Dunk's World

24 Mar 2020

A Traveler’s Tale – Le Tour Downunder

by Duncan Fry

“… And I for one welcome our new Publishing Overlord” (apologies to newsreader Kent Brockman, The Simpsons).

The last half of January my GF and I decided to drive over to Adelaide and watch the bike race known as Le Tour Downunder. It’s the first race of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) season, and if you like bike racing, an opportunity to hang out with all the stars.

It’s also an opportunity to catch up with the friends we met on our Tour de France holiday back in 2013, and do some riding around with them to race starts/finishes and restaurants.


Adelaide is about an eight hour drive from Melbourne, but that’s not including the hour and a half it took us to get out of Melbourne, what with umpteen road closures and endless detours and diversions for tunnel building works.

Luckily we only had to do it once, but I felt sorry for all the people who are forced to do it to get to work every day!

We’ve done the trip a few times now, and always make sure we take some audio book CDs to listen to on the way. This time we had a new Hercule Poirot ‘Country House’ mystery in the style of Agatha Christie.

8 CDs, about 9 hours worth.

Once we got clear of Melbourne we popped the first one into the player, opened up the Thermos for a cup of tea, unwrapped some toast and Vegemite, and settled down to listen to the story.

After a few kilometres though, we became aware of a very bad mistake in the CD mastering. Hercule’s voice was mixed down way too soft in comparison to everyone else.

Every time he spoke we had to push the volume up to the max, and then push it right down again as the other characters’ voices were so loud they would make a dead man’s ears bleed!

It makes you wonder how a mistake like this could possibly happen today, given the easy editing capabilities of even the simplest audio software.

Despite this (or maybe because of it!), listening to the story did make the time go quickly, and we arrived in Adelaide with only one CD to go, which we listened to later while driving down to the southern beaches.

The first time we made this trip to the race we took the SatNav with us, to help us find our hotel. As things turned out we didn’t need it, since we just stopped where the big new freeway through the Adelaide Hills ends, and turned off the ignition because we were at the Chifley Hotel front door!

Once we got clear of Melbourne we opened up the Thermos for a cup of tea, unwrapped some toast and Vegemite and settled down to listen to the story. After a few kilometres though, we became aware of a very bad mistake in the CD mastering

The next day we wandered up to the Tour village at Victoria Park, to see the teams and their star riders being introduced, then waited to see who the entertainment would be.

It turned out to be Qantas’ favourite 5 foot tall twin popettes ‘The Veronicas’. An interesting name, meaning in the classical sense – ‘she who brings victory; a true/honest image’.

Perhaps that’s a little obscure for their fans, and I suspect they named themselves after the Veronica Lodge cartoon character in the Archie and Jughead comics.

Whatever the origin, the talented twins Jess and Lisa put on a really good show. Very modern – lots of live video on the giant screen behind them, lots of audience interaction, jumping around, and a very tight three piece band, with a fair bit of sequenced/backing track additions helping it all along.

Lots of bottom end thump, lots of screaming fans that sang along with every word – a great time was had by all. Despite being quite possibly the oldest person there, I enjoyed it too.

The next afternoon we watched a selection of short films showing on the same big screen.

My favourite was from three guys who attempted to get what they nicknamed a ‘Boris Bike’ from the centre of London to France, ride it up Mont Ventoux ‘The Giant of Provence’ and then get back again, all within 24 hours.

A Boris Bike is one of those rent-a-bikes brought in by Boris Johnson when he was Lord Mayor of London (Oooh – didn’t he do well!). They have three gears and weigh about 36 kilos.

By comparison, the racing bikes people normally try to get up Mont Ventoux with weigh about seven kilos! And have about 33 gears.

Did they make it? It’s on YouTube – well worth watching.

The bike racing started off with a ‘round-the-houses’ race on a two kilometre circuit through the city streets next to the tour village. We found ourselves some space on a corner next to a big screen, and were pleasantly surprised by the excellent sound coming from the PA.

Crisp clear and warm, it was a vastly better sound than we had heard at the Tour de France, and came from some tall skinny columns that had a squeezed-up bum-cheek horn a bit over half way up the box.

With great sound and great coverage, we could easily hear everything the announcers said, and that doesn’t happen very often! Upon further investigation they turned out to be L-Acoustics SYVA, featured in CX mag last year at the same races.

L-Acoustics Syva sound reinforcement

One afternoon the weather was trying to rain, so we went out to see a movie. It was called ‘Fisherman’s Friends’, an unlikely story about a bunch of singing Cornish fishermen who get discovered by a London music producer on holiday.

A bit of drama, some love interest, it was a feel-good movie in the ‘Love Actually’ style. And it turned out to be true! According to the blurb at the end, the rag-tag bunch of fishermen had the biggest selling folk music albums ever.

These days movie producers have realised that audiences know that the music doesn’t just ‘happen’. So when the lads are singing their hearts out on the beach, they’ve all got SM58s or similar on mic stands in front of them, and next to them an earnest chap pretending to move faders on a little mixer.

All well and good, but as far as I could tell there were no speakers to be seen! “Arrr lads, that’s enough reality for today – no-one will notice there’s no speakers, will they?”

One of the race stages went through Birdwood, in the Adelaide Hills. That’s where the Birdwood motor museum is, I thought to myself. An opportunity to combine two of my favourite things – bike racing and cars!

So we got there early, and while we were waiting for the race to come through, we spent an hour or so looking through the cars on display. Lots of Fords, lots of Holdens, but not many Valiants, which surprised me given that Chrysler used to have a very large plant in South Australia.

We drove out to the finish of one of the third stages which featured Paracombe Hill, the like of which I had not seen before.

There is no shortage of steep hills around Adelaide, but this one was a doozy! About a kilometre and a half long, and the first half is a 22% gradient.

It was hard enough to try to walk up it, let alone sprint away from the bunch as Ritchie Porte did to win the stage. An amazing ride.

The peloton moves through Flinders St.

From my point of view, the only thing missing from this year’s Tour Downunder was the Car Park Challenge, in which a steady stream of pairs of riders race each other up the ramps of a 14 storey car park!

A huge amount of fun, but no sign of it this year. A pity because I had been psyching myself up for it for the last two years. Right up to the point of organising a MICA ambulance to meet me at the top!

Related reading:
A French Touch for The Tour Down Under with L-Acoustics Syva from CX Magazine – February 2019.

CX Magazine – March 2020   

Entertainment technology news and issues for Australia and New Zealand
– in print and free online www.cxnetwork.com.au

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