The best way to follow a bike race is on TV (provided there is good coverage) but the best way to experience it is by being there… Yes, even when the rider pass by in just 10 seconds. The Tour Down Under is back and features the new race director, two time race winner (in the first edition in 1999 and again 2001) Stuart O’Grady who has retained the proven formula success after a 2 year hiatus while also pushing the race to evolve.
The highlight is the introduction of the women’s race as a formal UCI race and escalating it to be an important race on the women’s racing calendar. The mens and women’s teams were stacked with Australian riders. Following the Christmas break and return of many Aussies back home, the National Titles kicked-off in early January, followed by the Tour Down Under and then the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race provides a competitive start to the racing season.
The Tour Down Under is centered around Adelaide and locations within reach which is a major advantage as it limits the amount of travel required for riders, teams and spectators as well as centralising the supporting activities around the ‘Festival of cycling’ and ‘Tour Village’. This introduces a closeness of fans to the race and riders, bringing your bike is a recommended and there is a good chance that one of the teams may be sharing the same route for a training ride to the popular beachside suburb of Glenelg or when the riders return back to Adelaide on bike after a race alongside scores of fans.
This centralised format works in favour of the fans and Tourism South Australia who run the race, though it means that the race routes can become a bit familiar, even the missing Willunga Hill stage finish in 2023 brought a few critical comments.
The Women’s Tour Down Under
For the first time, the women’s edition is on the UCI books and gained a strong crowd following. Crowd numbers for the mens stages was higher, but the trend is going in the right direction and the 3 stages followed original routes and had the same level of organisation and structure that was afforded to the men. The Australian riders dominated with Grace Brown emerging early and maintaining the lead with Amanda Spratt on her heels. The third and final stage of the women’s race was followed by the mens prologue, a short course time trial in Adelaide.
Mens Tour Down Under
One of the things that makes the Tour Down Under remarkable is that it is on Australian soil and also gives Australian fans a real opportunity to connect with the international and home-grown stars. While a lot of riders, including a few of the prominent Australian stars, still prefer to remain under the radar, many of the riders happy for a hello or even a brief chat after a race or when they are walking around town.
This year the big names, Caleb Ewan and Michael Matthews missed opportunities for sprint finishes (with the exception of the Schwalbe Classic Criterium event ahead of the Tour Down Under and the Sprint Jersey for Matthews). The Tour Down Under started internationally with Alberto Bettiol (EF Education EasyPost) maintaining an initial GC lead before passing the reigns to Rohan Dennis (Jumbo Visma) on Stage 2 and then keeping the Aussie theme, Jay Vine (UAE) took his first major race victory.
But the race is just part of the overall experience for fans because the Tour Down Under also involves a visit to the Tour Village and across to the team area where the mechanics look after the race bikes under the watchful eyes of the crowd. Some people choose to watch the big screen race broadcast in the Tour Village. I feel one of the highlights of the Tour is about going riding with friends and doing the same hills as the pros and having good times.