The Tour Down Under is underway for 2014 – just the latest instalment in what seems to be an excessive amount of sport being beamed in from the other side of the world during our wet and increasingly cold UK winter; the Ashes (the less said about that the better), the first tennis Grand Slam of the new year with the Australian Open and now, finally, the pro cycling season is underway proper with the Tour Down Under. For us cyclists who are currently battling for fitness through an English winter, the contrast couldn’t be greater.
As we sit and yawn in front of the TV icy rain whips against the living room window, the flood waters rise, and the letterbox flaps with gusts of arctic wind. From time to time you wonder if you wouldn’t be better served by taking yourself off to bed…until around May. In contrast, your TV screen blasts out high definition sunshine and whooping Aussie cycling fans, as you lie on the settee with tired eyes as dry as the cracked skin on Cadel Evans’ lips. Watching at 3am from the confines of an English winter is like glimpsing another world through a portal; never has the other side of the world seemed so much like another world.
The cricket really didn’t help. For years now we’ve been used to beating the old enemy with minimal fuss, so that no matter how good their weather, or how positive their outlook on life, we were beating them comfortably with our apologetic English excellence on the cricket field. The fact that the we were in their world, on their lush green turf and beneath their beloved pure blue skies somehow made it all the sweeter; reminding them that they’ve got it all, oh, except for a decent cricket team. And you know how the Aussies feel about their cricket team.
Your average cyclist in the UK, unless they’ve been lucky enough to jet off for a bit of warm weather training, has by now forgotten what it feels like to ride with the sun warming the skin. We check old photos to remind ourselves that, yes, it really is possible to ride your bike wearing nothing more than bib-shorts and a short-sleeved jersey. We are currently in that dark period where to head out for a ride takes twenty minutes just to figure out how much clothing to wear, and then another twenty to get layered up to face the elements.
In the sun-kissed ranks of the professionals, as in the cricket (I know, we weren’t going to mention that) it’s the Aussies who seem to be showing a bit of form in the shape of Simon Gerrans, Cadel Evans and pre-race favourite and Team Sky super-domestique Richie Porte. The big German Andre Greipel is also bristling and contesting the sprints in his usual muscular way, and as a multiple stage winner in previous editions of the race he’ll be confident of another win or two.
Here’s an idea…maybe from now on I’ll ditch my usual sport watching attire of pyjamas and cocoa and get kitted out in my summer cycling kit, turn the heating up, grab a beer, and try and recreate a bit of that Aussie atmosphere in my living room as I watch the race.
Alternatively, I might settle for watching the highlights show the next day and get myself some much-needed sleep. I’ve spent long enough already this winter watching Australia on the telly.