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Beat the pros at the 2014 Santos Tour Down Under

Alia Parker's picture
Alia Parker and Patrick Jonker cycling part of the 2014 Santos Tour Down Under route. Cycle Traveller

Partick Jonker is waiting for me outside the bakery in Yankalilla on South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula, his Specialized race bike with Campagnolo group set leaning against the wall. I unload one of Bike SA's free green flat bar hybrid bikes from the car, awkwardly fitting the front wheel with my cast-bound broken wrist. Bikes aside, we still make an odd pairing – a former Australian Olympic cyclist and Tour Down Under champion capable of maintaining insanely fast speeds for hours on end and me, a recreational touring cyclist who'll happily take as many coffee stops as I can possibly fit into a day's ride.

Still, I'm excited; I'm itching to get back on the bike after a few week's hiatus at doctor's orders and riding a section of the 2014 Tour Down Under route with Patrick is too good an invitation to turn down. He's taking me on a short 33km scenic jaunt from Yankalilla to Victor Harbour – one of the sections of the Bupa Challenge Tour open to the public.

As it turns out, Pat is a friendly and down-to-earth host who sticks to my side as we cruise along at a chatty pace – a far cry from when he crossed the finish line of the 2004 Tour Down Under to take the Ochre Jersey one minute and 13 seconds ahead of Robbie McEwen. He's actually quite used to playing host to other cyclists and leads some overseas groups for Bike Style Tours.

Cyclists race at the 2012 Santos Tour Down Under. Cycle TravellerWe're soon among the trees and a chorus of birds. A light drizzle of rain is cooling and goes by barely noticed. A rare car passes and in the fields there are cows grazing, kangaroos too. Up the undulating hills we follow a stone wall around to our left. Pat, having cycled all over the world, says this section reminds him of Scotland, albeit with gum trees. Every now and then we pass a narrow dirt road rambling off invitingly to the side, promising quiet adventures that Pat says are some of his favourite. And then, positioned perfectly, sits a cafe, but today being very discipled and already arguably having had enough coffee, I continue pedalling.

The route from Yankalilla to Victor Harbour starts with a very manageable climb up to 200m before coasting down, with a small 50m spike followed by a descent to sea level. It's the last and shortest section of the 2014 Tour Down Under's Bupa Challenge, where everyday cyclists get the chance to beat the pros on Stage 4 of the Tour. Yeah, sure, we get a few hours head start, but whose counting.

There are four options for the 2014 Challenge, which takes off on Friday, January 24. The complete ride starts in Unley and includes The King of the Mountain section before finishing up in Victor Harbour 154.5km later. Riders can also start in Meadows for a 112.5km ride, Mt Compass for a 75.5km ride, or in Yankalilla for the remaining 33km section.

This part of the world is a truly beautiful place to ride and the festivities as part of the Tour Down Under – the only UCI World Tour event to be held in the southern hemisphere – present an opportunity for Australians to experience a cycling atmosphere predominately only found in Europe. As the first event to kick off the UCI World Tour calendar each year, pro cyclists from around the globe race the streets of South Australia to the entertainment of 800,000 spectators.

Up over a crest and then around a bend, we descend into Victor Harbour to a glorious view of Granite Island resting in the bay. Rolling into town, the sun now on our faces, I realise my legs haven't stopped moving since leaving Yankalilla; not one traffic light or pause at an intersection, just free flowing movement, the bush, farmscapes and a seaside haven – a cyclist's dream ride. Oh, and how convenient; we've stopped outside the pub.

Interested cyclists can register to take part in the 2014 Bupa Challenge Tour on the Santos Tour Down Under website.

Images from top: 1. Alia Parker and Patrick Jonker. 2. Riders during the 2012 Santos Tour Down Under in South Australia.

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