Adelaide loves a good festival or two. No, really, the City even bills itself as “The Festival City” and they do it very well. The latest extravaganza was the Santos Festival of Cycling. Built around the Santos Tour Down Under, it was an amazing event featuring a cycling tour with a variety of circuits, competitors from around the world and all the heat an Australian summer could throw at it. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in cycling (which would make you a bit of an oddity in Adelaide), it was certainly a festival you wouldn’t want to miss.
The festival centres around the Tour Down Under Village which is set up in Victoria Square at the heart of the city centre. It features a twelve-metre-tall inflatable bike, so you don’t mistake it for some other festival village. Here you will find a congregation of bike manufacturers, both local and international, displaying their latest offerings and the opportunity to test ride them—-super cool! If that isn’t your thing, you can hang out and talk to competitors, buy the latest cycling gear or relax in the beer garden and watch the tour on the big screen tv. If that isn’t enough, it gets better. One of the particularly appealing things about the Tour Down Under or TDU in the shortened form, is that the fun is not restricted to the Village and runs both day and night.
One of the challenges to the tour and spectators is that January in Adelaide can get hot—to the tune of 40+ degrees Celsius, so being out during the day can be quite taxing. Fortunately, the festival organizers account for this by hosting tons of fun events in the evening when it is marginally cooler. From Adelaide through the Maclaren Vale and down on to the ocean, communities that host stages of the tour hold celebrations or street fairs in the evenings. This is where we began to realise that Adelaide knows a thing or two about festivals. Although the cycling is the draw, the festival is so much more; it is about bringing the community together and enjoying life. That’s not to say that cycling takes a back seat, because people here are mad keen on it. In fact, during the tour, there was what appeared to be an impromptu race held just across the street from where we live, in the parking garage next door to the pub (which might explain a lot). It was kind of a pop up urban hill climb event. The cheering went on for hours. The popularity of the event really made me think about the attitude of cyclists here as well as their sanity.
Adelaide and its environs are made for cycling and people take full advantage of it. Cycling here is a social activity and you can see evidence of it just about everywhere. Walk past a coffee shop in the morning and you can usually see a couple of cyclists enjoying a quick coffee after an early morning ride. In the evening, it is not uncommon to come across a group dressed in team gear relaxing outside a pub after an evening race or ride. During the Tour, there was a pop up cycling shop just across the street from our apartment where amateur, or pedestrian rides as they are called here, started from. It was amazing to see the numbers of cyclists turning out, but also the range of age and ability of the participants. This to me, represents the secret behind the success of festivals in Adelaide. People here don’t just attend festivals, they really get behind them—all of them. It doesn’t seem to matter what the festival is, people want to be involved. They volunteer, participate, cheer on participants and revel in it all. Where this community spirit comes from, I’m not sure, but we would all love life more if we adopted it. In the meantime, I will just enjoy being part of it and eagerly await the upcoming Fringe Festival. I can hardly wait!