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Tour Down Under

Stunning scenery, first-class riders – welcome to Australia’s number one cycling event

Masses of people are expected to line up the side of the roads through the Adelaide Hills to witness some of the world’s best riders fight their way to the finishing line of the Tour Down Under. The event, which goes from January 14 to 22, has won several awards. But it’s some of the breakaway events, including the Bupa Challenge Tour, that are also rapidily gaining popularity. We explore why.

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Side-by-side challenge of mateship

The Bupa Challenge Tour

Kevin Weeks doesn’t need any motivating to get out on his bike three mornings a week often before dawn. Most people cycle for fun, to stay fit and healthy and for the social interaction. Weeks rides his bike for all those reasons, but also because it helps him to feel normal. The 66-year-old businessman has Parkinson’s disease and as a result his left arm has a tremor and constantly aches. “With cycling what I find is when I’ve ridden fairly hard for 80-100km, for the next four or five hours — this thing (left arm) — calms right down, it’s unbelievable,” he says.

Weeks was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013 but it hasn’t stopped him from cycling which he took up after jogging and car racing in 2011. Most weeks in summer he clocks up 250-300km through the Adelaide Hills and along the coast and in January has signed up for the Bupa Challenge Tour and Norton Summit Time Trial in January as part of the Santos Tour Down Under.

Next year’s Bupa Challenge Tour is on Friday, January 20 and offers recreational cyclists the choice of four distances from 30 to 157.5km over the same course as the professional peloton from Norwood to Campbelltown. “The great thing about the Bupa Challenge Tour is you do it with your mates, there are so many people on the roads of all different levels,” Weeks says. “There is a choice of distances and the camaraderie at the finish with a whole lot of people clapping and cheering, it’s brilliant. I’m also signed up for the time trial up Norton Summit. We have a ‘three stooges challenge’ with my mates. Larry is on about a 20:20, another guy on 17:23 and I’m on a 16:50 so we fly up the hill and try to beat each other.”

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The Santos Tour Down Under, to be held from January 14-22, 2017, delivers all the fanfare of a European Grand Tour each year. Established in 1999, it was the first event to gain UCI Pro Tour status outside Europe, guaranteeing all of the world’s top professional teams would be present. It was a small surprise when the tour was named Best Sporting Event at the 2016 Australian Event Awards. It is also featured in the latest Lonely Planet book, Epic Bike Rides of the World.

For the first time next January, the Bupa Challenge Tour will start and finish in suburban Adelaide, meaning cyclists will have an easier journey back to the city. “You’re side-by-side with your mates and even though you’re an individual you’re riding as a group, it’s great,” Weeks says.

Weeks, a builder and property developer, has an extensive motor racing background which began in a go-kart and led to him becoming the 2009 Australian classic tarmac champion in his 1974 Porsche 911 RS Lightweight. But cycling accidentally became his passion five years ago when he was invited to ride with a local club called La Squadra which is committed to safe and ethical riding such as strictly abiding by road rules. He rocked up to his first group ride with a dusty old bike he’d pulled out of the shed but it wasn’t long before he got hooked on the sport and upgraded. Weeks now has a Trek Madone and Emonda, a Specialized SL4 and Tarmac, a Scott mountain bike and a steel-framed training bike permanently hooked up to his indoor trainer. “I’ve got a real reason to get on the bike because I’m not just going to out train, I’m going out to improve my balance and my health,” he says. “Because Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease, I’m trying as hard as I can to stay at the same level and it seems to be working at the moment. We’re in a social cycling club but there is still competition going on, there is camaraderie and friendship and they are genuine friends.”

Given his motorsport background Weeks still has a need for speed and isn’t afraid to test himself on the descent of the feared Corkscrew Road which has featured in the Tour Down Under. “I love the descent and because of my motor racing I really know how to take the lines,” he says. “And because I’ve raced in Classic Adelaide (car rally) I know those roads backwards.” At 68kg he still manages to get up the climbs in a decent time which helped him complete Three Peaks, a 237km epic through the Victorian Alps which he says was the toughest day he’d ever had on a bike. “When I finished I was so emotional I was in tears and I said ‘if I ever suggest doing this again hit me with something’.”

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Women’s Tour

Elite female cyclists will return to South Australia to battle it out on one of Australia’s most surreal cycling tracks next year. The Santos Women’s Tour, proudly sponsored by The Advertiser, will kick off Australia’s best cycling event, the Tour Down Under, when it starts on January 14. The four-day event received international accreditation for the last race earlier this year.

It was the same race, after which Orica-AIS rider Katrin Garfoot (Qld) sealed her overall victory in the general classification. A relieved Garfoot was quick to acknowledge her teammates. “We all work so hard together, and without them (teammates) I couldn’t have done anything because I’m not a sprinter, and I needed to follow the good wheels,” she said just after last year’s race. “They got me where I needed to be, and then I tried my best. It’s all up to them that I’m wearing the Leader’s Jersey today.”

The inaugural Santos Women’s Tour will coincide with the TDU teams presentation.


Breakaway Events

Norton Summit Time Trial

10am, January 15

Owing to the incredible success of the 2016 event, the Norton Summit Time Trial will return to enable participants the experience of a lifetime, to ride up the fully closed Norton Summit from a starting ramp and be timed by the same timing company the pros use. Total distance: 5.6km

Stirling Spin

10am-3pm, January 18

Bustling with live music, street performers, local produce and the race live on the big screen, the village vibe will be carried through the Adelaide Hills for a sensational stage start in leafy Stirling.

Victor Harbor Loop de Loop

11am-3pm, January 19

With world-class riders looping beach town Victor Harbor four times you’ll want to stake your roadside space early.

Bupa mini tour for kids

9.30am-11.30am, January 22

This is the little ones’ big chance to show off their cycling skills while being cheered on by the Santos Tour Down Under crowd lining the race track just hours before the pros ride down the circuit.

tourdownunder.com.au

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