The biggest week in Australian cycling has served up its best ever parcours
Words - James Raison
Images - Tour Down Under / Regallo
The UCI World Tour curtain raising Tour Down Under (TDU) route has been announced and it’s one that’s piqued my interest. The men's race kicks off properly on Tuesday January 15 and runs to Sunday January 20. The traditional pre-race criterium will be held on Sunday January 13. We're still waiting for announcement of the women's race details.
TDU is a template race that balances commercial interests and teams’ desire for stages that aren’t too long and balance climbing with sprint opportunities. That can mean some years start to feel very samey. That said, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this year’s course. It tweaks the format enough to feel new and interesting, but will keep stakeholders and fans happy. Kudos to Mike Turtur and the organisational team.
Here’s some of the most interesting takeaways before dropping into the stage-by-stage details:
The Willunga Hill stage has been moved to Sunday and the Sunday city sprint stage has been dropped. It’s great news for the race because it adds a road stage and makes for a better finish to the GC.
The Tour Down Under fondo has moved from Friday to Saturday. It’s a bummer to have so many riders finish so far from the city in Strathalbyn.
Stages 3 and 4 will be absolutely fantastic for spectators with plenty of great places to watch and finishes that are close to the city. Both have a tantalising parcours too.
Stages 1 and 5 look decidedly uninteresting.
There’s a bevvy of punchy climbs on the course with Corkscrew and Checker Hill Road returning from their hiatuses. Fox Creek and 7 ascents of the short but punishing Spring Gully Road have been added on Stage 3.
STAGE 1 - North Adelaide to Port Adelaide - 132.4km
The race will roll in anger from O’Connell St, North Adelaide and heads North East. There’s an early KOM point at the punchy Snake Gully that will be aggressively contested by the smaller teams wanting a podium appearance and jersey at the end of the day.
The route then heads South through some rolling terrain before three circuits through Paracombe, Houghton, and a sprint point at Inglewood. Slender winning margins for the TDU will force teams to aggressively pursue the intermediate sprint bonus seconds.
The race then rolls back the way it came through One Tree Hill and finishes with a circuit around Port Adelaide. It’s almost a guaranteed sprint finish but the number of turns in the closing kilometers will certainly see aggressive battles for position and potentially crashes.
For the spectators: The loops around Houghton, Paracombe, and Inglewood will be the best place to watch the race outside of the sprint finish in Port Adelaide. Other than those places, there's a lot of filler on this course.
STAGE 2 - Norwood to Angaston - 149 km
The obligatory Barossa Valley stage has rolled to day two for 2019, leaving from the Parade Norwood. It’ll wind its way up the dramatic Gorge Road and Chain of Ponds before holding a KOM point on the nasty wall of Checker Hill Road - the tradition slowest point of the Tour Down Under.
It then chews up some open road kilometers into Birdwood where the first sprint is, Mount Crawford, Williamstown, and Springton for the second sprint. It then charges through the Barossa towns of Tanunda, Greenock, and Nuriootpa where the teams will have elbows-out for a slightly uphill sprint into Angaston.
For the spectators: There’s multiple great options to watch the race with Gorge Road and Checker Hill road the standout spots that aren’t hard to reach from the city.
STAGE 3 - Lobethal to Uraidla - 164.2 km
I’m going to editorialise by saying this stage design is an absolute cracker.
It begins in the beautiful town of Lobethal before two circuits through the surrounding area. The peloton then drops downhill, and swings around to come up Fox Creek Road for the KOM points. It takes Lobethal Road - a favourite with local cyclists - back to a brutal 7 lap finishing course.
Each lap includes an ascent of Spring Gully Road which includes a 340m section of 12%. This will do major damage to the peloton as the sprinters will get jettisoned out the back and the climbers/puncheurs can try and launch their GC campaign proper. It’s a slight downhill sprint in Uraidla.
For the spectators: This is a fantastic course for anyone wanting to watch from the roadside. Ride up Norton Summit and along Lobethal Road for the start and then roll to the KOM point on Fox Creek while the race heads towards the finishing circuit laps. Then you can hammer over to the finishing circuits and catch the fireworks at the finish in Uraidla. It’s an easy ride back to the city from there.
STAGE 4 - Unley to Athelstone - 129.2 km
Stage 4 is 2019’s most convenient urban start and finish, and it heralds the return of crowd favourite Corkscrew Road before the flying Montacute descent finish.
Roll-out is the Unley Road cafe strip before rolling up the Eastern Freeway into the hills. This is a missed opportunity for the spectators with the cycling hotspot Old Freeway running adjacent and going to the same place.
It rolls through Stirling - which doesn’t have a stage start or finish for the first time in years - before plunging downhill to Mylor. There’s a sprint point at Echunga before the race runs through Meadows and Macclesfield before another sprint point in Echunga that’s the reverse of the first sprint. It then circles through Hahndorf, Littlehampton, Nairne, Woodside, and Lobethal.
The race will drop the hammer down Fox Creek onto the blazing Gorge Road descent where teams will fight for every inch of space to deliver their GC leader to the base of iconic Corkscrew Road. Corky’s a crowd favourite for grinding down the peloton on the dramatic switchbacks before riders hit the bonkers fast Montacute Road. It’s a right-angle turn to the downhill sprint on Maryvale Road. It was a great finish last time the race used it so expect the contenders to be plenty aggressive today.
For the spectators: Another great day to watch en route with stacks of lovely towns decked-out with cafes. You can watch the race run through Stirling or Mylor before heading North to catch it coming down Gorge, up Corkscrew, or the final sprint. Campbelltown is a handful of kilometers from the city so you can easily roll to the nearest burger joint/bar/cafe to eat the day away.
STAGE 5 - Glenelg to Strathalbyn - 149.5 km
This was shaping up to be a controversial race design move as the traditional Saturday Willunga Hill Stage is bumped for a new course. Thankfully they’ve moved the mega popular Willunga Stage to Sunday. Another break from history will see the Challenge Tour fondo moved to this stage rather than Friday’s Stage 4.
The Stage kicks off from perennial Tour start favourite in Glenelg before heading off on a very familiar sequence of roads. The race hooks up with the Southern Expressway where it thunders towards Old Noarlunga and out onto Main South Road. There’s a KOM point at the top of Sellicks Hill followed 3.2km later by a sprint point. It’s followed by a descent down by Myponga before hitting Inman Valley Road and racing towards Victor Harbor.
Riders will be treated to a lovely course along the coast towards Goolwa where the race will turn inland and get serious. It’s a long, uphill drag along Alexandrina Road towards Strathalbyn. It’s unlikely that the sprinters will be dislodged so expect a battle between the fast men and the puncheurs as they fight for every second.
For the spectators: This is a tough stage to get excited about. It rolls away from the city along a freeway and finishes in Strathalbyn that’s a 60km ride away. The start at Glenelg will be lovely but there’s little of interest until the race rolls through Victor Harbor at 90km. It’s the fondo stage so there’ll be boatloads of people on the course. Anyone looking for a chilled day before the Sunday showstopper would enjoy a chilled beach loop after the start and watching the stage in the city.
STAGE 6 - McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill - 151.5 km
The traditional Adelaide street circuit Stage 6 has been replaced by the classic Willunga Hill course. It’s a great move. The Adelaide circuits looked lovely but rarely produced interesting racing and didn’t impact GC with its sprint finish. Overall race win will now be decided on the last metres of the course atop Willunga Hill.
There’s not much to talk about course-wise because we’ve seen this exact route several times before. It’s laps around the beach and grape vines of Mclaren Vale before two ascents of Willunga Hill. There’s usually some fruitless attacks in the crosswinds and an enthusiastic breakaway but the big times are wise to those shenanigans. Willunga Hill’s 7% average isn’t hard on paper but the race hits it at full noise. Richie Porte has been untouchable in recent years so he’ll be favourite if he takes the start but news in April suggested he’d change his race calendar and miss the TDU. We’ll just have to wait and see.
It's a fabulous way to finish the Tour Down Under. We're looking forward to it.
For the spectators: Getting to Willunga for the pilgrimage is the annual tradition for cyclists. Go and watch from the side of Willunga Hill. It’s the biggest day in Australian cycling.
As always we'll be smashing out a lot of TDU/Adelaide content. It's our biggest race of the year too so stay tuned!