Victor Harbour Day 7 – The Queen Stage.

It’s Saturday as I write this, but it’s not this Saturday that I’m writing about, it’s last Saturday.  Only last Saturday, that is, and yet it seems like quite a long while ago.

Saturday last week was the 7th day of our South Australian holiday, and the 5th day of the Tour Down Under.  The so called Queen Stage.  Not because the riders all dress up in drag for the day’s racing, and not because there’s any member of any royal family involved in any way.  The title of Queen Stage is given to the toughest or possibly most decisive day of a multi-day bike race.  Usually that means the day with the biggest climb, or the biggest climbs.

Of all the days of the TDU this is the one to watch.  It begins in McLaren Vale and takes the riders on a few laps between McLaren Vale and Aldinga Beach before taking a couple of laps up the quaintly named Old Wilunga Hill.  In previous years the race has gone up Old Wilunga hill three times, and down the other side three times before finishing in the town of Wilunga.  This year the race organisers made the decision to have only two laps up the hill, with a hill top finish, making for a much more exciting prospect in the last lap, and opening up the General Classification to the climbers, edging out the sprinters a bit.

My day began with a ride from Victor Harbour north-ish to McLaren Vale where I met up with a couple of riding buddies to watch the start, followed by a delicious second breakfast.

Black cockatoo?

On the way to McLaren Vale I passed about half a dozen of these birds in the trees on the side of the road.  The looked like cockatoos, and they sounded like cockatoos, only they were black, with some white in their tails.  If only I was an ornithologist…

There was quite a buzz at McLaren Vale, with a huge crowd gathered to watch the race begin.

The starting line

 

The first lap through McLaren Vale

Some of you may not be that interested in bike races, in which case you should just admire those clouds.

Meanwhile Liz and the boys had set off in the other direction and managed what we had hitherto failed to d0:  they had found a surf beach at last.  They were going to do a bit of surfing, then meet me later on the side of Wilunga Hill.

After second breakfast I waved good bye to my McLaren Vale riding buddies and headed off to Wilunga to catch up with another riding buddy, who I found tucking into a hearty lunch with a goodly supply of ale, seated in the pub with a couple of his mates.  This is the essence of the TDU experience – bike riding, eating, maybe drinking or wine tasting, and a bit of race watching.

The pub in Wilunga is one of those perfect vantage points.  The race goes right past the door not once but five times, and when it’s not out the front you can watch every detail on the TV screen indoors.

The riders take a U-turn outside the Wilunga pub. How about those clouds?

About half an hour ahead of this bunch I had ridden up that same road, past those same crowds, on a road that was already closed to motor traffic.  The road through town is one long straight up-hill stretch of more than 500m, and the crowds were three to five deep on both sides, all with nothing to do except wait for the race to come by and cheer on the passing cyclists like me in the meantime.  I felt a bit self conscious riding up this road in a group of one, with a smattering of applause and the occasional cheer.  There were even people holding water bottles out for me.

After the town of Wilunga the road turns upwards more steeply and continues at about 7 or 8% for about 3kms before reaching the top.  Riding up this was just like riding through town, only more so.  The crowds were more pumped, more vocal, and ready to cheer anything or anybody.  Even I got a few cheers, but the loudest roars were for the cyclists in costume – the mankinis, the Telly Tubby suits, the zoot suits – for the police on their mountain bikes, and for any kind of kid.  It was a great atmosphere.

A break away on the first lap up the hill.

On the first lap up the hill young Australian rider Nathan Haas made a gutsy breakaway.  He reached the top with nearly a minute over the following bunch, but he was reeled in before the bottom of the descent.

In between laps there are two things to do.  You can watch the crowd, which is pretty entertaining, or you can watch the race on one of the big screens.

The big screen, courtesy of Bikeexchange

Wilunga hill top.

Earlier in the week I’d ridden up to this spot and there was none of this to be seen.

At the end of the stage the crowd begins to disperse, many walking back to their cars, but equally many getting on their bikes to head home.  Liz and the boys were still surfing, not wanting to waste this fantastic beach that they’d found on the last day of our holiday.  So we agreed that they would drive from Goolwa to Adelaide, and I would ride from Wilunga to Adelaide, and we’d meet somewhere along the way.

Riding back with my Kazakh buddies.

I’ve heard that it’s not uncommon for people riding from the race finish back to Adelaide find themselves sharing the road with the pro cyclists, unwinding after the race.  There are a few cyclists in the pro peloton that I’d really like to ride alongside, just for a little bit.  None of them rides for the Kazakh team Astana.

We all met up on the outskirts of Adelaide, chucked the bike in the car for the last few kms, and kept going, to check out the sights of the city.  Not surprisingly we saw churches.  And other stuff.  Then we ate, we had a beverage, and we jumped in the car and headed back to VH.

Our last South Australian sunset. For a while.

 

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