What a fantastic week of cycling it has been at the Santos Tour Down Under, and with the fantastic weather for today’s stage through the streets of Adelaide you couldn’t ask for a better way to wrap it up.
The crowds have been out in force at every stage, and the fans made sure today was no exception, with a massive crowd lining the streets to cheer on their favourite riders.
One of the things that makes the Tour Down Under such a highly regarded event is the accessibility. After rushing around chasing cyclists with Samara all week, I was due to fly solo as Samara had far more important VIP tent duties to attend to. At the last minute my plans changed, as my wife was finally discharged from hospital. As she is a passionate cycling fan, she was keen to catch the last stage of the Tour, and I was only too happy to take her in.
We were able to find a carpark close to the race, walk down slowly and set up a chair for her just past the finish line where she could still catch the action. We had left Flinders Medical Centre 45 minutes before the race was due to start, and we had her sitting down watching the riders exactly one hour later – at how many other elite level sports could you manage that? Not only were we able to leave so late and secure a good vantage point, if my wife did start to feel unwell we could leave easily and be home in no time.
She was happy to sit and soak up the atmosphere and cheer the riders go past after being couped up inside the hospital for more than a week, and as the riders came past every six minutes she told me to go off and take photos. So I set off with my camera and within a few hundred metres, I was able to catch the race from a different angle, finding a decent photo spot not that hard.
As I walked around the course I noticed just how many families made the trip in for this stage, and why not? It’s easy to set yourself up a spot, the kids are happy because they never have to wait long for the riders to come past again, there is plenty of shade, the course is accessible from public transport, or finding a car park is not too hard as long you don’t mind a little walk. There are plenty of freebies handed out by the Tour sponsors, food and drink vans are plentiful and the atmosphere is fantastic. Best of all, the race is absolutely free, you can come along and watch some of the biggest names in world cycling and it won’t cost you a cent.
I got myself set up in a decent position at the top of the straight past the finish line for the closing stages and was lucky enough to have a fantastic view of Andre Greipel prove yet again what a world class sprinter he is. The big German loves Adelaide, and listening to the fans cheer him home as he crossed the line for his 14th stage win, there is no doubt that the feeling is mutual.
Adelaide has seen many future stars race in Adelaide before breaking out and winning big races (Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan to name just two), and overall winner Tom-Jelte Slagter looks to be another one. The Dutchman has had a fantastic Tour, securing the General Classification by finishing with the peloton today; you can be sure you’ll hear a lot more about this kid in the future.
At the conclusion of the race, the riders not required to make their way to the presentation stage ride through the crowd and up King William Street to the Hilton Hotel, stopping to sign autographs and chat with fans along the way. Can you imagine elite level footballers or cricketers walking through the crowd to get back to their hotel? The joy on the faces of some of the children as the riders would hand them a bottle or musette was priceless.
The Tour Down Under not only gives fans a chance to enjoy cycling, it gives young Australian riders a chance to compete against the pro peloton with Team UniSA. A rider I predicted big things from before the race commenced, Adelaide’s own Damian Howson, clearly enjoyed his chance to shine on the big stage, not only performing on the road by winning the most aggressive rider on Stage 4 (shared with Philippe Gilbert), but he could be seen chatting with fans and enjoying the attention long after today’s stage had finished.
I returned to the finish line to collect my wife, who had thoroughly enjoyed getting out and amongst the action, and in no time at all we were back in the car and making our way home. The Tour Down Under is certainly unique, and it’s easy to understand why Adelaide embraces it: World class athletes, an opportunity to showcase our State to the rest of the world and an event that is easy and cheap to enjoy – let’s hope we see it return to Adelaide for many decades to come.