LOVE LETTERS FROM WILLUNGA HILL

 

To add some excitement, the race director of the Tour Down Under decided to switch things up a little bit. The people had spoken, and what they had specifically spoken about was more of an audible groan directed at a weeks worth of racing finishing with a bunch sprint in the middle of town. Never mind that the last few years had seen a few different winners (the common thread being Andre Greipel as an ever present threat), things had to change. 

So when the race schedule was released earlier in 2018, it was [apathetic shrug] surprise to see Willunga, a stage where one Tasmanian man has had the rest of the field on strings for the last few years was the new finish line to the race. The weeks worth of racing had been exciting to say the least, now it was up to…

“Australia’s next big thing”

– Billy Dawgs 2014-19


…to overturn a bigger General Classification deficit than normally seen at the Tour Down Under in the name of taking victory. But more on that soon, as for now the Soup Boys find themselves on the twisting roads of the Adelaide Hills, the MAAP x Ride High Country pilgrimage ride their morning journey to the historic Willunga Hill.

 
 
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It was on this bunch ride that the SBC were given a very special role. Carrying 8 spare tubes, a whole bunch of nangs and full to the brim with summer vibes, they were acting as the sag wagon. The only thing was that Adrian’s legs failed to wake up for the first hour of riding, emphatically getting dropped on the way up the Old Freeway, the taunts of some random Dad who didn’t like the hot bike x party shirt collab the only thing that woke them up.

Which asks the question: who is the sag wagon for the sag wagon? Hitting the Old Freeway climb dead last, and taking nearly an hour to get to the top meant the rest of the bunch ride, even if at the mercy of 8 punctures and a crash or two was well out of sight. The SBC rejoined in Stirling and forged ahead, following the bright green MAAP arrows to see who they could find.

 
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A cavernous gap in knowledge regarding loading maps into cycling computers eventually led the SBC Sag Wagon to become unstuck, a wrong turn here, a missed intersection there meant they eventually linked up with members of the MAAP ride, but only through what seemed to be an accidental shortcut. The good news was we were in Clarendon, as were some of the other MAAP ride attendees. The bad news was that Matty Boi, playing the role of stern father for the day put his foot down when the kids begged to stop at the Clarendon Bakery for head-sized donuts. We’d have to wait until Dawn Patrol.

 
 

DAWN PATROL: A CURRENT AFFAIR INVESTIGATES

 

And so there we were, 20 minutes later. 80th in line for coffee at Dawn Patrol, in the baking sun, fresh out of water, fanging for a feed and ready to throw the toys out the cot. Fortunately things turned around, the pacifier coming from a truly unlikely source as Matty Boi, 60th in line for coffee received the last (free) available MAAP cap.

 
 
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And like that it was on. As if Matty Boi hadn’t dealt with enough that day what with Adrian and Alex on the verge of screaming tears as we rolled passed the Clarendon Bakery. Now he had some random woman on his case about getting the last ever MAAP cap to be released. Ever. Not that we could hear all that was going from back at 80th in line for coffee, but when we collectively decided to bail for some shade, then suss out country bakery options, the tantrum took a turn and levelled up. 

Not giving up on the chance of scoring a free MAAP cap, Tracy Grimshaw had been brought in as a gun for hire on the case, now begging people for their cap, asking staff if there were any more that had fallen down the back of the tubs in the van, or sussing the line for coffee to see if she could yank one off someones head and get away with it. 

We decided to leg it before the Current Affair camera crew arrived on the scene and chased Matty Boi around the yard asking if he thought what he had done (be handed a cap) was fair. We’re still not sure if the woman in question ever found what she was looking for.

 
 

WHERE MARCO & MICHELE COLLAB

 
 

No more than half an hour later we were sitting at the Homegrain Bakery in McLaren Flat, iced lattes, several pies and cakes deep. Across the way, the sun shining down on it and only it was a sign. But this was no ordinary sign.

 
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It’s crazy to think he helped establish it during the year of his birth, but the proof is in that it has stood the test of time. Here it was, a message from two iconic Italians: Michele Scarponi and Marco Pantani. You could have guessed that the two would come together in the heavens and descend upon the earth to deliver a message, and continue their legacy of producing outstanding reds, and so many whites it was beyond belief (we’re talking wines). Shout out Michele, shout out Marco. We miss you both.

 
 

LOVE LETTERS FROM WILLUNGA

 

The road from McLaren Flat turned into the road through McLaren Vale, then, but the time we had arrived, a road closed off to motorised traffic that took you to Willunga. The race was only an hour or so in and mostly hanging out by the coast before making the turn inland and doing a couple of laps along the ridge line, but the crowds were still building in anticipation.

Some had full blown barbecues, some were taking it easy with casual drinks, board games, TV’s hooked up to generators or antipasti platters. What we knew was that people were vibing this race hard, and led us to stop by the road side to find out what some of these people loved about the Tour Down Under.

 
 

“We love the atmosphere, the sunshine and watching the professionals riding past.”

– Daniel and Charlotte

 
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“We love seeing some of the big names coming to little old Adelaide. Being able to see people like Peter Sagan face to face. And the whole set up, how everyone comes around and do things like this and just enjoy cycling. You wouldn’t think many people would get around cycling, but tens of thousands of people do.”

– Alex and Stacey

 
 
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“Motherfucker I am here for the bamboo and little else. Also stop using Palm Oil”

– Jungle Panda

 
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Alo; out on the bike for the second day in a week for the first time in years had made it to Willunga, the search for a San Remo carb up the first thing on the mind before we began slowly making our way towards the top of the hill, making a few more stops along the way.

 
 
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“I love the small Australian towns that the Tour Down Under goes through, and all the beautiful scenery.”

– Martin from Yorkshire

 
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“I love going to Andre’s. It’s a restaurant on Frome St, they serve up wicked Italian food, the best restaurant in Adelaide. Shout out Adam Tarzia.”

– Gene

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“Brooo the thing I love the most about the Tour Down Under is Coca-Cola man, with the heat I end up dreaming about ice cold cans all day every day.”

– Matty Boi

 
 
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“I love the week of unlimited hotel aircon, drinking way too many iced lattes, getting a tan, hanging with SA pals, and riding through the Adelaide Hills but never going to the Barossa. I’m also a massive pro cycling fan boy so seeing the riders and the teams doing their things up close, and seeing the full blown scenes that cycling can create in Australia is wild.”

– Adrian

 
 
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“I love the unique 46ºC on road temperatures and getting taken to Darwin via Norton Summit thanks to Mason Pretender.”

– Ben Lehner

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“I love the 16 hours of driving over the last 4 days with Ben to get here. Hanging out with THE Mason Pretender. Oh and sharing a bed.”

– Squid Steve

 
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“I love that it means you basically get a week of free sunscreen. I don’t know what more you could ask for really, this shit aint cheap.”

– Harry Scott

 
 
 
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“Tearing interstaters legs off.”

– Finn

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“Pingers”

– Ali

 
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“What I love about the Tour Down Under is that it’s an incredible melting pot of Australia’s cycling community. I don’t think there is a more educated cycling audience in the world than right here on Willunga Hill, and it absolutely showed in the passion, the enthusiasm and the love that Australian’s have for this race.”

– Matt

 
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“I love that it’s a week where people can enjoy cycling for what it is. It can be fun, it can be about the professionals but at the end of the day its about riding your bike, then coming back together in Adelaide. The TDU is unique in that it brings everyone back into the CBD where each night over some amazing food and wine you can swap stories from the road and talk about where you’re going to go tomorrow, all within our own backyard.”

– Mitch

 

AND HERE COME THE BIKES…

 
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A last minute dash up the hill to get drinks left Alex and Adrian at the finish line as riders came to the summit of Willunga Hill for the first of two times, man like Richie and Rusty Woods showing now causes for concern as bonk-master Kenny Elissonde attacked with a team mate off the front. A week earlier Richie dropped some hints at his queen stage game plan to Adrian and Alex, not that he really needed to – the final climb to the top is where he would make his name known for the umpteenth year in a row.

 
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The race came passed in the most strung out fashion possible, a number of riders pulling off to the side having completed their obligatory single climb to the top. Armed with a bit more of a tan from being stuck in the sun by the finish line, and the knowledge behind what could fit in a Ride High Country musette (x2 cans of Solo, x3 cans of CocaCola, x2 Powerades, x3 600ml bottles of water) – it was time to return back to the MAAP tent at 300m from the top.

When we got back there it was like a completely different scene, as if the race had woken the spectators up and left them on a permanent buzz. If their bodies were ready, they were about to receive a second dose of a TDU double drop, with more people tuning in to see if the Sky breakaway would stick, and if Richie would be able to make a move for victory.

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And then…

 
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It happened. You could heard the roar of the crowd down the road. With just under 1km to go, that road moved its way up the hill like cycling take on the Mexican wave. Around the corner came Richie, well clear of his rivals, but as it would turn out not so clear that he’d be able to claim the outright victory. The atmosphere was electric as he boosted it past, an atmosphere that didn’t weaken for a second as the rest of the field switched on autopilot and cruised to the top, claiming momento’s of high fives and cans of warm beer on the way up, their tour done, a return to nicer European weather awaiting them.

 
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Not for us though.

That’s right. We’d ridden 65km there, now it was time for the 65km back. Fortunately we wouldn’t be dealing with too rude of a headwind, although the heat would start getting to us as we departed the bike lane and head into the suburbs with a few kilometres to go. Fortunately some of Noarlunga’s future Huffy Slider national champs were all too kind to lend us a slip stream for a bit, giving us the finger and telling us to “fuck off” as we passed them after sucking wheels for a few hundred metres.

 
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