Words: Adam Tarzia | Photography: Kintaro Studios | Date:
Foothills to the east and the sea in the west was what Colonel William Light saw when he first arrived in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, in the year 1836. Named by the British after Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, a spouse of William IV, Light envisioned a city structured as a grid, embraced by wide open parklands. Adelaide began to sprawl north and south and eventually east over the foothills.
One hundred and seventy-seven years later, boasting 160 kilometres and 2,600 metres of climbing, the first Adelaide Rapha Gentlemen’s Race was about to set off from Adelaide. As the morning light poured over the foothills, we sniffed the fragrance from eucalyptus trees. Route cards were passed out, informing teams where to turn but not what to expect, while a steady murmur of babbling about bikes, tyre choices and the impending route clashed with the cacophony of the birds waking up in the treetops. Then, all of a sudden, we were off.
The first of many ascents was upon us within a few kilometres. A small pinch of a climb revealed apprehension as to what else lay beyond and the first of three punctures was encountered.
It was a little further on, in the settlement of Mount Bryan, that we encountered a shearing shed, and it was here we happened upon a shearer quoting from Shakespeare’s Henry V.
“For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day.”
In recalling the famous ‘St Crispin’s Day’ speech after the battle of Agincourt, he seemed to sum up what Gents Races are all about. Unsanctioned, unmarshalled and unsupported, a Rapha Gentlemen’s Race (also open to gentlewomen) is meant to extend the boundaries of the road riding into a more exploratory – even chivalrous – realm of competition. For much like the explorers that discovered these lands, it is the journey into the unknown that illustrates the importance of amity, and it is through pain and suffering of some of the hardest days that friendships are strengthened and camaraderie prevails.
Back on the route, 20km of dirt and gravel roads also littered the course, some sections longer and smoother than others, but all made more tricky by the four-wheel drive vehicles passing us. Notwithstanding their defensive driving tactics, we were required to dodge the very same ruts and potholes whilst a wall of exhaust fumes and dust blinded our path.
Attempts to find the smoothest line through the gravel revealed snaking tyre tracks all over the road. The white rocks (not dissimilar to the Strade Bianche in Tuscany) simmering in the sun all day emanated a heat that compounded the already steep gradient so it felt even steeper, and the already loose gravel even looser. The sound of spinning tyres, yearning to find grip, and rocks pinging off frames represented the modern gentleman’s metamorphosis into a two-wheeled explorer. Those more confident lead their teams over the precarious surfaces, while those less assured filed in line behind. It was this innate trust that saw us through in the end.
“An enchanting backdrop” were the words our founding explorer Colonel William Light used to describe Adelaide’s rolling hills when he first laid eyes on them in 1836. All 18 teams that took this more modern expedition would I’m sure agree.