The Tour Down under kicked off in style today, with the riders welcome by a large crowd lining the streets of Prospect to watch the race get underway. Samara Farrell and I headed to Prospect to check out proceedings and were greeted by hundreds of cyclists had taken the opportunity to hop on their bikes and make their way to the start, while thousands of other spectators joined them to cheer on their favourite riders.
The Tour Convoy cars were popular as usual, handing out an array of goodies from bucket hats to reflective slap on bracelets and there were even reports of rubber thongs being handed out, but these were said to be extremely popular and snapped up almost instantly. The Cancer Council and Bupa had volunteers walking amongst the crowd with free sunscreen to ensure that the fans were protected from the warm Adelaide sun, while the dulcet tones of Jimmy Jacques introduced the riders to the fans over the loudspeakers.
The cafes along Prospect Road were doing a roaring trade and the atmosphere was party like, and when the starter’s gun went off at 11am and current World Champion Philippe Gilbert led the peloton away on their 135km ride to Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills, the crowd let out a huge roar.
Leaving Prospect, my first stop was in Charleston, where I took my own advice from yesterday’s preview and headed to the Charleston Hotel to take in the action at the Jayco Sprint point. The pub was packed with people soaking up the atmosphere while enjoying a cool drink, and the barriers lining the sprint were crammed full of eager spectators.
One group of riders, looking very sharp in their Allproof Cycling knicks, had come all the way from New Zealand solely for the Tour Down Under, though one of the group, Susan Jackson, admitted that she was also pretty keen to fit in some shopping while in Adelaide and sample some of the brands she can’t get back home in New Zealand. The Allproof team did say that they were having an amazing time and loved the feeling around the race, but the dry Australian heat was taking its toll.
There was a heavy police presence around, and we stopped a pair on duty to ask if they were enjoying being out on the beat during the Tour Down Under. Based in Mount Barker, they admitted that they were excited when they found out they were being rostered on Tour duties, as it allowed them to watch the racing and mingle with the people who were in a joyous mood and it was in the line of duty.
As the crowd waited for the riders to come past for the first of the Jayco Sprints, a couple of bike mounted police officers staged their own mini race to the line, much to the delight of those watching. It was then time for the moment everyone had waited for as Jordan Kerby came through and picked up the Sprint points uncontested, having broken away from the peloton earlier on the stage. A minute later and the bunch came through, with Simon Gerrans crossing the line first as the crowd cheered and cow bells rang out.
From Charleston it was off to Lobethal to see what was happening at the finish line. We took the short cut that police officers had given us and we were there in time to see the riders come past again, with the crowd making plenty of noise as they flew up Main Street for the first time. The loudest group was the riders from Cervo Rosso Red Deer Racing who positioned themself on the corner to see the riders swing up the straight, looking eye catching in their black, red and white team kit.
Walking up Main Street, there were little vendors everywhere selling food, drinks and souvenirs. The most popular stall was undoubtedly the free ice cones provided by Skoda, with a massive line extending fifty metres from the machine due to the warmer than expected conditions.
Cycling has had its problem as a sport in the past few months, so it was fantastic to see so many people out and about and enjoying what is rapidly growing into a must visit event on the Australian sporting calendar. Whilst everyone was enjoying being out in the sunshine, what they were really waiting for was the sprint finish, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Andre Greipel is making a habit of winning in Adelaide, and he did it again, the Lotto Belisol team giving him an armchair ride to the finish and allowing him to open up a gap over his rivals and cruise to what looked an easy win. The victory was Greipel’s 12th stage win in Adelaide, equalling the record held by Robbie McEwen. Young Frenchman Arnaud Demare finished 2nd with Australia’s Mark Renshaw in 3rd.
The colour and the excitement of people at all the towns we visited in Stage 1 was like nothing else I’ve seen at a sporting event in Adelaide before and I’m already counting down the minutes until the riders roll off the start at Mount Barker tomorrow.