The Santos Tour Down Under is undoubtedly Australia's premier cycling race, with pros coming from all over the globe to compete in the first UCI WorldTour event of the year. This year saw almost one million spectators line the streets of Adelaide to watch nine days of world-class cycling and cheer on Australian hero Simon Gerrans of ORICA-BikeExchange take victory for the fourth time in his career.
The 2017 event takes place from Saturday 14 through to Sunday 22 January so make a note in your diary, put in your leave from work and get ready for nine of the best days you could possibly have in your own backyard, on and off the bike.
The Race Itself
There is always so much action at the Santos Tour Down Under, starting with the race itself.
This year saw the coming of age of sprint sensation Caleb Ewan who dazzled fans with his ultra-aero position that had him virtually kissing his front wheel as he leant over the handlebars chasing victory. ORICA-BikeExchange dominated the race winning four of its six stages, plus the much-loved prelude to the TDU, the People's Choice Classic. Richie Porte took out the penultimate stage with his trademark final ascension of Willunga Hill that no one has been able to match for the past three years. Images of the Tasmanian out of the saddle, driving the pace amongst a sea of fans, cowbells and bikes is a sight reminiscent of a Tour de France mountain-top finish.
The course for 2017 features new roads and circuits, but the time-honoured landmarks we've come to know and love remain. The People's Choice Classic kicks things off on Sunday with an hour of hectic racing that averages over 50 kilometres per hour. Hostworks Stage 1 finishes into Lyndoch and should see the sprinters come out to play in the hope of chalking up the first UCI WorldTour victory of 2017. The race pays a visit to the Adelaide Hills on Staging Connections Stage 2, which should provide an insight into who has come to Adelaide to win the race. The riders travel along the beachfront in Glenelg and through McLaren Vale during Stage 3 before a fast finishing circuit around Victor Harbor.
Bupa Stage 4 is Bupa Challenge Tour day and gives cycling enthusiasts the chance to ride the stage only hours before the pros. Norton Summit, Checker Hill and Mt Torrens will test out the professional peloton as much as the public before a finish into Campbelltown. BikeExchange Stage 5, the queen stage of the TDU, is where the action happens. Every year fans flock to Willunga Hill early in the day to secure a spot on the mountain before the race rolls through. Fans squeeze in from top to bottom on the three kilometre climb so everyone gets a close-up view as the race is decided.
Be Safe Be Seen MAC Stage 6 is a lightning-fast 90 kilometre circuit race around the streets of Adelaide. The race is normally decided by this point but that doesn't dampen the spirit or competitiveness of the final stage. For many international riders, it's the last chance to gain a victory before heading to Europe for the Spring Classics, while for the Aussies it's a chance to put on a show in front of the home crowd. The Santos Tour Down Under also plays host to the Santos Women's Tour. The event returns for 2017, bigger and better with a 2.2 UCI ranking and four stages in Adelaide and around South Australia.
Must do: Join one of the many convoys riding to Willunga on BikeExchange Stage 5, secure your spot on Willunga Hill and cheer until you're hoarse!
Away from the race itself, Adelaide provides the backdrop for some of the best riding you'll experience anywhere in the world. A short 30 minute spin out of town will take you to the bottom of the Corkscrew Road climb and Norton Summit, where you can test yourself against the world’s best. Greenhill Road offers quite possibly the best flowing descent you’ll experience, and is only a handful of kilometres (and a decent climb to Mt Lofty Summit) out of town. Do your best Cadel Evans impersonation back into town after ascending the crazy steep Corkscrew Road climb or follow the convoy out to the town of Willunga to cheer on the pros as they go toe-to-toe up the famous Willunga Hill climb. The race descends Norton Summit on Staging Connections Stage 2, which has a star studded STRAVA leader board to chase and compare yourself to. And if the hills become all too much, take a flat spin along Glenelg or countless other stunning beachside locations.
Must do: Climb to Mt Lofty, get a great shot of your bike from the look-out with Adelaide in the background for Instagram, then enjoy the best descent, possibly ever, down Greenhill Road.
By far, one of the coolest elements of the Santos Tour Down Under is the accessibility to the pro riders. Much of their racing season overseas is spent living out of suitcases; jumping on afternoon transfers following a stage finish to the next day’s start location or their next event. The TDU is a unique race for the pros because they get a chance to settle in one location for over a week. The opportunity to settle and relax is why the event is a favourite for pro riders and teams. As a result riders are more relaxed, happy to interact with the public and become more accessible than at any other time of the year.
Many people will ride out to the stage locations in the morning, sit roadside and watch the race fly past, then hitch a ride back into town behind the pros. Because the teams are stationed in the Adelaide CBD, most of the pro riders will cruise back into town following the stage, which gives us mere mortals the chance to either sit behind them and admire their sinewy calves or, better yet, offer them a wheel to follow back into town. There aren’t many more boast-worthy occurrences than to say you towed Richie Porte, Simon Gerrans, Rohan Dennis or Adam Hansen back into town!
Must do: Ride to and from a regional stage, offering the tired pros an armchair ride back to the Hilton Adelaide.
Off The Bike
Make sure a visit to one of Adelaide's world famous wineries is on the itinerary, too. McLaren Vale, the Barossa, Langhorne Creek and the Adelaide Hills all offer a playground for wine lovers in every direction from the CBD. Most locations are no more than an hour’s drive away; what a perfect way to top and tail your trip.
So there's world-class riding to watch, countless local cycling routes to enjoy, white, sandy beaches and nirvana for wine lovers, but let's just quickly touch on the weather. An average maximum temperature of around 29 degrees for Adelaide in January if-you-don't-mind-thank-you-very-much!
Must do: Pick up at least one white and one red at any of Adelaide's finest wineries.
The Bupa Challenge Tour
The Bupa Challenge Tour is the TDU's annual mass-participation ride taking place on Friday 20 January, the morning of Bupa Stage 4, following the same route as the professional riders that afternoon. Entrants receive a timing chip, unique rider number and have the choice of four different ride options: 157.5km from Norwood, 111km from Birdwood, 58km from Mt Pleasant or 30km from Lobethal.
For those looking to do the event as a team, if you register before 31 October your team name will be printed on the back of your event jersey for free. The ride has full mechanical and medical support and last year saw thousands of riders of all abilities take on the challenge and enjoy the day.
Must do: Round up a bunch of your mates and complete the full Bupa Challenge Tour.
Shut Up Down Under Team
Back in 2017 is the chance to join a living legend of cycling on the road for the Bupa Challenge Tour. While Jens Voigt has put the UCI WorldTour behind him, he is still very much part of the cycling scene. He will be tackling the full 157.5 kilometre course and wants you to come along for the ride.
“One of the reasons I always come back to the Santos Tour Down Under is that I just love the beautiful countryside,” Jens says.
“I just love riding along the water, I just love the mountains, the vineyards and the enthusiasm of the fans. It’s just like the Tour de France.” Those who sign up to his aptly named Shut Up Down Under team receive an exclusive jersey, invitation to a private event the night before with Jens and much more. Registrations close on 11 November, so make sure to get in quick!
Must do: At least once during the ride, look down at your legs and scream, "Shut up legs, do what I tell you!"
For more information on the Santos Tour Down Under visit tourdownunder.com.au
All images supplied by Tour Down Under.