Day 11 – Sunday, January 25
A fitting finale for our last full day in Adelaide, as it’s also the 6th & final stage of this year’s Tour Down Under, the first UCI World Tour event of the year where the pros shake the cobwebs off their almost weightless machines and start gearing up for the main European Tours later in the year.
This is a big day for the city and for South Australia. The TDU brings in significant tourist dollars, judging from the number of lycra-clad amateur pedallers we’ve seen on the roads, in cafes and in our hotel lobby and lifts over the last week.
This final stage is based entirely in the city, with 20 laps of a fast 4.5 km circuit, heading up and down the main artery of a now tram-free King William Street, with a scarily tight turn by the Tour Village in Victoria Square, and then a loop around the iconic Adelaide Oval sports stadium. The expected time of 2 hours gives you an idea of the fitness and speed these guys have under their belts.
Some roads have been closed since 6 am and there’s already a carnival atmosphere when Gill and I leave the hotel to plan our TDU day. Young kids are hurtling around their own timed mini circuit; a costumed kangaroo mascot high fives keen spectators, already in place by the railings, his outsize wobbly bottom following some time later; sponsors hand out freebies from gaudy vehicles in the nearby parade ground car park; the tannoy system churns out endless information about the race and riders, alongside inspirational music.
Rohan Dennis, the young Aussie rider with the BMC team, leads SKY’s Richie Porte by a whole 2 seconds after an epic hill climb on yesterday’s stage failed to close the gap completely. Cadel Evans lies 3rd, the legendary Aussie rider competing in his penultimate pro event before hanging up his bicycle clips. He remains the only Aussie to have won the Tour de France so far.
Gill and I are accosted by a crew representing the South Australia Tourist Board and, after being professionally mic’d up, are happy to talk to camera about how much we’ve enjoyed SA, Adelaide and the TDU. In that much overused phrase….what’s not to like?
We watch the first couple of laps by the barrier near the start on King William Street, before walking to join friends John, Eileen and Dot who are watching the race unfold on a big screen in the seated and shaded comfort of the Tour Village on Victoria Square.
It’s scary, the speed and proximity with which over 100 whippet-like cyclists propel their machines on the fast downward stretch of King William Street. Their racing etiquette and level of mutual trust must be nigh on perfect to avoid more frequent serious accidents.
As expected, given the nature and relative shortness of this final stage, there are a few token breakaways from the peloton, all reeled in, a sprint finish won by the the Dutch rider Wouter Wippert, and no change to the overall top 3 standings. 37 year-old Cadel Evans anoints Rohan Dennis, BMC team-mate and fellow Aussie, as his worthy successor.
We jump on the tram to Glenelg to join John, Eileen, Dot & Suzanne for an end-of-tour supper at their favourite place and cyclist’s hangout, the Europa.
Glenelg is awash with late evening sunshine and youthful hormones (not ours). Local lads cruise the streets in their throaty restored American vintage limos, as the girls totter on vertiginous heels towards the current hot bar. short tight skirts clinging to their tanned legs like my brother to his wallet.
A great piece of barramundi fish, some local wines, emotional farewells and the first leg of our Grand Slam tour is almost at an end.
Tomorrow is Australia Day and we’ll head to Melbourne, where I believe some tennis is being played……