As the fires in Australia continue to burn, cyclists are preparing for the Tour Down Under. The women’s tour begins on Jan 16 and the men’s begins on Jan 20. Excitement for the first race of the season is contrasted with a country in crisis, and the dichotomy of the situation hasn’t been lost on those preparing for the event. Canadians cyclists Sara Poidevin, James Piccoli and Leah Kirchmann share their thoughts going into the Tour Down Under.
First race of the season
James Piccoli is going into his first season with Israel Start-Up Nation and is enthusiastic to jump into the 2020 race schedule. “I’m feeling really good and I’m so excited to get this season going with Israel Start-Up Nation,” said Piccoli. “The atmosphere in the team has been great, and I already feel like part of the family here. I have so many experienced riders and staff to learn from and I can’t wait to get it started.” His sentiment is echoed by Rally cycling rider Sara Poidevin, who is eager for the first race of the season. “The Tour Down Under is a really well-run event, with a lot of major international teams competing, so it’s exciting to be representing Rally Cycling here.” she said.
Leah Kirchmann’s season was cut short last year, when a crash in stage 1 of Boels Ladies Tour resulted in an MCL injury. Going into her fifth season with Team Sunweb she’s feeling strong and confident. “I had a really good block of winter training since returning,” she said. “I’m looking forward to testing myself this week at the Tour Down Under. I think the design of the stages will create some dynamic and aggressive racing throughout the week.”
Kirchmann and predicts the weather conditions could pose a challenge for riders who are not used to the heat. Staying positive, Poidevin notes that, “The temperatures have cooled significantly and the riding we’ve been doing this past week has been really beautiful.” James Piccoli is being mindful about the potential of a windy course, which he thinks could impact the racing, but, for Kirchmann, the toughest part of the race will be the locals, not the weather. “I think going up against the Aussies, who are fully in racing form and just coming off of nationals, will be the biggest challenge,” she said.
Impact of wildfires
Tennis players have been pulling out of the Australian open in Melbourne due to the unsafe air quality levels from nearby wildfires. Fortunately for the Tour Down Under athletes, Adelaide is located 735 km West of Melbourne, around the same distance from Toronto to Quebec city. The city and surrounding area has remained relatively unaffected, with only a few minor road repairs needed due to past bushfires in the Adelaide hills area. “So far, the effects of the fires haven’t been noticeable, said Poidevin. “We’ve only seen a bit of smoke. Otherwise, there are no concerns regarding air quality at this time.”
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Regrading her recent kangaroo post, Kirchmann felt mixed emotions: “It was a cool experience to interact with an animal that is foreign to Canada, but also heartbreaking at the same time, knowing that the animal death toll from the bushfires is in the millions.”
Piccoli is experiencing a similar mix of emotions. “It feels a little bit strange because there isn’t much evidence of any fire damage where we are in Adelaide,” he said. “Australia is pretty big and the fires are far from here but it definitely puts things into perspective; there are more important things than a bike race. I hope that the race will bring more support to the amazing men and women doing their best to fight the fires here.”
Kirchmann also hopes that the race can have a positive impact. “We will be racing through the Adelaide hills area where some of the bush fires took place last month, but are now safe to visit,” she said, “I hope that we can help show that these regions of Australia are still open for business, and that the race can bring some positivity during what is a very challenging time for the country.”