Crash the Tour Down Under bike race

Lead pack ascend the Willunga Hill in Stage 5 of the Tour Down Under 2017 in South Australia. (photo: ulrike.ca)

I wore a skimpy dress, a floppy hat, sunglasses and a big grin.

With one hand I guided the handlebars of Ruth’s sidewalk bicycle. A sunflower perched cheerfully in a faux wicker basket hanging off it.

With the other hand I balanced a blue wine glass. It contained a mimosa cocktail of sparkling wine and orange juice—until I used that same hand to shift into a higher gear.

Thousands of spectators lined either side of the McLaren Vale Main Road. They waited for the team riders of 2017’s Tour Down Under to wheel past in a mass of muscle, metal, and resin.

In the meantime, they had me. They hooted and then cheered when I tucked in for an attack.

I pedalled past Michelle’s gang who drank bottles of Moondog’s White Feather Fizz and twirled painted umbrellas every time the peloton of athletes blew past.

Spectators twirl painted umbrellas at the Tour Down Under 2017 in Willunga, South Australia.
Painted umbrellas at the Tour Down Under 2017 in Willunga, South Australia.

Hundreds of roadies

Once I got onto the High Street, things got a little technical.

I had to practice my slow-speed pedal as hundreds of Lycra-clad road riders suddenly joined then passed me on the road. They were regular road cyclists, on the course to glide in the slipstream of the greats—Ewan, Porte, Chaves. They looked fast and wealthy in team-style jerseys and ultra-light bikes.

Some laughed when they passed me and I raised a glass to them. One scowled and swerved when he passed me after I signalled a left turn. Just like a roadie, I thought. Too busy watching his front wheel to see a few metres ahead of him.

I started pedalling up the Willunga Hill with the rest of the cyclists, still holding my wine glass. “Why, this isn’t so hard!” I remarked to a man on a Trek. He grinned and kept pedalling. He would join the other cyclists on the shoulders of the winding, 3.7-kilometre hill. It would mark the Tour’s Stage 5 finish.

I’ve staffed a bike shop, worked for a bicycle designer, written about cycling culture, presented slideshows, been a sponsored rider, and solo-cycled several countries.

I’ve also ridden a bicycle all my life. When people ask me when I started riding, I tell them, “I never stopped.” When they ask if I ride for the environment, or for fitness, or to save money, I say no. I ride for fun.

Road riding is great, but I think it’s all just so earnest and serious. And expensive. And corporate.

Me, I raise a toast to the people of South Australia who add a little fizz and ridiculousness to cycling’s Tour Down Under.

Ulrike and Mémé glammed up for the Tour Down Under 2017 in South Australia.
Ulrike and Meme raise a toast to the Tour Down Under 2017 in South Australia.

 

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Groove in a garden

Open Gardens at Evette Sunset's Etre in South Austalia.

It’s a Sunday in South Australia. I get my groove on in a couple of gardens.

My groovy Sunday begins in the garden of environmental sculptor Evette Sunset. Her Willungal garden “Etre” is just 630 square metres, but she’s reshaped the old mechanic’s back lot into a thoughtful landscape of textures, moods, and food plants.

Evette is a member of Open Gardens. Homeowners like her invite visitors like me past their gates and into their yards. For about eight dollars (which goes to a charity) we can nibble tasty treats, sip lemonade, explore exotic and local plants, and mingle with other green thumbs.

The Groove Garden

When afternoon rolls around, I hop on the bicycle to pedal to The Groove Garden Café in the village of McLaren Vale (map).

Groove Garden in McLaren Vale, South Australia.
The Blues Casters at the Groove Garden in McLaren Vale, South Australia.

I join new friends Leith and Sue for the season opener of the Sunday-only, pop-up venue.

It’s an old church on one side and a towering gum tree on the other. In between, a performance stage, tikki bar, and tables of rhythm-and-blues lovers fill the space with music, colour, and energy.

Each week local musicians play blues, rock, country, reggae and folk music. Samra Teague organizes the open-air jam session between serving cheese platters and ice buckets of bubbly wines.

When the music winds down at six, I get back on my bike and hit the Shiraz Trail bicycle route back into my home base of Willunga. The rail-trail connects the villages of Willunga and McLaren Vale on its route towards Adelaide.

The bike ride is beautiful as always, and it’s a great way to keep the day groovy.

Coast to Vines Shiraz Trail.
Way-finding signage on the Coast-to-Vines Shiraz bike trail in South Australia.

 

Dine with MAMILS

Side seating at La Terre Cafe and Bar in Willunga, South Australia. (photo: ulrike.ca)

La Terre Café and Bar has a French name, but I call it “the bicycle café” for three reasons…

Entry seating at La Terre Cafe and Bar in Willunga, South Australia.

First, the heritage building (a bakery in 1886) is neatly positioned at the foot of the daunting Willunga Hill. The long, winding hill is challenging enough to be part of the route for the annual Tour Down Under road bike race.

Many MAMILS (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra) pedal up the hill on their road bikes. Sometimes they pause here for a fuel stop and I get a chance to chat with them. It’s kinda fun because I’ve worked and written on the bike industry and know more than the average gal about cycling; but they wouldn’t know that looking at my borrowed Fluid sidewalk bike.

Second, owner Bec is friendly as could be and she’s included bicycles as part of the outdoor decor.

Bec, owner of La Terre Cafe and Bar in Willunga, South Australia.
Bec, owner of La Terre Cafe and Bar in Willunga, South Australia.

They’re clunky old mountain bikes, but Bec’s painted them in festive colours, perhaps in the spirit of the Tour. In fact the entire village of Willunga will dress up cycle-style when the Tour Down Under rolls though Willunga January 21, 2017.

Third, La Terre serves a fantastic, all-day breakfast. There’s a wonderful chef/baker in the kitchen who concocts a hearty, meaty “Farmer’s Breakfast” that includes bacon, sausage, greens, grilled tomato, mushrooms, potatos, eggs, toast and a marvelous sweet tomato chutney.

Farmer's breakfast at La Terre cafe in Willunga, South Australia.
Farmer’s breakfast at La Terre cafe in Willunga, South Australia.

It’s a breakfast I can count on to sustain me when I roll out in the 40-degree Celsius heat for a practice-run of cycle-touring South Australia later this month.

Ride a bike on the driving beach

Bicycle on Sellicks Beach in South Australia. (photo: ulrike.ca)

Why drive when you can cycle?

I brought my motorcycle helmet to Australia because I figured it would be hot and hilly. A motorbike would be a great way to beat that. But I didn’t figure how the coastlines, vineyards, and breezy ranges here on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula make me want to go slow, real slow.

Sure it’s 40-degrees Celsius out there, I tell myself. But I’ve done this before: in Baja, Thailand, Cuba, and India. And that was usually loaded with touring gear.

I borrowed a hybrid bike from my host Ruth and set out.

From Willunga I pedaled a zig-zag route to Sellicks beach. Locals know Sellicks as “the driving beach.” You can drive your vehicle right on the sand—albeit at a snail-like ten kilometres per hour. I wheeled the bike onto the beach, climbed on the saddle, and stepped down on the pedals.

The bike rolled as if I was on pavement! Plus, the breeze off St. Vincent Gulf was refreshing with just a hint of a tailwind. It reminded me of a similarly heavenly ride I did cycling on Majorda Beach in Goa, India. I raced past 4-wheel drive cars and SUVs at a blazing 18 kilometres per hour.

No girlfriend

I turned off the beach where it turned into a wildlife sanctuary. In the parking lot I took a drink of water and admired a neon-green Kawasaki motorbike on the back of a guy’s pick-up truck. He caught me looking.

“Nice bike!” I grinned.

“Yeah, thanks.” He looked over, then motioned to a pile of bags in his passenger side. “I broke up with my girlfriend. Hey, where you ride from?” I told him I’d started about 20 kilometres back. He heard my Canadian accent and then asked the usual questions: Where you from? What brings you here? How long you here for?

“I broke up with my girlfriend,” he said again.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said as I pointed my bike homewards. “It being Christmas time and all. Good luck to you.”

Driving the driving beach

Later that week, Jared, Ruth, Tilly, and Delilah and I returned to “the driving beach.” This time I was inside an air-conditioned hatchback packed with surf and snorkel gear.

Ruth and Jared next to surfboard-equipped car on Aldinga Beach, South Australia.
Ruth and Jared (with Tilly and Delilah inside) with their surfboard-equipped family car at Aldinga Beach, South Australia.

The beach was beautiful the second time around, but it wasn’t as much fun driving on it as it was cycling it.

“Look out for the deep sand, Dad!” called out five-year old Delilah from her booster seat in the back.

I still haven’t decided if I’ll travel around South Australia by motorcycle or bicycle after Christmas. But I’ll keep borrowing bicycles until I decide…

 

Sample a cellar door: Kangarilla Road winery

Glass of Moscato wine at the Kangarilla Road winery near McLaren Vale, South Australia.

New York Times Magazine has proclaimed the term “cellar door” is “beautiful to the ear” and “purely harmonious.”

However, as a Canadian visiting one of South Australia’s nascent wine regions, I say that a cellar door (winery tasting room) is a place you can cycle to, sample wine, get back on your bike, pedal about 200 metres, and repeat.

In McLaren Vale, you can visit more than 75 winery cellar doors within a a few miles’ radius. This includes Red Poles winery, Wirra Wirra Vineyards, Hugh Hamilton Wines, Primo Estate, Salopian distillery, Leconfield Wines, and Pirramimma Wines.

I found this was true with McLaren Vale’s McMurtrie Mile a few days ago. It’s a rural road with a number of very eclectic cellar doors. My host Jared and I didn’t linger at any because, mysteriously, these cellar doors close in the ideal wine-sipping and tapas-tasting hours between 4 and 6pm.

I find this confusing as we in Vancouver have passionately taken to this time we call happy hour as an ideal time to have a glass before you head home after work. But maybe that’s just me.

Cycling to wine

To prove I am no weekend pedal-pushing sissy, I cycled up the Willunga Hill on a borrowed mountain bike. It’s a 250-metre ascent over 3.7 kilometres—challenging enough to be part of the route for the annual Tour Down Under road bike race.

Queen of the mountain: the crest of the Willunga Hill in South Australia.
Queen of the mountain: the crest of the Willunga Hill in South Australia (map).

I continued north along the paved, roll-y Range Road and then pointed the bike down a narrow laneway called the Kidman Trail. It was a steep gravel descent, but signs alerting me to the presence of koala bears kept me attentive.

Finally, I rolled onto the paved roads of McLaren Flats. The nearest winery was Kangarillo Road Vineyards and Winery and I had just thirty minutes before the clock struck five.

At the winery I quickly discovered that a “cellar door” is not a musty, rusty place with old barrels and cobwebs. The Kangarilla tasting room was positively arty.

The Kangarilla Road winery cellar door near McLaren Vale, South Australia.
Cellar door tasting room at Kangarillo Road Winery.

I sampled a rosé with strawberry and poached pear notes, a Pinot Grigio with hints of coffee and fresh cut grass, a Duetto with aromas of citrus marmalade and crystallized ginger, and settled on a glass of ‘Street Cred’ Moscato suggesting ripe pear and Turkish Delight.

After pouring me a very generous glass of the sweet white wine, the cellar door staffer invited me to relax on the sun deck while she and her colleague packed up and went home. I availed of her offer and spent the rest of my “happy hour” slowing savouring Moscato until the wind picked up and pushed me to dinner.

NEW BLOG: Cycling France’s Canal des Deux Mers

Ulrike's bicycle on a dirt path next to the Canal du Midi, France.

Go to Cycling France’s Canal des Deux Mers

Hey hi! Check out my newest stories—a bike adventure along a historic canal that runs 500 kilometres across the south of France. The canal connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s called Le Canal des Deux Mers—the canal of two seas.

I solo cycle-camped the Canal de Garonne, the Canal du Midi, a section of Mediterranean coastline including the Carmargue, and a bit of the Rhône River.

I drank wine, ate cassoulet, mingled with riverrains, joined some pagans, and slept with four Frenchmen on their canal boat—it’s a story.

To join the ride go to the Cycling France’s Canal des Deux Mers photo-travelogue. And if you’re keen, listen to a conversation about my journey on the Adventure Bike Touring Why I Bike podcast (45 minutes).

See you there!

Ulrike