She’s matched her dress, heels and handbag perfectly, but it’s the strikingly crisp tan lines on her arms that really add the final touch to her outfit.
We’re at one of Adelaide’s top nightspots, enjoying a glass of wine. The Tour Down Under has the city full to the brim with cyclists; the professionals with their matching team kits and impeccable hair, the fans adorned in full team regalia, and women with crisp tan lines worn proudly like a badge of honour. Gone are the days when cycling events attracted only men. The women are here in full force. I’m standing in a restaurant with many of them. It’s the night before our women’s group ride and there’s some animated discussion about the following day’s riding; the climbing, the descents, the wildlife we might spot. These aren’t women who have been dragged along on a cycling holiday by their partners and husbands, these are women who love to ride.
Some have come from across the country, while others, like me, have come from around the globe. I’ve come only as far as New Zealand but there are riders here from Singapore, Japan, England and Germany. Some have been riding for many years while others are new to the sport. None of us are pros (although we might pretend to be while training by ourselves) but we all share the same passion for the bike, for getting out and exploring, for pushing ourselves just a little bit harder.
The next morning dawns clear and warm. I’m mentally checking off everything I need –shoes, kit, sunscreen, snacks, helmet, coffee. Definitely more coffee. Luckily someone had already thought this through as the departure point for the ride has the coffee flowing as we pull up. Introductions are made, friends reunited. There’s a small mountain of bikes leaning against the wall and still more women are rolling up. Impeccably stylish pink Rapha caps are distributed to mark the occasion. It’s smiles all round, some more nervous than others.
The route we have planned is a challenging one. We’re heading straight out for the hills. The train of riders stretches long down the road as we twist and turn our way out of the city toward the first climb of the day. It seems like only a few kilometres have passed before an 18% climb bares its teeth. Despite the alarmingly tough gradient, neat little groups of women are charging up, conversation only halting when it becomes a little difficult to breathe.
We discuss our favourite riding spots – from the Alps in Europe, to the flatlands of Singapore, to the remote far north of my own home turf. Local tips, gear selections, best (and worst) riding food, favourite bikes. By the end of the first climb I’ve added at least three countries and two bikes to my ‘must-ride’ list.
The road rolls on. The climbs around here are long but buttery. Whoever carved these roads did a good job. Everyone is in good spirits. There are words of encouragement, the occasional helping hand, and celebrations when the road begins to flatten out. A quick stop at the top of the longer climbs gives us some respite and a chance for everyone to regroup.
In the moments of quiet we contemplate the surroundings. Spectacular. From the top of the climbs we’re rewarded with sweeping views over the city and coastline below. Gum trees provide some shade and the smell of eucalyptus wafts on the breeze. I get overly excited by the sight of two large kangaroos sitting by the side of the road, close enough the touch. The Australians laugh at me.
After the climbs come the descents. Steep, twisting ribbons of tarmac. Our train of women fly down them. Pedal, float, lean, repeat. The smiles get even wider.
We roll through Belair National Park. Eyes darting between the road and trees as we hope to catch a glimpse of a koala. We had been lucky enough to spot one the day before. They probably heard us coming as they keep well hidden today.
The sky begins to darken, a few spots of rain. An unseasonably chilly wind rustles the trees. The last leg of the ride awaits. The pace quickens as we try to stay warm.
We’re hurtling down Windy Point. Twisting, turning, dropping toward the ocean. This road isn’t as smooth, and a few potholes and cracks in the surface add an extra challenge to an already fast descent. Remarkably, the clouds have blown over. A few sighs of relief. A flat sprint to the finish.
Finally, it’s there, the beach spread in front of us. The Rapha H-van is waiting and the boys have the coffee pumping. High-fives, hugs, grins. Every rider makes it to the finish. The stories of the day are recounted and plans are made to ride together again, next year definitely, hopefully before. Another espresso in celebration of a ride well ridden.