January 24, 2012

Guest post: The Tour Down Under Challenge ride

While some of us had to rely on Twitter for Tour Down Under updates (thanks Channel Nine), Matt Fletcher was lucky enough to find himself in Adelaide to see the race first-hand. In this guest post he talks about his participation in the BUPA Challenge Tour ride and the buzz of watching the pros tear up the roads in and around Adelaide.

The top of Montefiero Hill during the final stage of the Tour Down Under.

There’s something awesome about packing up your bike and heading interstate for a cycling event. Aside from feeling a little ‘pro-like’ it’s the prospect of hitting new roads and scenery that I really enjoy.

Not only is the atmosphere in Adelaide electric for the whole week of the Tour Down Under, but the cycling on offer in Adelaide really is second to none. It’s easy to get around, the roads are great quality, there’s a good combination of flats and climbing and, by and large, there’s a healthy amount of respect and courtesy from motor vehicle drivers.

The Tour itself is a great opportunity to celebrate what we love about cycling. It’s a chance to get close to our heroes while celebrating our much-maligned sport (thanks Warney) with the safety of numbers. For a whole week, Adelaide seems to become the cycling Mecca of the world. The positivity of the event flows right up to the pros who all seem to rave about the event itself, and the quality of the rides in and around Adelaide.

The BUPA Challenge Tour ride is a chance for rank amateurs like myself to tackle a World Tour stage on the same day the pros do. This year, the event comprised Stage 4 of the TDU – a 138km jaunt from the inner-city suburb of Norwood, to the heart of the Barossa wine region in Tanunda. Riders also had the option of reducing the length of their ride with starts at three other locations on the course, providing 102km, 79km and 33km alternatives.

This year 7,000 riders took the challenge, with an impressive 5,000 starting from Norwood, including Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and, well, me.

Aside from some fairly manageable rolling hills and great scenery, the course only had two main obstacles – Smith Hill and Menglers Hill. These were the two spots where the pros could earn King of the Mountain (KOM) points.

Course profile for the BUPA Challenge Tour ride

The excitement of the event started from the moment I hit the airport. It takes some adjusting to be waiting for your bike in the Oversize Baggage area with a large number of other cyclists. I reckon at least a dozen people were also keen to ensure their bikes had made it one piece.

I picked up my registration kit the day before the event in Norwood. All riders get an event jersey (see image below) which they must wear on the ride, and a racing number for their bike including a microchip. The microchip is a throw-away version being trialled this year and a few people were sceptical they would work with such large number of riders, particularly at the start. It will be interesting to see, but I’ll be relying on the trusty Garmin/Strava combo anyway.

Also, a word of warning if you’re looking to do this event next year – get your pre-ordered jersey size right. Because of limited numbers the organisers were not prepared to swap sizes at the registration pick-up point. A couple of disappointed people tried to swap jerseys with me in Norwood.

#4733 ready to roll

The event itself started in Norwood at a brisk 6.30am. I’m not a huge fan of early starts but was happy about it on this particular day with a ‘balmy’ 35° forecast. The pros started at 11am and I felt for them, having to take on the stage during the hottest part of the day. In preparation, I made sure I drank an ocean of water the day before to hydrate properly.

I had a team of one this year as a number of my cycling mates were busy (read lazy!). However, the joy of ‘flying solo’ was that I managed to get a good spot at the start line and could selfishly go at my own pace all day, jumping in and out of packs as and when it suited. I think everyone relished the slight tailwind we had all the way. It sure makes a difference, especially when the course more or less headed in one direction (north west) to Tanunda.

The event jersey.

Overall the course was quite reasonable without too many difficult sections. I suspect that’s why it attracts such a large and varied group of participants. That and the fact there are multiple start points. No matter your capability and choice of start point, you have plenty of riders around you the whole way, bringing plenty of distractions.

That said, I did have to smile three-quarters of the way through the ride when I was climbing Menglers Hill. I thought I was maintaining a reasonable pace before I noticed young families of four and the odd tandem bike or two climbing with me!

Before the event I had enjoyed some recent and challenging training rides with Matt, the curator of this site, as he prepares for another assault at 3 Peaks. So I was well prepared, and for that reason I was really able to enjoy this event. [ed. Have you signed up yet? Huh?]

The two climbs certainly slowed me down but were not long enough to cause too much trouble. With the tailwind, I was feeling so good that I had covered 92km before I even thought about having a short break and a water stop.

I was very pleased to finish the 138km event in just under 4.5 hours, thank to some good training, the tailwind and sharing the load with a few ‘competitive’ others. Importantly, I beat Tony Abbott by 20 minutes. Then again, his day job probably kills a few more hours than mine!

The facilities at the event finish line were really good and a full lunch was included at the Tanunda RSL Recreation Reserve. There were plenty of cycling, drinks and food stalls and a band provided a rewarding post-ride atmosphere. There were also coach transfers back to the Adelaide CBD. But the best part was the massages provided by SportsMed for a very cheap $5 donation to Cancer research. Damn that was good. In fact, I blame the massage for my ambitious decision to ride back to my parents’ house back in Heathfield.

By the time I got back to my parents place, I’d covered nearly 230km for the day. Safe to say the second leg of the ride was slower than the first, but the quality roads and scenery made it all worthwhile. Along the way I even had to stop for these guys coming in the opposite direction:

The pros showing us how it's really done.

I spent the weekend recovering and watching, with friends, GreenEdge win its first World Tour. On Saturday we made our way to the top of Willunga Hill for the ‘Queen Stage’, and the following day we headed into the heart of the Adelaide CBD to watch the final stage on Montefiore Hill. Both locations featured a huge TV and a fantastic atmosphere.

Aside from the pro riders, we got to rub shoulders with other celebs including Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, GreenEdge directeur sportif Matt White, Aussie cycling legend Phil Anderson, the Opposition Leader himself, GreenEdge backer Gerry Ryan and SBS cycling commentator, Anthony “Tan Man” Tan. We also bumped into the entire Indian Cricket team who seemed to have gotten lost on their way to the Adelaide Oval!

All in all I highly recommend the BUPA Challenge Tour ride and a few days to soak up the TDU. Frankly the Tour doesn’t get enough exposure outside of SA, but grab a couple of mates and head on over to the ‘Laide to experience it yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

A big thanks to everyone who wished me well for the ride and my parents for putting me up for the weekend and providing general support crew services. Also thanks to Scotty, Linc, Luke and Syreeta for joining me at the final TDU stages – you guys topped off a great weekend and I look forward to seeing you again next year!

You can follow Matt on Twitter @fat_matty.

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