Tour Down Under -Pedalling into the future

Cycling season is upon us. We are in the middle of what can only be described as the most bizarre Tour de France race ever. They say that any publicity is good publicity and cycling is back page news right now. That can only be a good thing.

The routes for the 2017 Tour Down Under have also been unveiled this week. Back are some favourites including the Willunga Hill finish and a race start in the suburb of Unley. Some tweaks have also been made with Stirling now set to host a race start rather than a race finish and the Bupa Challenge will start and finish in the metropolitan area for something a little different.

Here’s a look at the 2017 routes and how organisers can continue to keep the race as a key part of the Australian summer.

January 15 2017 – People’s Choice Classic 

Crowds seemed well down on this one last year. Given the disruptions with the O-Bahn and the tram line  extension in the area, this would have been a perfect time to move this stage. It is time for an overhaul of the prequel. Perhaps a shift back to Glenelg or even Norwood. The city Adelaide always gets the final stage, does it really need the welcome race as well? Spread the benefits from hosting a race stage further than the just city centre even if only for a couple of years.

Caleb Ewan made a name for himself in this race last year. It set him up for a brilliant Tour Down Under. It is definitely a stage for the sprinters and a chance to find some form in one of the first competitive hit outs of the year.

Stage 1 – January 17 2017 – Unley to Lyndoch 

In terms of distances, 145km is about as long as a stage of the Tour Down Under gets. This one will be tough as it winds its way through the towns of One Tree Hill, Kersbrook and Williamstown. It is great to see these places featuring prominently throughout the race as they continue to recover from the bushfires of a year or two ago.

This one is a very similar stage to 2016 with slight tweaks to the King of the Mountain. That will be contested at Humbug Scrub. With a name like that and Cockatoo Valley thrown in there as well, this stage is quintessentially Australian.

Mawson Lakes always seems to get a look in and the suburb is back on the route this year too. The Salisbury Highway even makes an appearance. South Australia does enjoy showing off the highways.

Expect a breakaway early with the peloton wheeling them in not long before the finish.

Stage 2 – January 18 2017 – Stirling to Paracombe

This stage feels fresh. Fresh is good and very important to the future of the race.

Stirling has for a long time hosted the finish of a stage with several laps around the town completed before the cyclists rode through the finish banner. Next year Stirling will host the start of the race. Five laps of the town will be undertaken before the riders head off into the Adelaide Hills passing through lesser known towns including Piccadilly, Crafers and Ashton.

The ride then heads back into metropolitan Adelaide briefly, going past Rostrevor and Athelstone before a top of the hill finish at Paracombe.

This will be a stage where the contenders are separated from those here purely to see the scenery. It has a bit for everyone. The sprinters will enjoy the start if they’re good enough to withstand some of the early pace setting with two sprints in the opening part of the race. Then it will be over to the climbers in the afternoon as the race heads uphill to the finish.

There was a massive crowd at Paracombe in 2015 and expect it to be no different when the race heads up there again in 2017.

Stage 3- January 19 2017 – Glenelg to Victor Harbor

Both these towns have missed out on hosting stages in the past. Not in 2017 though. Glenelg always attracts big crowds and the town of Victor Harbor has embraced the Tour for years. A far more calm day for the cyclists today as they make their way down Adelaide’s south coast. Watch out for possible winds today however.

The Southern Expressway gets a guernsey again. South Australia cannot claim it as a tourist attraction anymore given it is no longer the world’s only one way freeway. Probably for the best.

Up past the Victory Hotel (one of the best) at Sellicks Beach for the King of the Mountain and through the towns of Myponga and Yankalilla. Tourists really must wonder how South Australia came up the names for some of it’s towns.

A sprint finish in Victor Harbor is likely, which will keep the whales and clydesdales happy in the town. Oh and grab something from the Port Elliot Bakery today. The best bakery in the state. Calling it.

Stage 4 – January 20 2017 – Norwood to Campbellown 

You would want to hope there is a few detours on this one, because Norwood to Campbelltown is not a very far distance! That is good news though for the amateur cyclists who book their annual leave in advance and take part in the Bupa Challenge.

Having the Bupa Challenge start and finish in suburbs of Adelaide is a great idea. It makes it much easier for people to be dropped off and picked off at and far easier to leave the car and ride to the start of the race.

The real cyclists (and those less amateur ones) head back into the Adelaide Hills today. The old Checker Hill Road near Kersbrook makes another appearance in the Tour Down Under. That will get some of the recreational cyclists! She isn’t the easiest of rides.

This is another very well thought out stage, because if your Adelaide Hills town didn’t get in the route on Stage 2, you can bet that it will feature in Stage 4. Cudlee Creek is on the route purely because, well… who wouldn’t want to cuddle a creek?

A Campbelltown finish is good, because it allows those city workers to take a late lunch break and watch the finish.

If there is a stage that a breakaway may stay out all day, it is this one. It doesn’t often happen at the Tour Down Under, but the lack of flat road and fast finish might prove to be a hurdle too much for the peloton today.

Stage 5 – January 21 2017 – McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill 

The Saturday of the Tour Down Under is not only one of the most underrated sporting events in Australia, but one of the most underrated sporting spectacles around the world. This day is just pure sporting ability and will. In recent years, names such as Riche Porte, Simon Gerrans and Cadel Evans have all made history on the hill of Willunga.

Don’t count on the 2017 edition to be any different. Big crowds, a carnival atmosphere and the ongoing cheers (and jeers) for the police or young children as they attempt to ride up the hill. This stage isn’t going anywhere and will feature for a long time to come on the overall race route.

You can expect to know the winner of this bike race by the end of Stage 5. The idea of having two shots at the ride up the hill is only a recent initiative in the Tour Down Under, but is ensures the best racing is on display. High level sport at its absolute best.

Stage 6 – January 22 2017 – Adelaide Street Circuit 

This stage is basically a recovery one from the day before. Nothing too eventful generally happens on the last stage of the race.

It is a chance to show off Adelaide Oval and the leafy streets of the city.

It concludes with presenting the ochre jersey to the winning rider of this great race. Get in early though, because positions for spots near the finish line is fierce.

Here’s a thought

So, it is currently six months out from another edition of the Tour Down Under. The race seems to have remained steady for the last two or three years without being able to move to another level. The event has not gone backwards, but it does need some thought on how to move successfully forward. The altering of a couple of stages next year should help ensure it remains fresh and continues to attract tourists from all around the world.

Hopefully a couple more big names also make their way out to Australia for the race in 2017. Race director Mike Turtur has hinted at it and hopefully he can deliver.

Hire out extra koalas if need be, but big names mean big crowds both at the event and on TV. We won’t mention the Lance Armstrong debacle, but there has been a small drop off in recent times and this can’t be allowed to happen without a fight.

Channel Nine are very good at ruining sport with their telecasts. After a shaky couple of first years hosting the race, they’ve done a relatively good job with the Tour Down Under in more recent times. Every stage shown live and the ability to watch it on a smart phone or tablet are non-negotiable in 2017. As is having a highlights show on in prime time rather than hidden away in a late night-time slot.

The street parties should continue. They’re brilliant at showing what South Australia has to offer. Expand them and market them to the kids as well. As Tim Gilbert reminds as every year, it really is and should be a festival of cycling.

With a bit of a tweak the Tour Down Under can keep going from strength to strength.

Bring on January 2017!

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