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Santos Tour Down Under – A Guide for the Cycling Curious

Photo Mark Gunter Photography

The Tour Down Under – a bike race that cemented SA as The Festival State

It was back in 1999 when South Aussies first adopted the festival of loud lycra that has grown to become the largest cycling event in the southern hemisphere.

The State had lost its beloved Formula One Grand Prix to the Vic’s in 1995, and had vowed to retain its status as the Festival State. As the F1’s roared off to Albert Park, Craig Lowndes rumbled into Adelaide in his V8 Supercar, and SA soon became the home of motor racing again. And to further cement the title of the Festival State, and ensure SA’s place on the map, we welcomed a bike race that would attract almost 800,000 people a year to our remarkable regions.

Were we a cycling mad State? Not that’d I’d ever noticed. But patriotic to our State we were. Bikes were pulled from corners of sheds and lycra went places it had never been before. We rode alongside famous athletes we’d never heard of and lined streets swinging cow bells and cheering on a riders in a sport we knew little about. But our enthusiasm was beamed right around the World, as were our wine regions, rivers and rolling hills.

Slow on the uptake of what’s trending, my first Tour Down Under experience was just last year. As I drove from the Mid North to the Fleurieu Peninsula, there was a hive of activity winding its way from the southern beaches, through the magical McLaren Vale to that stage’s finish line, where thousands of people had lined the streets of Victor Harbor to welcome the riders.

The hype was insane. Watching the footage beamed right across the World and seeing it live before me was amazing. But I have to confess…..there was so much about the race that I just didn’t get!!

So ahead of another TDU, I set out to have my questions answered, and compile a bit of a TDU guide for the cycling curious.

The Tour Down Under in a nutshell

First of all, who is Santos?
Santos is a global energy company with operations across Australia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the United States.
The company supports the TDU financially in lieu of naming rights. You may remember Barossa winery, Jacob’s Creek being a previous naming sponsor of the event.

Ironically, Santos currently has a huge offshore gas project called Barossa Gas Project, which is everything to do with providing a new source of gas to a natural gas facility in the Northern Territory, and absolutely nothing to do with the Barossa Valley.
If you want to find out more about that click here.

What is the Santos Tour Down Under?

The Santos Tour Down Under is a competition at the highest level of world cycling and the first event on the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Tour road cycling calendar. It’s also a 10-day festival celebrating all things cycling and all things South Australian.

Is it a mixed gender event?

The TDU features a UCI Men’s and Women’s Tour Race. The Women’s race is the first cycling event in the World to offer women the same prize money as men.

Interesting facts about the Tour Down Under

  • The first TDU, in 1999, was won by Australian cyclist Stuart O’Grady, who is now the race director.
  • The noise most associated with cycling races, is that of the Brancale cowbell, which is apparently a must have for any cycling fan to show support to riders as they sprint, struggle or climb. Cowbells have their origin in European racing when farmers would use the bells from their livestock to make noise in support of the racers.
  • The main group of riders is called a peloton. Cyclists are not just stuck behind each other, the peloton actually helps riders conserve energy.
  • Here’s the biggie!!! Cycling is not necessarily an individual sport. Cyclists work together as teams, but only individuals win and end up on the podium. The race involves teams strategizing and working together to put their best rider forward to give them the best chance to win, while other riders, known as “Domestiques” are tasked with fetching water and supplies, providing slipstream, or pacing the leader back into contention.

What’s the Tour Down Under Classic? 

Also called a “Criterium”, the TDU Classic is a curtain-raising ride. It’s a short circuit, which doesn’t count for competition points.

What are the benefits of the TDU for South Australia?

While it can be tricky to navigate the daily drive to work during the 10-day festival, there are plenty of reasons South Australia rolls out the welcome mat each January to visiting international cyclists and the thousands of fans who line the stage routes. Across wider metropolitan Adelaide, hotel forward bookings indicate there are already more than 65,000 rooms booked over the 10-day event. The economic gains and employment opportunities are of great benefit to South Australians.

Last year the race was broadcast in 190 international territories and reached 2.7 million Australians, putting a spotlight on some of the beautiful landscapes SA’s regions offer.

South Australian Minister for Tourism Zoe Bettison, “the Santos Tour Down Under is one of our state’s world-class major events contributing to this record spend, with the 2023 event creating 776 full-time jobs and injecting $66.5 million into our economy.”

When and where will the action happen?

The Women’s  Ziptrak Stage One will kick off the UCI WorldTour season, beginning at Hahndorf on Friday January 12 at 11.10am.

The race will honour Olympic cycling champion, Melissa Hoskins, who tragically died on December 30 with a minute’s silence ahead of the stage start.

Taking in 93km of the picturesque Adelaide Hills, the women will race through Echunga, Balhannah, Woodside and Lobethal with the Stage One finish line in Campbelltown.

For a full program of the Women’s four-day event click here .

The Men’s action officially begins on January 16, with Stage One showcasing the Barossa Valley wine region, in a Tanunda to Tanunda circuit.

Murray Bridge will host the start of the Hahn Stage 4, highlighting the Murray River and the region’s ongoing flood recovery, and Port Elliot will host its first ever finish on Stage 4. During the course of the event, the men will pedal a gruelling 830 kilometres.

For a full program of the Men’s event click here.

It’s more than just a bike ride….

The Santos Tour Down Under also offers a wide range of associated events, including participation rides for kids and adults, street parties and free activities and entry to the City of Adelaide Tour Village.

The regions pull out all stops to welcome everyone visiting the TDU, making the experience one to remember.

Grab a French-style brunch on the terrace at Hahndorf’s Roots & Reasons and watch the Women’s Stage 1 peloton zoom past. Or jump on board Goolwa’s iconic Paddle Steamer, Oscar W, for a specially chartered race day cruise.

If bakery-hopping is more your style, check out the offerings of local bakeries along the Tour de Bakery route here.

For a list of associated regional events, click here.



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