Monday, January 19, 2009

A disaster in Adelaide

Well, now for an off-topic post, but I guess a few other people out there might be interested in the sport of cycling.

In the twilight of Sunday evening, the Cancer Council Classic, a one-day warm-up race to the 2009 Tour Down Under (TDU) was held in Adelaide. For those who don't follow cycling too closely, the TDU, held in South Australia each January, is the only event on the elite cycling Pro Tour that is held outside Europe. The exact location was in the East End, which may be familiar to those who followed the Formula One Grand Prix when it was held in Adelaide.

This year, there has been unprecedented media and popular interest in the event, mainly because it is the first event in the comeback of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. According to Australian media, 130,000 people, including this YellowMonkey, were at the city circuit watching the race, which is quite large for a city of 1.1 million people. It's even more impressive given the fact that with temperatures well above 30 degrees celsius, people would have been inclined to either stay at home or head for the beach.

At the launch on Sunday afternoon, South Australian Premier Mike Rann chortled when he claimed that the media contingent following at this year's race is the biggest at any cycling event in the world, bar the Tour de France. That sounds rather a tall claim, that the TDU would attract more media than the Giro d'Italia, the Vuelta, or any range of Spring Classics, but Phil Liggett, the voice cycling, did agree with Rann, although perhaps out of diplomacy.

Whatever the truth about the magnitude of the media contingent, one thing that wasn't so top-rate was the "Tour Down Under Official Program", which was produced by The Advertiser, the local (tabloid) newspaper and was freely distributed to spectators at the race venue. For an official guide, it's quite shocking. I've produced a scan from page 20 of the guide, which highlights ten leading riders that the public should look out for. The caption is for the Belgian sprinter Gert Steegmans, but the picture is of none other than Carlos Sastre, the 2008 winner of the Tour de France, wearing the winner's yellow jersey. Given that he was the man who stopped Australia's Cadel Evans from taking the maillot jaune to Paris, the error seems particularly ignorant. With an unprecendented overseas media contingent in Adelaide, it will also guarantee that an unprecedented number of cycling experts, of which there are few in Australia, will see this embarrassing mistake.

Another ridiculous sight on Sunday was that of local morning radio host Chris Dzelde (pictured above, as dressed on the day) singing the national anthem, contrary to a promotion claiming that a competition winner would do so. Standing in a T-shirt and shorts, Dzelde, who is clearly not a singer by any means, let out a horrendously out-of-tune rendition of Advance Australia Fair that would not have been allowed at a high school assembly or award night. Not only that, he sung without any instrumental accompaniment, which would have helped immensely even if it was just a pre-recorded brass band. It was an abominable display unworthy of any self-respecting amateur musical organisation, let alone a globally televised top-tier sporting event and vastly inferior to the standard at most international sporting events. The European scribes, accustomed to the opera houses of Milan and Paris and philharmonic orchestras of Berlin and Vienna, will undoubtedly remember to cacophony for a long while to come.

The last time anything so humiliating happened at a major South Australian sporting event was at the Australian Swimming Championships almost two decades ago, held at the Adelaide Aquatic Centre (AAC). Glen Housman, then the premier 1500 m freestyler in the land, set a world record in winning the event that people down under like to dub Australia's Race (Australia has won the race eight times at the Olympics). The only problem was that when Housman touched the wall, the electronic timing system crashed. Despite the fact that Housman was clearly ahead of the previous world record, his new mark never took its deserved place in the record books, as an accurate reading of the time was not possible.

Since then, the Australian Championships have never been held in Adelaide and the AAC is no longer deemed adequate for top-class racing events. Soon after, Adelaide lost the bidding for the 1998 Commonwealth Games, beaten by Kuala Lumpur, to the widespread derision of the other Australian states.

In recent times, urban regeneration policy has been prominent in government debate. One facet of this has been the need to modernise the public transport network and the local infrastructure. This has invariably generated proposals to streamline South Australia's sports facilities into a hub, and with it, a bid for major events such as Commonwealth Games.

However, as with this week's events, and the politicians' pride at the arrival of Armstrongmania, the government response smacked of hubris. One senior politician dismissed the Commonwealth Games as a "second-rate" event, as though Adelaide was capable to hosting something like the Olympics in a dignified manner. Going on the deplorable circus that occurred on Sunday evening, we're lucky to even get a fifth-rate event.

The YellowMonkey took a stack of photos, and the reader can peruse them here. Voting on the pictures is encouraged by all and sundry, regular Wikipedia users or not.


David Barry said...

Those debacles aren't as big as the disaster that is Lance Armstrong competing in pro cycling again.

David Barry said...

In the spirit of off-topic: It is surprising to me how much of the media has settled on 'Katusha' as the transliteration of Катюша. A Google News search for 'katusha' brings up cycling news. A search for 'katyusha' brings up rocket attacks. It's the same word in Cyrillic.

Anonymous said...

Lance Armstrong is an amazing inspiration. Unbelievable is the word invented especially for him.

YellowMonkey said...

Well, I was meaning more along the lines of proper administration and organisation. As for Armstrong, we'll see. I can't see him getting beaten by Cadel Evans though.

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