Climbs, crashes, kangaroos and other MAMILs

Climbs, Crashes, Kangaroos and other MAMILs

Written by Peter Barrett, on February 14, 2024

My recent trip to Australia for the 2024 Santos Tour Down Under was a real treat with lots of unique sights, great racing and fun riding. I left winter in Salt Lake City to enjoy the warm sunshine of Adelaide Australia. Our host, Lazer Helmets and Shimano Australia did an amazing job of getting us front row seats to the action. 

An already long day of travel was extended due to a canceled flight from Sydney to Adelaide. I took advantage of the eight hour layover to stroll around and get an up close look at the famous Sydney Opera house and surrounding area. Once on the plane again I finally made it to Adelaide over 30 hours after leaving SLC! Fortunately, the Friday evening meet-and-greet with four-time TDU winner Simon Gerrans in attendance, was still in full swing and I got to enjoy some food and drink before resting up in a local hotel. The next day saw an early start with a 70K ride through wine country and ending at the infamous Willunga Hill to watch the final laps of stage 5. Numerous other groups were riding the country roads as we made our way up and over steep climbs and fast rolling descents. 

Our group ride included Simon Gerrans, Richie Porte alongside Australian gravel hotshots Emma Viotta and Tasman Nankervis. Fortunately, our fast ride guides waited at Willunga Station for the rest of us to cool off and recharge for the final climb. It is evident that Simon is still very popular with cycling fans as lucky passersby stopped to get selfies with their national hero. 

I have to admit that it was odd starting a ride on the left side of the road. Yes, Australia uses the far left lane for driving and riding. If it weren't for the group and ride guides I would want to steer myself to the other opposite side of the street. Using brake levers set-up “moto style” - with brake levers swapped left and right - was an easier adjustment to make than constantly being on the alert for cars going the “wrong” way!  

We all know that Australia is populated with a wide variety of interesting animals. During my rides I was lucky enough to see and hear cockatoos (they sound like pterodactyls) , kookaburras and kangaroos up close. I also saw many very large bats from a safe distance. Fortunately, I wasn’t subjected to any of their massive whistling spiders or Huntsman spiders! What I wasn’t expecting was the incredible amount of Australian MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra). It’s a thing. Sport obsessed Aussies work hard, grow up, retire, and then join cycling clubs - matching kits and all -  to spend their time riding with like minded individuals. Roaming herds of MAMILs are easily spotted almost anywhere enjoying their natural habitat. 

After battling the crowds up Willunga Hill, we regrouped at Our Place restaurant for an endless Italian feast and up-close viewing of stage five’s hilltop finish. Being near the feed zone we witnessed many close calls and a few crashes. For the TDU racers, Willunga Hill is a hotly contested 2.25K climb with a 15.6% pitch that, when taken at speed, becomes the deciding factor in the event’s penultimate stage. To add to the challenge this year’s Stage 5 climbed Willunga Hill twice and was the finish line after 129K of racing! 

The Santos Tour Down Under is an annual event that has been the kick-off to the Pro Tour calendar since 1999. Each stage is raced in and around Adelaide with an exhibition center located at Victoria Square. From the exhibition center it was easy to spot team vehicles and racers preparing for their 6 days of racing. This year world class racers such as Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) and Simon Yates (Jayco Alula) were in attendance to ensure a fast paced tour. The sixth and final stage brought us to Mount Lofty for another hilltop finish. 

Now, these hills are very different from what we experience here in Utah with Mount Lofty topping out at only 2330 feet. But add the speed of Pro Tour racers, summertime heat and multiple laps, these hills become real mountains. Being a spectator, my day was much different from that of the racers. The top of Mount Lofty offered a great vantage point while our group enjoyed complimentary hors d'oeuvres and cold drinks while watching the race unfold on a JumboTron TV. The peloton passed our prime viewing spot three times before on their way to the finish. After a week of racing we saw an exciting finish with the Welsh rider Stephen Williams (Israel-Premier Tech) take the overall title and Australian Luke Burns (ARA-Australian Cycling) claim the King of the Mountains jersey. 

Wow what a trip, and one that I heartily recommend! Australians enjoy a great way of life and are eager to share it with their visitors. Tourists from all over the world flock to the land down under to enjoy events like the Tour Down Under and Australian Open tennis match, which takes place at the same time. This was actually my second Australian visit and I will gladly go again.


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