Willunga – Stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under

We planned our summer road trip to South Australia around the Santos Tour Down Under, a cycling race held over a week in the south-eastern corner of the state.   This tour attracts some of the well-known European teams but this year was unique as it was the first time the newly formed Australian team Green Edge had competed in the event.  While many Australians have made names for themselves in international cycling there has never been a solely Australian team competing at UCI level before. 
Stuart O’Grady was part of an early break away
South Australians really know how to turn it on for the Santos Tour Down Under.  Towns are decorated, signs made in the paddocks and people set up barbeques in their front yard and cheer the rides on as they pass.  Stage 5 was held on a Saturday so there were bigger crowds and the usually quiet country towns were bustling. The shops of the town of Willunga moved their displays outside and the town had a real carnival feel to it.
The stage started in the township of McLaren Vale, made a few laps around the McLaren Vale wine region and finished after 151 kilometres at the top of Old Willunga Hill. This stage was also the race’s first even hill climb finish.
We hadn’t done much research but fluked a great spot to watch the race from. A barrier separated the main street of Willunga with the competitors riding up the street 3 times then making a sharp U-turn and coming back down again. We grabbed our camp chairs, filled our mini travel Esky with beer and set up in front of a café serving fresh ham and salad baguettes.
Before the race the team cars drove by and merchandise was thrown out the windows.  We snaffled a few Skoda hats decorated with the green polka dots of the king of the mountain jersey, numerous drink bottles and all sorts of contraptions for making noise to encourage the riders as they flew by.
Once the 3 laps of the main street were completed we moved further up the hill to watch the riders make the hard slog up.  It was like being part of the TV footage seen of the Tour De France with the crowd pushing in from the sides of the roads cheering the riders on.  The pain was etched onto the faces of the riders as they made their way up Old Willunga Hill Road for the second time.
The winner on the day was Alejandro Valverde in a tight battle with Simon Gerrans, an Australian rider from the Green Edge team.   Gerrans, thanks to his performance in this stage, moved into first place on points and was the overall winner of the tour the following day in a textbook debut for the Green Edge team.

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