For the past week, Samara and I have had the absolute pleasure of stalking fans and riders alike as we’ve followed the Tour Down Under. It’s hard to explain to the average punter how much fun we’ve had, and how exciting it is when a plan comes together and the angle you were looking for comes to fruition.
It has felt like we’ve had a purpose, racing the clock to get to the best vantage point before the riders and trying to fit in as many spots on the day’s stage as possible. We’ve become masters at taking shots from a parked car, finding objects to climb to get above the crowd, eating on the run, driving as fast as we can safely and within the road rules, and changing camera lenses while running.
We’ve enjoyed meeting so many interesting people, all from varied backgrounds and with lots of stories to tell, but importantly all united by a passion for cycling. It really has been enjoyable beyond words, so it was with much sadness that we set course for Willunga this morning, the final stage of the Tour Down Under that would be out and about in the surrounds of Adelaide, with tomorrow’s final stage being held entirely in the CBD.
Driving towards Willunga, we were struck by just how many cars were out on the road. This stage is famous for the Old Willunga Hill climb and for having a large say in the outcome of the race. Factor in that it was not only a Saturday but also Australia Day, the enormity of the crowd shouldn’t have been a surprise, but the bumper to bumper traffic was unexpected.
Main Road and High Street in Willunga were full of pubs and restaurants serving up food and offering pristine viewing of the race, with the riders coming past on five occasions. Our choice was the Alma Hotel, a quaint hotel built back in 1856 that is full of character – and full of lyrca today as a swarm of hungry cyclists had the same idea. There was Tour Down Under memorabilia on the walls, two TV’s showing the race, and when the cyclists came past, you’d step out of the front door and be at a railing overlooking the race.
We ate lunch and had a refreshing drink, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the buzz that has been noticeable at every stage so far. The sheer amount of cyclists you see at every stage is incredible; who knew there were so many flashy bikes in Adelaide!
After lunch it was definitely time to make our way up Old Willunga Hill Road to see the riders climb this famous hill. We drove up through the backstreets, found a park that we figured was fairly close and set off on foot to find the road we needed. As luck would have it, we came out onto Old Willunga Hill Road at the very spot we’d used for photographs when we made the climb a few weeks ago, with panoramic views over McLaren Vale’s vineyards and out to the beaches of southern Adelaide.
The riders came through, and despite not being nearly as crowded as the upper reaches of the Corkscrew on Stage 2, those there gave them plenty of encouragement. With the stage requiring riders to climb this hill twice, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the non climbers – you could see the pain on their faces as they made their way up the first time.
After the last rider had passed, it was time for one last sprint to the car with cameras and bags, and make the mad dash up Victor Harbor Road to get as close as we could to the summit of the climb. Somehow, we fluked a car park right near the summit, jumped out and made the dash towards the course to try and catch the finish.
Securing a really good position, we could look straight down the barriers to the finish lane; a miracle, as people get there in the wee hours of the morning to secure the best spots. Seconds later, we saw Simon Gerrans and Tom-Jelte Slagter swing around the corner and cross the finish line, with Gerrans taking the victory, and the time bonus for 2nd place being enough for Slagter to move into the General Classification lead.
The noise from the large crowd was deafening; definitely the loudest so far this week, but considering just how many people cram themselves to every imaginable spot, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Our vantage spot for all of this action at the finish was incredible. We’ve no idea how we managed to fluke it, but it was a perfect way for us to end our adventures stalking the Tour. There is still a stage tomorrow, a street circuit around the streets of Adelaide, and while we’ll be there to take in all the action, it just won’t feel the same as traipsing around the countryside of South Australia chasing lyra clad men on two wheels.