TDU: Stages 4 & 5

As per usual, espressos, handshakes and stamped passports were exchanged before we started the fourth ride of the week. For a second time we climbed the Gorge before travelling through the Barossa Valley, where some of us slowed down to sample a few of Australia’s finest wines.

Conditions were extremely hot as we stopped to see the Sprint at Kersbrook, then rode over to witness the KOM at Menglers Hill. Menglers is a short but gruesome climb, one that would take us to the finish at Tununda. Greeted by what seemed to be the Devil’s own road, some stopped to take photos while others received kisses. Most definitely the attraction of the day.

The results from Stage 4 had Aussie boy Michael Matthews from Rabobank looking a serious contender for overall honours. Finishing only four seconds down on Andre Greipel, he was surely in with a chance of stealing that back (and more) on the climb up Willunga Hill on Stage 5.

The anticipation was immense; would we be celebrating the first Australian team to win a UCI event? Before witnessing this crucial stage, however, we had a very hilly ride ahead of us, 60km out to Old Willunga Rd.

Norwood Cycling Club would be our hosts, both for today’s ride and the party on the hill. Norwood CC has a proud tradition as the oldest cycling club in the southern hemisphere. The club was formed in 1883 by a group of penny farthing enthusiasts and racers. It continued to grow through the war years, producing many great national and international champions.

Another near-40C day with stiff headwinds did not affect the high spirits of the 140 riders taking part in the final TDU Passport Ride. As well as the routine stamping of passports, everyone was issued with pink ‘party’ wristbands. This would not only allow entry to the Norwood CC-Rapha marquee but provide access to unlimited snacks and refreshments throughout the day.

We climbed out of Adelaide and straight up the old freeway. A nasty way to awaken the legs after nearly 500km accumulated through the week. Our friends from Norwood had chosen a spectacular route. We paused a few times to take in the views and regroup before heading through Crafers, Kangarilla and on to McLaren Vale.

At McLaren Vale we refuelled and watched the pros start. Then it was the final 11km stretch to Willunga Hill , followed by a 3km climb, under escort, behind the Rapha Vespa. We arrived at our party location, 150m from the finish line, with legs and heads buzzing, hotly anticipating this well earned climax to the week.

Stage 5 was time to party and there was an electric atmosphere at the top of the hill. Norwood CC had camped out for two days so that we could enjoy the best location on the hill. The BBQ was fired up and refreshments flowed, allowing riders to maintain maximum hydration and energy to cheer the race on.

No doubt this was the highlight of the week. Cyclists from all over the world had begun riding with us five days ago and were now building relationships that I’m sure will continue for many more kilometres.

In an upset, Alejandro Valverde took the win on Willunga Hill from Simon Gerrans and both finished with the same time. On a count back, Gerrans would wear ochre for the final stage, which he duly won to claim overall victory. A great Tour Down Under and a brilliant week of riding.

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