What Goes Up Must Come Down
The sun bit into my forearms with ferocity and something trickled off the end of my eyelashes. I couldn’t be sure if it was sweat or tears, but either way, I didn’t dare lift a hand from my handle bars to brush it away. I didn’t dare do anything but focus on the rivers of heat rising from the road ahead and turn one leg after the other. My world had somehow descended into silence. Only the whoosh whoosh of my wheels (yes, they still make that sound at 5km/hr) and the blood curdling screams from my quads filled the air. As much as my legs swore they couldn’t make another turn, stopping was not an option. Stopping would mean a pile up among the long line of cyclists behind who were no doubt already agitated by my snail pace. Instead I hugged the never-ending snake of guardrail, held my line and prayed I wouldn’t be taken out by one of the impatient motorists behind who had been waiting to pass. Who’s fucking idea was this!?
The first time Colby suggested we head to Adelaide for the Santos Tour Down Under, (or rather told me he was heading over and I could join him if I wanted . . .) I couldn’t think of anything more boring than parking up in some country hick town, sitting by the side of the road for hours, in forty-degree heat, and all to see a ten second blur of lycra-clad men. But on our second visit, as I ground my way up kilometre two of 10+ % gradient, boring was not the way I would describe the experience. Torturous was closer to the mark.
Forty kilometres on, a thousand metres higher and one small meltdown later we finally began rolling through crowd lined streets of Stirling. The race was yet to come through, but people cheered us on as we passed and kids held out their hands for high-fives. My pain suddenly melted away to the hollow chink of cow bells and a smile broke across my face. The vibe was electric, although I’m not sure if I was more excited at the anticipation of the blur of lycra-clad men or the thought of resting my weary legs. Either way, boring this was not.
Refuelled on Gatorade and energy bars, we pushed into the throbbing crowd as the anticipation built. Police motorbikes wailed through the streets and the crowds pushed forward. People leant over the barriers, cameras at the ready. The ominous sound of a chopper crested the horizon as yet another siren wailed past. The black Subaru of the Race Commissioner sped past and the chopper grew bigger . . . and louder. The crowd erupted into a roar and 146 riders sped through the streets, a trail of speeding, bike laden team cars in their wake.
I still marvel at the well planned, viewer friendliness of this event. Even for non-cycling fans. Each stage starts or finishes, close to the city centre, and several 30-50km laps enable viewers to watch the race pass several times without having to move their chairs. The thoughtful timing between laps allow for leisurely lunches or just a browse through a chosen funky little town along the route.
With the finishing straight on the main street of Stirling this year, we left the bikes and waddled down the hill to the ideal viewing platform on an embankment, high above the finishing arch. The crowd buzzed with even more excitement and Colby’s head nodded between the footage he’d pulled up on his phone and the finish line. “There’s been a crash!” the commentators voice roared through the loud-hailer and everyone surged forward to see who had survived. Who would be sprinting for the line. Who would take the stage win.
I could barely make out the fluoro yellow and fluoro pink jerseys of Lampre and Tinkoff as their riders blurred up the 8% grade in excess of 40km/hr, through the arch and out of sight, followed closely by the remainder of the peloton. I hung my head, recalling my earlier 5 km/hr effort, spinning in my highest gear and pulling over to spit my dummy half way up the hill. On a positive note however, what goes up, must come down.
We joined the thousands of riders who commandeered the streets and crawled at my snail pace, up out of town, leaving no space for cars. With the hard work done, we had nothing but a fast steep descent back into town. Tears trickled from the corner of my eyes as the wind rushed up under my glasses and I crouched further onto my drops, leaning into every sweeping bend. Adrenaline pulsed through my veins until I pulled on my brake levers and came to a stop at the end of the bike path. I glanced over at the three blokes in green and blue who pulled up alongside. Orica Green Edge. Simon Gerrans, Luke Durbridge and Caleb Ewan. What other sport allows you to head home among the pros?
Forty degrees. 12% gradients. My screaming quads. It was all worthwhile.