King William Road was abuzz this morning as cycling fans crammed into cafes to enjoy a coffee or a bite to eat before the start of Stage 3 of the Tour Down Under. Finding a spare seat was near on impossible, with fans making the most of the beautiful conditions ahead of the predicted searing heat that would follow in the afternoon.
The colour for this stage was definitely fluorescent green as stage sponsor bikeexhange.com.au handed out headbands and wristbands to the spectators lining the barriers, creating quite a site to behold once people started wearing them. At 11am the riders rolled off the start line and made their way towards Stirling, where they would commence 6 laps around the beautiful Adelaide Hills.
This stage is generally regarded as the best for spectators, with the possible exception of the final stage in the city, and today it proved to be the case again. With the temperature pushing past 38° in Adelaide, heading to the Adelaide Hills was a relief as shade is plentiful and temperature a few degrees cooler than down on the flat.
With six laps of a 21.3kms circuit facing the riders once they hit Stirling for the first time, there is lots of open space to set up camp for the day and take in the action. Aldgate was our first point of call once we made it to hills, and this relatively small town was bursting at the seams with people.
The main street was a hive of activity, with the bakery, coffee shop and bottle shop all doing a roaring trade. The Aldgate Pump Hotel was packed as it offered elevated views from its Terrace, and there was even a gigantic paella being cooked outside the providore.
When the riders came through, the cow bells were in full swing again, and it was about now I was starting to think that I actually hate cow bells! There would have been no more than 2 minutes between the riders in the breakway coming through and the main peloton roaring past, and as soon as they’d disappeared from sight people went back to their picnics and conversations, happy in the knowledge that the riders would return again.
As Samara and I strolled down the main street of Aldgate, we were recognised by a group of people that we’d stood next to on the Corkscrew the day before, and it was like meeting with old friends! The friendships and camaraderie between spectators watching the Tour is just another thing that makes this week long event great.
Our second stop was Heathfield, which was hosting the 2nd and final Jayco Sprint point for the afternoon. In contrast to the mayhem of yesterday’s King of the Mountain on the Corkscrew, Heathfield was scarcely populated and plenty of space for those who did venture there could be found.
The sprint point was slightly uphill, and we made it for lap 3 after the sprint points had been already won, but the riders still came through at an incredible speed as this section of the circuit is predominantly downhill. Despite a very small crowd, cow bells still rang out and those on hand yelled encouragement out to the riders. They reserved a special cheer for the riders who’d been dropped, including Andy Schleck and Martin Kohler.
From Heathfield we made our way to Stirling to check out the finish. As expected, Stirling was packed, people lining the streets up to 5 people deep. There were lots of restaurants and pubs that had set up outdoor dining areas to take full toll of the race visiting 6 times, and almost every one of these was packed too. If you weren’t too fussed about being near the finish line, it was easy to find a good viewing spot, but to get near the finish line you’d have to arrive pretty early.
A massive cheer filled the streets of Stirling as Tom Slagter took off near the finish looking for a stage win, and the rest of the riders looked absolutely spent as they came in. A huge portion of the crowd made its way to Stirling Oval for the presentation ceremony before a sea of cars and bicycles jumped on the Freeway and headed back to Adelaide.
It was another fantastic day at the Tour Down Under, and increasing the number of laps around Stirling and surrounds to 6 was a masterstroke by race organisers that was appreciated by those who turned out to watch.
The day’s whackiest outfit went to the young lad at Heathfield in a green bodysuit with yellow shorts and hat – and yes, it was a different guy to the one wearing yesterday’s green bodysuit! Decked out with his Aussie and Welsh flags, he sat all on his own as even his family refused to associate with him!