Tour can top last year’s fun-filled week. I’ve got a good feeling we can.

Comments

  1. pauldaffey says:

    Anne,

    Love the piece, especially your memories of growing with the Tour. The recruitment of Lance Armstrong seems to have given the race a real kick-along.

    The story from the weekend of Lance inviting all cyclists to join him on a ride from Glenelg was extraordinary. If anyone reading this was among the several thousand who joined Lance, and feels inclined to write a piece about it, I’d love to hear from you.

    Email me at pauldaffey@hotkey.net.au

  2. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Lucky you Anne. It sounds like a real buzz to be part of the atmosphere surrounding the Tour. I love the inspiration and no fuss attitude of Lance Armstrong. Just ‘Jump on your bikes Adelaide and let’s ride’ It would be sensational to watch the cyclists racing too. While watching a snippet on the news at the weekend I commented to someone that I bet Adelaide are pleased they have this event instead of the noisy Grand Prix. I’d be interested to know a bit more about the history of the event in Adelaide. Do you know when it was first run? Enjoy the rest of the Tour this year. Adelaide and surrounds look very picturesque on the T.V.

  3. Rob Clarkson says:

    Armstrong’s making a (very cool) habit of these spontaneous rides http://sportalert.bbc.net.uk/1/low/scotland/glasgow_and_west/8207007.stm

    And of course, all the moaning motorists are less likely to sook about bikes on the streets if a celebrity’s involved. They’re like that, motorists.

    Thanks for the piece Anne – it sounds like it’s great to be there amongst it. And I’m with Paul – would love to read something from someone involved with Armstrong’s tweet-ride.

  4. Anne Fedorowytsch says:

    Thanks for the positive feedback guys. I actually went to the Twitter ride at Glenelg so I’ll throw something together on that soon.

    Pamela, the first TDU was held in 1999 and is now the biggest cycling race in the southern hemisphere. I found this great article on the ABC website that provides a fantastic insight into the race’s history:

    http://blogs.abc.net.au/grandstand/cycling_tour_down_under_history/

  5. Richard Naco says:

    Call me the Philistine in the market place if you will, but I got all gooey at the mention of Glenelg beach.

    Living as I do within cooee of Cronulla Beach (a pale imitation, at best), I got all homesick at the thought.

    (And wasn’t there also something about a bike race … ?)

    ;)

  6. Richard E. Jones says:

    RICHARD: have I missed something?
    Glenelg is as flat as a pancake, along the beach and in the water, while Cronulla has real, live waves and the excitement of possible major confrontations just a tad inland. Okay, so those possibilities have dissipated in recent summers but the waves are still there.
    Not a ripple at Glenelg unless a power boat passes some metres seaward from the swimmers.

    Bike races are good. They’ve gotta do something in Adelaide. Summer, winter: whenever. If there’s a more mundane little city of around 1 mill. people I’m yet to view it.

  7. Richard Naco says:

    Back in the 70s, when I was Adelaide’s worst surfer (and worst drummer – whole different story), having to travel to the mouth of the Murray to get a surf was so much an accepted part of the routine that the flat Adelaide water was never really thought of (but now I’m wondering if access to Waitpinga is any better). (Or if the silting up of The Mouth has impacted on the surf in any way?)

    So when I was comparing the beaches, my ingrained habits of long ago kicked in on autopilot and I ignored the actual water part. I was thinking more in terms of the sand, and Jetty Road vs Cronulla Mall (although, having recently learned that The Lamb Spit has closed destroys yet another part of my self delusion concerning Glenelg), and the wonderous clanking transit of the Bay tram down Jetty Road towards the jetty.

    Cronulla has no jetty. How can any half decent beach have no jetty? (lol) And although they do it infrequently and usually only after long breaks between drinks, the Glenelg Football Club has won far more premierships than the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks!!!

    And why doesn’t Le Tour DU include a quick sprint up the Bay Jetty & back as a part of the route???

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