What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Down Under: Into McLaren Vale by Bike

Photog David Pearce is on the ground for the Tour Down Under, and as an accomplished travel and wine journo, was keen to visit the McLaren Vale region to ride and have a look at some of the roads that will be ridden on stage 4, with the requisite stops for food & drink along the way.

Photo’s and word’s by David Pearce in Australia.

For a UK cyclist it does not get much better than working at the Santos Tour Down Under (TDU) and escaping the freezing conditions back home mid January. It is the season opener and raced over 5 days attracting global names. It acts as a great opener for the World Tour teams with increasing importance for domestic teams being THE race of the season and crucially important to them and their sponsors.

For me it is also an opportunity to ride unabated by rain or snow, to feel the warmth of the sun on my arms and not have road dirt thrown up in my face by the rider in front or being drenched by an inconsiderate motorist speeding through a puddle. The days are longer, the people welcoming and cycle lanes abound. This seem like an idyll to me especially when you factor in quiet roads and the almost guaranteed spectacle of seeing pro teams out training on these same roads. I say “seeing” but to be honest they overtake so quickly it is a mere glimpse. I am sure if they notice someone even trying to take a wheel they put the afterburners on going through the block to hit 50km in just a few seconds.

Spotting a pro team on the road is not a one off occurrence. It can happen pretty much every day for a week before the race starts. The Tour Down Under is fairly unique for a UCI World Tour race in that all stages are based around South Australia’s capital city Adelaide with most training rides starting from the Hilton, the race’s base. Star spotting is pretty easy too.

As a photographer I was keen to visit McLaren Vale to ride and have a look at some of the roads that will be ridden on stage 4. I had visited before but in the capacity of a backpacker and more recently a wine writer conducting research for a book I was writing. Even though I had visited twice I had never turned a pedal within this vast land so it seemed a perfect opportunity to become reacquainted with the region, ride and take a few photos.

My first problem was getting a bike. I could have hired one but for 2 weeks it would have been exceptionally expensive. This necessitated making a number of enquiries until I was put in touch with a winemaker (name withheld so he does not get inundated with emails!) who was a keen rider and my size. Rather fortuitously he lived just 2km from where I was staying and offered to lend me his carbon Bottecchia for the duration. He collected me one morning with the bike in the back of his pick up and drove me to McLaren Vale just 40 minutes from the city centre and one of the best wine regions in Australia.

tdu15mclaren-1The winemaker who kindly lent me his bike

Before I could embark on my exploratory ride around the region I was “forced” to do a little sampling of the wines from one of the larger local wineries, Primo Estate.  Having formerly worked in the wine trade I was excited to be sampling a range early in the morning and on my first full day back in Australia. Sensing I was a little peckish the cellar door manager presented us with homemade bread and estate grown Extra Virgin Olive Oil, no doubt to help fuel my ride which was very welcome.

tdu15mclaren-2The olive oil displayed a wonderful pepperiness and just soaked into the oven fresh bread

Tires pumped, bidon filled (water and not white wine) I set off to the local bike store “Oxygen” to get my pedals changed to my own. The guys were really cool and one of them happened to be a photographer who specialised in sunsets. Having showed me some incredible local images he had taken I was inspired and chose to ride out to Maslin Beach where a number had been taken. It looked spectacular and I wanted to see it in daylight. I got some basic directions and set off.

tdu15mclaren-3Jeffrey. A student, bike shop staff, landscape photographer and handy mountain biker

Navigating your way around the area is easy – the roads are generally long and straight. I guess this is the benefit of having billions of acres to build on and making the need to carry a map almost obsolete. I literally had to take a right turn and then head straight until I got to the ocean just a few kms away. I only saw a few vehicles en route even though it is still school vacation time here and the height of summer. The roads were well maintained and the only thing slowing me down was a heavy camera bag. I felt alive being able to ride in bib shorts and shirt in the warm air. To not have frozen feet after 15 minutes was glorious and felt almost luxurious.

Arriving at the beach I took a few minutes to take in the vista and noted we were in a bay. Not having any plan for my ride I decided to follow my nose and make my way around to the other side of the headland. This was not hard – all I had to do was venture inland for a while and then keep the coast to my right. Eventually I came to Port Willunga. I could not see a port as the name suggests (maybe I just missed it) but it was another spectacle accessed via fast rolling roads until I came to one called Port Road. This is what I love about the country. They say it like it is. Who else would think of calling one of their largest deserts the Great Sandy Desert?

tdu15mclaren-4The beautiful Maslin Beach

One of the guys in the winery had instructed me to grab a pie at “The Bakery” in McLaren Flat for lunch as they were spectacular. As it was approaching lunchtime I decided this would be my next stop so set off again. One of the marvels of Australia is the road signs. I just love them. Warnings for kangaroos, koalas and even crocodiles in the north. They always bring a smile to my face. Although a necessity for motorists they do remind you to remain alert when riding out here. Fortunately during the day you are pretty much safe but can occasionally spot them hopping along. Most will have a set path and itinerary in the morning and afternoon so speak to the locals and you are likely to see some wild ones.

tdu15mclaren-5Kangaroo Sign

The bakery was sensational but I was too late for what is considered the best pie – beef and green peppercorn – so settled on slow cooked beef and mushroom which without exaggeration was the best beef pie I have ever had. Pies in South Australia are somewhat an institution consumed at footie games and at bars. With the buoyant food scene prevalent in Adelaide this may have diminished somewhat but any visit should involve the consumption of at least one from an artisan producer.

tdu15mclaren-6You are offered a great selection of delicious pies

tdu15mclaren-7The Bakery also has a wonderful selection of breads should you wish to have a picnic mid-ride instead

tdu15mclaren-8The cakes are pretty damn good as well!

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Riding through wine regions is virtually always idyllic, to my mind they offer some of the best landscapes you will ever see. Rows of vines disappearing into the horizon at different angles creating geometric patterns. It is a visual treat. Any pain in your legs is soon forgotten as there is always another corner, hill or incline to distract you. Here I pass a plethora of wineries – some I knew and others were, well, new. Most have cellar doors enabling you to take as many breaks as you wish through the day to taste the wines. They all have spittoons so no need to consume any knowing that many more miles lay in front of you and alcohol will only inhibit your progress. Sometimes it is not all about the riding but taking in the locality, challenging your senses and absorbing local culture. McLaren Vale is certainly a region that enables you to do this. If wine is not your things then there are art galleries and even a couple of breweries you can visit.

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tdu15mclaren-12One of the long straight traffic free roads

tdu15mclaren-13Breathtaking views

I wanted to ride up Willunga Hill which will be lined by fans to see the finish of Stage 4 but to be honest with my heavy camera bag and having put on 10kg over winter I decided to give it a miss. I will get to experience the hill through the perspective of a mechanic as I am working with the Drapac team this week and will be in the team car on this stage. Instead I headed back towards to the small quaint town of McLaren Vale for a quick coffee and cake before venturing to Waywood Wines who had asked if I would like to stop for dinner there. How could I refuse dinner amongst the vineyards?

tdu15mclaren-14Hot coffee and a large and delicious Florentine. I stayed here for a good 30 minutes watching the world go by. It was a relief to put down my camera rucksack as by now I was feeling it on my lower back. I think this is due to the relatively aggressive set up of the bike

www.waywoodwines.com has won a number of awards recently and is run by Andrew and Lisa. Andrew is also the president of https://valecru.com who are a marketing board for the smaller wineries of the region to help give them a voice. These are real artisans, often on their second career or making wine in addition to their regular jobs. The wines are all made with passion as winemaking on this scale is a labour of love, something that takes years of learning about the soils, climate and the winemaking itself.

Lisa did the cooking whilst I chatted wine with Andrew and took in the views.

tdu15mclaren-15It is hard to imagine having a better view

tdu15mclaren-16The sunsets over the vineyard from whose grapes went into the wine we are drinking

tdu15mclaren-17Lisa cooked a delicious dish of swordfish with kale and potatoes

After dinner I was picked up by a neighbour on his way back from the city who had guest accommodation just across the ridge called www.thevineyardmv.com.au which was stunning.

tdu15mclaren-18The accommodation amongst the vines at The Vineyard Retreat

McLaren Vale is a little overlooked by tourists who tend to venture out to the Barossa Valley but it is perfect. Less busy, great roads, relatively compact and full of eateries and of course wineries. The Victory Pub is an icon and I was fortunate to enjoy a super lunch there the following day overlooking the ocean. It was pretty packed out and was informed it is like that all the time due to its popularity. The owner Doug is well know locally and in addition to the restaurant has a very impressive cellar and a vineyard. When I visit again (hopefully next year) I plan to stop for a pie mid-morning, cycle to https://victoryhotel.com.au for lunch and then head back through the Adelaide Hills to the city centre for a full day of riding.

tdu15mclaren-19Doug in his cellar

If you choose to escape the winter in the Northern Hemisphere then this has to be one of the top choices. Glorious weather, great beaches, fantastic food and 5 days of top level bike racing all in one place make Adelaide just about perfect.

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