Friday, January 21, 2011

Sturt's place of Hurt

In 1830 Charles Sturt explored the Murray River, finding the land between Lake Alexandrina and the St Vincent Gulf "to be of great potential". In 1833 he declared "that a place had been found on the south coast of New Holland that settlers might venture, with every chance of success".
Today, temporary settlers venture to this place where Sturt saw such potential, to don lycra shorts, small foam helmets and pedal plastic bicycles up and down dale, in much heat, in hope of much success.
Yes, A.V.F.A. , in the course of my employment, was headed to the fair city of Adelaide and as a wannabe mountain biker who pretends to be a roady occasionally it seemed like a great chance to get on my bike and get an insight into what this road riding stuff is about. I will declare up front that I am a total fraud when it comes to kitting up on a road bike. It is true, anyone can look the part, but ask me a question about road racing and I am lost! I know what Lance Armstrong and Cadel Evans look like but would struggle to recognise any of the others if I fell over them. So there was nothing else for it. I collapsed my carbon road bike into a soft bag and headed off, somewhat nervously, to the airport.

An early start to work was good as it would see me in Adelaide before lunch, but the downside was the fatigue factor. Coupled with the predicted thirty seven degree celcius day I would need to stay well hydrated on the hills to make it around my projected route.

On descent into Adelaide and it was an absolutely magic day. The skies have been scrubbed clean of contaminants by all the rain that we have had in the last few weeks. The view of the mighty Murray River, where it exits Lake Alexandrina to the ocean, stood out vividly today.

Getting into the hotel room as quickly as possible to reassemble the Avanti didn't go as smoothly as planned, with all number of minor inconveniences that never normally happen slowing our progress. However, it was finally just the two of us and lacking anyone to read the door knob sign instructions, I got to business.

In what felt like an eternity, but was only about twenty minutes, I had the bike ready, bidons filled, myself kitted up and some grease scrubbed out of the carpet (whoops, must degrease the chain!). Hitting the streets of Adelaide it took the GPS several blocks to get a lock on to enough satellites to navigate. In fact I had to stop in Victoria Square, race HQ, for a few minutes for the lock to occur. Yet another minor, yet unusual, impediment to impending pedalling.

That hill looms.

 I made my way up toward the Adelaide Hills town of Stirling, where stage three of the Tour was finishing today. This requires a bit of a climb on the appropriately named "Eagle on the Hill" section of the old Prince's highway (now Mt Barker Rd) to Melbourne. It is a good solid climb. Not overly steep, but constant, rising 490 metres over twelve kilometres from the old toll gate at the bottom of Mt Osmond. I had the good fortune to meet two guys at the lights who were riding up to Stirling as well. They were country lads from near my home town, so we chatted all the way up the climb which made it a lot easier for me to forget about the heat and how my right calf was starting to cramp. They were here for the week and about to top 600 kilometres for the week, as they rode from Glenelg out to each stage finish every day. I was coming to realise that the number of punters along to watch the racing and do some riding themselves was huge. As we climbed we passed many bikes and were in turn passed by many more. I was lost in this strange new world of road riding, happily chatting away and I pretty much forgot to take in the view or to get my camera out to capture any of the climb!

From Crafers at the top of the climb it is a short ride across the highway to Stirling town centre. When I arrived at about 2pm, the streets were packed with riders waiting for the race to come past. There was much anticipation as several police escorts cleared the track, then some official looking cars tore past. Then came the riders..........and fast!

They flew around this uphill corner at about 40km/h! This was the first time around as thay completed a loop of the Stirling area as the final sprint of the stage.
I then moseyed down the road toward the finish line, which was as packed as the mosh pit in a Metallica concert. There was no going there for the same reasons that I would give the mosh pit a  miss, so I waited about one hundred metres behind the finish line in the cool down area.
A couple of fit looking geezers on bikes rolled past, sweat absolutely dripping off them.

Simon Gerrans, 4th place

Baden Cooke,19th place

Another bloke in the ochre jersey idled slowly past, but I missed getting a snap. I believe it was Robbie McEwen, but then again, I could be totally wrong.
It was time to head back into Adelaide and I had a plan to track via Sturt Valley Rd through Belair and Mitcham back to the city. This was partly to avoid the masses of riders now heading back down Mt Barker rd and partly to reminisce on some of the roads I used to motorcycle on when I lived down here.

Stirling grandeur

The tunnel effect. These roads feel so "cosy" to ride. While narrow they are interesting in two ways. The scenery and the climbs/ descents make for a very enjoyable ride.

There are a lot of stooonnnes (best Stewie Griffin voice) in South Australia and you quickly find that many of the older buildings everywhere are constructed utilising this at-hand resource.

Sturt Valley Rd turned into Old Belair rd and tilted down. Speeds began to nudge the 60km/h mark on winding road and I gained a new appreciation for how sensitive the steering is on a road bike at these speeds!

Finally, pedalling down the gentle grade of the hill's lower slopes through the suburb of Mitcham I was caught and passed by a group of about 50-60 cyclists. The first six or so were wearing Trek kit with race numbers on their backs. I rode with them for about five hundred metres, listening in on one asking another, "are you going to do Roubaix this year?" Was this the Trek team? Do they ride from the end of the race back into town? Not sure, I did what any cool punter would do and rode one handed while I fished around in my frame bag for my camera! By the time I got it lined up with the safety off they were obscured by some of the many other punters that had tagged along behind. D'oh!

This route back to the hotel took me through Victoria Square and there were bikes everywhere. Lots of very attractive members of the opposite sex were just kind of "hanging out" with their bikes. Is there a kind of groupie thing that happens at Pro Cycling events? More educational investigation needs to be carried out on this and other matters!
So,three hours thirty minutes, fourty six kilometres, four bidons and a juicy peach later I was back at the hotel in the pneumonia inducing airconditioning (did I mention it was HOT today!).
I had cemented an even deeper respect for the men and woman that race at this top level. They are supremely fit with a pain threshold so high that you couldn't jump over. To ride the 130 odd kilometres that they did, in that heat, with those climbs is absolutely astounding.

I am off to contemplate their feats while inhaling a steak and enjoying the dining company of four flight attendants........what a day! Ciao.

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