Almanac Cycling – Tour Down Under: Stage 3



My qualifications as the Almanac’s cycling correspondent are unquestioned:


  • In 1965 mum and dad bought me a 28 inch Standish Cycles bike from their Torrensville store. (“You’ll grow into it” dad said as he screwed the 2 inch wooden blocks each side of the pedals).


  • In 1967 my feet slipped off said blocks when swooped by a magpie on my way to footy training. As a result I was the last boy in my class to have his voice break. In 1971.


  • In 1986 I stumbled onto the Bordeaux-Paris race while lost on Loire Valley backroads reading a Michelin map upside down.  We sat with excited locals for an hour cadging some vin rouge and fromage until the peloton swept by in a 30 second blur.  I was rapt.  “Is that all there is?” the first Mrs B inquired. “Long anticipation then it’s all over in a flash? Reminds me of something.”


  • One of my first pieces in the 2011 Almanac Book “Tour De Couch” celebrated equally memorable Eagles and Cadel Evans victories.



Now the Avenging Eagle and I are  back in my hometown of Adelaide following the first Grand Tour cycling race of 2020 with friends from NZ.  Shane is a serious bike rider having completed 84 Ironman and Half Ironman races.  He was 3rd in the NZ Over 55’s; and 12th in the Oz Nationals last May.  I am Tinsel Man in his presence; assigned #scottyfrommarketing water boy duties for the duration.


Shane is riding in the fan’s Challenger Race over 152km on Friday so first task is ferrying him to registration at the Tour Village in Victoria Square on Wednesday afternoon. 


South Australia excels at making lemonade from lemons.  Victoria stole the F1 Grand Prix, so we established the Touring Car Clipsal 500 as consolation.  This has now declined into the Superloop (#scottyfrommarketing) 500 so the free settler’s major sporting attraction has transformed from fossilised horsepower to eco pedal power.


A top racing bike costs around $20k.  Carbon fibre discs are replacing wheel spokes.  I see a bike with a price label “$1900 down to $950”.  Thinking this must be the entry level model I enquire and find they are only selling wheels.


Grand Tour cycling is like F1 with its use of technology, titanium and carbon fibre.  But on an approachable human scale.  Riders returning from Stage 2 wander past in sox holding their race shoes heading for the Hilton Hotel and a massage.  Bike mechanics are busy in team booths with spanners and sockets, degreaser and air brushes.  But they chat amicably with punters as Shane enquires about the size of their Shiv. 


Every profession and pastime has a lexicon that divides insider from outsider, and I can only decode from body language much as if they were speaking Swahili.  But everywhere you can only admire the dedication and professionalism of teams, riders and organisers.


This is a vast event combining last week’s 4 stage Women’s Event with this week’s Men’s over 6 days.  It traverses the region from the Barossa in the north to the scorched Adelaide Hills down to the Southern Vales and Fleurieu Peninsula (where ferries make the sad 16km journey across Backstairs Passage to fire ravaged Kangaroo Island where 2 humans, 40,000 farm animals and 30,000 koalas have died in recent weeks).


Divine humour grants us a chill 22 and 3mm of overnight rain as the Tour winds up through the northern hills past Lobethal and Lenswood over 130kms that culminates in 4x 10km loops around Inglewood, Houghton and Paracombe.


Liquor licensing in the 70’s meant SA pubs were closed on Sundays but “bona fide travellers” a day’s stagecoach ride from the GPO could sign in for sustenance and victualling with a meal.  The closest to Adelaide was the Inglewood Inn and fortunately the publican appears not to recall I left without paying for the last round of drinks in 1979. 


The pub has had a makeover since then with rear deck restaurant added to the old stone building and salt and pepper squid with wasabi dressing replacing schnitzel and coleslaw.  The well heeled are sitting under umbrellas for a 2 course lunch at $100 a head but we are enjoying the Fanta coloured Pirate Life IPA as aperitif as the peloton whizzes by.


There is a 3 rider breakaway that leads by 2 and a half minutes on the first pass; then 2; then 50 seconds as the breakaway dwindles to only 2 riders and the peloton stretches from a bunch to a snake as the ratcheting speed spits out strugglers. 


The Tour Down Under is a serious race but as the first of the season over modest hills instead over daunting peaks the top General Classification riders are at home riding laps of their decompression chambers.  This is the NAB Cup of cycling – for sprinters not climbers – and newbies vying for domestique duties on the northern summer Tours in Italy, Belgium, France and Spain.


On the final climb Australian rider Richie Porte breaks away contemptuously like Dusty on GF day putting lengths on the chasing pack.  Porte has been a serious Tour De France rider as the leading climber assisting Chris Froome’s 2015 win for Team Sky and then a lead rider for BMC from 2016-18.  Races where he was in contention each year before unfortunate crashes.  Now with Trek-Segafredo this is his first step back to the top echelon of world cycling.


Elite sport is a different language.  A place I can visit in the mind but never hope to inhabit.  Cycling makes the journey enjoyable from the back deck of the pub contemplating those wondrous SA inventions – the Hills Hoist; the stump jump plough – or in this case a Kersbrook Hill Sparkling Shiraz.




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  1. Mr and Mrs PB- Lovely word as usual. The home state seems to now specialise in sports that may or may not provide a distraction from the day’s eating and drinking. I’m also thinking of the action behind the members’ during the test. With terrible pies and no Coopers beer no such problem exists at Glenelg home games!

    PS- enjoyed the decade’s first sparkling shiraz last week: an Anastasia from Mintaro Winery.

  2. Hey Peter, I got my Standish cycle from the Unley Store at the corner of Thomas St and Unley Rd. We could leave those Malvern Star cycles for dust!

  3. Great stuff, PB. It all sounds most enjoyable.

  4. John Butler says

    PB, not bad for a bloke who’s faking it. Probably not the first time you’ve heard that phrase (see bullet point 3).

    I must take issue, however. The Tour is not the first event of the cycling season. The Road Nats in Ballarat and surrounds have been a fixture of the cycling year for more than a decade. The Mount Buningyong course is very definitely for climbers, not sprinters.

    There’s also the Cadel Evans race down on the coast.

    Had the opportunity to inspect one of those $20,000 bikes recently. Could pick it up comfortably with one finger.

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