The long wait is over. Our Winter of Discontent is at an end. Pro racing is back!
I just stopped myself short of writing ‘proper racing is back’ there, as I am one of those old-school Luddites who need to be slowly eased back into the season with a series of cold, bleak jaunts across Belgian and French farmland before I can mentally adjust to the sunflowered delights of summertime parcours. Throwing us in at the deep end of forty degree, forest-fired Australia for the Tour Down Under – which starts in Adelaide with the ‘People’s Choice Classic’ on the 17th January – whilst we in the Northern hemisphere are still shivering around wearing Every Last Piece Of Cycling Clothing We Possess is something that I may never get used to. Quite apart from the fact that it’s rubbing our frozen faces in the fact we are languishing in the months that make it really difficult to get out and ride your bike, it also messes with the grandiose idea of the season as an arc; a waxing and waning of action that mirrors the declination of the Sun that appeals to the Purists, and which has a direct connection the weather you can find outside your window on race day. On the other hand, if weather outside is shit, that’s a good excuse to stay indoors and watch it on the telly.
The TDU has been on the racing calendar long enough now to be taken far more seriously than of old when it was viewed by many riders as a less-than-serious training camp and from which tales of late nights in the bars now feature more prominently that recollections of stage and overall winners. I still can’t tell you with any certainty who has ever actually won the thing (if pressed I would mumble something about, “Evans probably, Gerro a couple of times, maybe Dennis last year” and hope my interlocutor knows even less than I do..) but I do know that the race will include about 40 reps of “Old Willunga Hill” as it’s the only incline of any note for about 1,000 miles and that, like the “Emirates FA Cup”, all the commentators will be contractually bound to call it the “Santos Tour Down Under” at every third sentence..
In fact the sponsorship schtick has gone into overdrive this year with each Stage carrying an enormously awkward prefix. The aforementioned People’s Choice Classic is positively lyrical compared to the increasingly gut-wrenching roster of ‘Hostworks Stage 1’, ‘Staging Connections Stage 2’ and ‘Thomas Foods Stage 3’. We get a little respite with the relatively benign ‘Bupa Stage 4’ before heading off again into the realms of WTF with ‘Bike Exchange Stage 5’ and finally ‘Be Seen Be Safe MAC Stage 6’. Who is MAC? And why is he being singled out for such precautionary advice? Add in the ‘Subaru King of the Mountains’ competition, the ‘iiNet Sprint Points’ and the ‘Powerade Hydration Stations’ (I guess that’s the feed zones, folks..) and you wonder if the commentators will have any time left in their broadcasts to cover any of the actual racing..
Of course, that assumes we stick it out long enough to get to the racing. Because it’s the first race of the season, all the teams are in overdrive with their social media and press releases our timelines and inBoxes are already overflowing with pictures of riders cuddling koala’s and details of each new kit, bike, powerbar and ‘Official Re-Insurance Partner’ of every World Tour Team. We have had live Periscopes of the Team Presentation, including a priceless moment from Team Sky who pointed out a prone pooch on their way to the Gala event with an Alan Partridge-esque voiceover, “Might be a dead dog there..” before adding cheerily to the owner, “Hope it’s not dead.” Apparently it wasn’t but that was quite enough for me and I didn’t hang around for the rest of the broadcast.. The season hasn’t even started and I’m already suffering from TDU fatigue..
In reality the TDU is a really good way of starting the season for us Northerners. The time difference means that very few of us will actually stay up and watch the race live, so the highlights packages will form a gentle introduction to the season that can be enjoyed at our leisure. They will be bitesize introductions to all the new kit colours and tech but also will allow us to re-assimilate those riders who have moved teams over the winter and are now wearing something that looks just plain wrong as a result. Personally I still can’t accept Johan Van Summeren in anything but a Garmin jersey but am glad to report that early indications are that recognising Richie Porte in the red of BMC will not be such a long drawn out process.
Tolerating Adam Blythe in the colours of Team Tinkoff though..? I may have to get back to you on that..