1 Feb 2012
A crash back to reality today returning from South Australia, after a great week of watching world class cycling, riding around McLaren Vale and some truly fantastic wine tasting to top it off.
As we have become accustomed to it was red hot both in race pace and the temperature, mid 30s pushing to above 40 had riders & spectators alike running into the red zone. I found it best to be up early if you were considering a spin on the bike, as on many days it was pushing mid 30s by late morning!
The number of people who took their bikes this year was truly amazing with supporters on two wheels from far and wide, of all abilities, all seeking to mix their riding pursuits whilst still managing to enjoy the fruits of the region! There was no chance of me completing some of the massive kilometer counts that some keen riders achieved over the week, I was keen to maintain the balance…
The highlight ride of the week had to be to “Old Willunga.” It was a great chance to get a taste of what is one of the defining tests in the TDU by climbing Old Willunga Hill. From the CBD I headed directly out Main North Road, a safe rolling ride of about 50 kilometres, blue skies were the order of the day and it really helped set the scene on the climb, not to mention burn off a few of the pleasures from the previous evening.
Once in the township of Willunga you start to climb gradually towards the hill itself, and although many of us have attacked climbs harder than this the 3 kilometre stretch is certainly a work out! This is especially so for wine folk, particularly those who aren’t built like whippets! Right from the start the gradient ramps and puts you under stress, at this point I was rapidly running out of gears! Ride this first kilometre within yourself as I believe it is the most challenging. At the half way point, the road gradient softens a bit, but still offers no real shelter, so the gusty wind can come into play. Pick up the pace a bit (seen a few guys I know) so at least you look like you’re going a little faster than the glacial pace you have been traveling at! The last kilometre tucks back into tree cover with a few twists and turns and I’m sure if you are a bit fitter than me you could pick up some speed but I was in the hurt locker at this point!
Heading towards the top of climb is fantastic. You are surrounded by the Aussie gum trees, with die hard supporters perched everywhere eager to offer up some friendly banter as you head towards the finish line. Sure, it’s not Alp d’Huez but it is an accomplishment all the same, and helps highlight the super talent of the riders who will come up a few hours later in the day.
The real Riders!
The big German twin turbo Andre Griepel (3 stage wins) continued his love affair with the down under proving he is in fantastic shape early in the season and along with his new lead out man Greg Henderson & co will be challenging the likes of Mark Cavendish come Milan San Remo.
Uni SA under the instruction of Aussie legend coach Dave Sanders took on their usual no holds bars attack at all costs mentality and physically and managed to upstage the big boys when Will Clarke set off after 5 kilometres into stage 3 to pull off one the most impressive victories in the race’s history. In the process announcing to all suitors he belongs in the big league.
Given the media hype around the impending Old Willunga Hill showdown, Stage 4 was somewhat overlooked, but this proved to be the undoing for 70 % of the peloton. Warm, hilly and gusty side winds sealed the fate for Griepel and co as a break of 33 riders road off into the distance containing a number of all round pre-race favorites including Gerrans & Meyer from GreenEdge, and a first time rider to the shores of Australia by the name of Oscar Friere, a 3 time world champion he’s clearly still got a what it takes to be a force in his final year on the bike. He grabbed a very popular win after taking out a hard fought sprint regardless of having very few kilometres in the bank and looking so relaxed at the start of the race, you could have been forgiven for thinking he was on a coffee shop ride.
Old Willunga….. the Queen stage
It’s the stage that provides the fireworks every year and being the first time it has finished on the summit it didn’t disappoint!
Supporters were out in force all around the circuit and the atmosphere on the climb itself was electric, the finish line set up with a big screen, and the new two storey VIP catered section would not look out of place at any Grand Tour finish.
All eyes were on GreenEdge to deliver on Willunga and Gerrans was the man to step up to the plate. A super strong ride by Nathan Haas (Garmin) who was pushing hard up the first ascent of Old Willunga Hill, was great to see, but he couldn’t stay clear of the elite group that was being selected behind him. Rohan Dennis (Uni SA) threw his hat in the ring at the start of last climb with a strong move at the base of the climb but it was the all-star mountain goats of Movistar who took control with the lone GreenEdge rider Gerrans glued to Valverde’s (MoviStar) back wheel. Mick Rogers (Sky) road gallantly and made a move towards a step on the podium with 2 kilometres to go but the stage was to be a race of two with Gerrans & Valverde drag racing to the line with the Spaniard notching an emotional victory after a 18 month suspension. Hopefully this is just a taste of what is to come between these two in the upcoming Ardennes classics!
Final day: a criterium
After a week of racing Gerrans & Valverde were locked on equal time with Gerrans leading the race on a count back! A stressful 90 kilometres for GreenEdge lay ahead to deliver a fairytale first UCI victory. In a team that is built with a large proportion of speed merchants, McEwen, O’Grady and Goss were the perfect wingmen to keep Gerrans out of trouble on the Adelaide street circuit. Durbridge placed himself in the early move of the day headed up as per usual by everyone’s favorite hard man Jens Voight. Thankfully there was no need for a nature break for big Jens saving his hard earned dollars, and the blushes of the 120,000 strong crowd. Cam Meyer put himself at the head of proceedings in the second part of the race making sure there was no chance of Valverede taking time bonus over Gerrans. Coming into the last few laps Rabobank, Lotto, Sky, and Lampre took over at the front to set it up for their sprinters whilst GreenEdge provided protection for Gerrans and a watchful eye on Valverde.
Break neck speed for the last lap and the team trains went at it, with Renshaw right in the mix with the La Spiezza Rocket Alessandro Pettachi, but as with the fast finishes all week no one could match the turn of speed of Griepel who clocked victory number four. Not a bad return for a week’s racing. Gerrans finished safely in the bunch to clinch victory with an ecstatic GreenEdge team and a clearly humble & emotional Robbie McEwen in his last race on Aussie soil.
When you are following the TDU you get to pass through some of the country’s best wine regions, that can’t help but put you in the mood for a tasting, lunch or both.
This year I made the decision to focus on McLaren Vale & a very special tour tasting of Penfolds at both the Magill Estate & Kalimna. McLaren Vale was our destination after watching the stage which began at Norwood, gave us a great chance to have a quick chat with some of the boys before we set off through the hills to do some tasting. I have tasted in the Vale on a few occasions and it was great to be back and see some welcome new arrivals.
Although the stalwart varietals were all in check, the Shiraz & Grenache. There was a raft of great alternative varietals that were really impressive with Fiano (white Italian variety) Tempranillo (Spanish variety) & Sagrantino (Italian red variety) being some of the new standouts.
Highlight cellar door experiences go to Samuel’s Gorge and a relative newcomer to the scene, Oliver’s Tarrango. Oliver’s Tarrango is a great cellar door experience with a strong selection of wine across the board, love the Fiano & tasty refreshing Vermentino, both fitting wines for the weather I must say (37c). The Oliver’s Tarango Fiano is a true expression of the variety displaying grapefruit, spice notes with medium bodied texture with a savory clean finish. A special thanks to the cellar door team for recommending and booking our lunch at the Currant Shed. What a hidden gem! A very simplistic building that is bright and breezy, views of the vineyards made all the better by playful, engaging service, and the dish of the trip Lobster Cannelloni. A fantastic pasta dish made daily with a rich crayfish veloute, a heavenly dish with a small well-crafted wine list to match. The Currant Shed seems to be a local favorite and my mind “a must visit”. Samuels Gorge is always a great visit and although they were a bit light on wines for tasting, given they were sold out, with new vintages coming on stream, the Samuels Gorge Tempranillo, 2010 was on song. Bright purple in color with fragrant plum fruits, hints of coffee and spice and a fleshy mid palate rather silky and long framed out by soft, subtle tannin. This is a great example of Aussie Tempranillo.
I was fortunate to get the chance to stay on for a few days after the TDU and spend some time at both Magill Estate & Kalimna. It was a privilege to get a snap shot of what in so many ways has shaped the Australian wine scene. To spend time at Magill is like stepping back to a bygone era. You can’t help but think back to the many defining moments that were born at this estate, there are plenty of indicators to the heritage of Penfold’s to be seen in the winery, barrel rooms and cellars. Magill is a living breathing national treasure and a must see for any wine lover.
Surrounded by some of the world’s oldest and most revered vineyards, Kalimna is somewhat of an oasis in late January. Temperatures are in the high 30s and as long as it stays dry, 2012 should shape up to be a cracking vintage. The surrounding vineyards of Kalimna are vast and varied on soil types from near beach sand to loam over clay, the common thread is there is some seriously ancient dry grown vines such as Block 42, these old fellas have seen the best part of five generations of wine makers come and go. These are extraordinary vineyards and they have been the backbone for a number of the top flight wines of the Penfold’s stable such as Grange, 707, & RWT.
I was fortunate to taste through the complete current vintage range with Head winemaker Peter Gago & young gun Steph Dutton, and I’m pleased to report it was an impressive tasting across the board. From entry to the big boys, and some new additions to the stable in the cellar reserve series such as Mataro Block 25, 2010 which was an exceptional expression of the variety with bright appearance, lifted floral high notes, plush mid palate and dusty fine tannins. 2006 Barossa Cabernet! Yes Barossa Cab! It is fantastic, has the Penfold’s stamp, dark inky sump oil in appearance with a lick of classy French oak, dense black currant fruits with tobacco leaf, and cedar undertones framed out by long drapping tannins with remarkable length. When we think Penfold’s we most often think full bodied reds but over the last few years Penfold’s have made huge steps with their range of white wines, and no more than with Chardonnay. The two stand outs of the trip Penfold’s Block A 2009, this is a top notch chardonnay without doubt, and joins a number of world class expressions of the variety being currently made in Australia. The majority of the fruit is sourced from Tasmania 75% of which provides the material for this wine. Super complex, mealy, almond, citrus brulle framed out by savoury phnollyc grip and racy acidity a pleasure to drink.
Well, that was 5 days of cycling the wine trail, really has been an awesome week in South Australia The TdU continues to go from strength to strength and there has been no better time to visit cellar doors with a great mix of old favourites and emerging styles strutting their stuff side by side, As for my riding exploits I’ll be back to take on Old Willunga next year hopefully a little bit stronger and it wouldn’t hurt to be a touch lighter!