Since 1999, the Tour Down Under has succeeded in becoming a major cyclo-tourism event. Hitaf Rasheed, the Executive Director of Events South Australia, told RIDE Media that the tradition is likely to continue in 2021 even with the challenges imposed by the pandemic.

 

The dates for the Tour Down Under’s festival of cycling in South Australia for the start of the season are listed as 14-24 January 2021 with international level racing for women and men being planned, even if the race routes have not yet been announced.

Even in normal times, this is a hugely complicated event to host, but Events SA has set a standard that is the envy of other race organisers around the world. Cycling teams and tourists alike appear in South Australia in January each year and racing gets underway.

Since 2008, Hitaf Rasheed has been heavily involved in ensuring the successful running of Australia’s biggest and most popular stage race. As discussions continue about how to manage all manner of sporting events in the COVID-19 era, RIDE Media asked Rasheed about the challenges the Events SA team face with 119 days to go before the 2021 TDU.


Will there be alterations in the running of the Tour Down Under in 2021?

Hitaf Rasheed (Executive Director, Events South Australia): “We are, like many people, continuing to work through various scenarios. We run a range of events and we have between three and five scenarios for each of those events, some have landed, some have had to be cancelled.

“So, with the Santos Tour Down Under, it’s a really important event for South Australia, it’s an important event on the cycling calendar with the start of the UCI men’s WorldTour and the UCI women’s ProTour. It’s a much loved Australian event on the calendar, so we’re doing our best to consider what the Santos Tour Down Under can be, and we are very hopeful of delivering the events in January 2021.”


Romain Bardet and Stuart O’Grady in January 2020 (above). Next year, O’Grady will be the event director but he hasn’t yet unveiled the route he has planned. (Photo: Rob Arnold)

Why has the 2021 TDU route not yet been unveiled?

Ordinarily the TDU route is launched in July, when the Tour de France is on. But in 2020 we have a Tour de France in September and we don’t yet know the parcours for the 2021 Tour Down Under. Why?

Hitaf Rasheed: “We haven’t launched our race routes yet.

“The word ‘ordinary’ is not really relevant in 2020, as you well know, because it’s not an ordinary year. So, we do have the Tour de France on now, which is fantastic for the sport – and, Go Richie…!

“We do have race routes; both Stuart O’Grady [the new TDU race director] and Kimberly Conte [race director of the Women’s TDU] – for our men’s and women’s races – have prepared their race routes but we’re not ready to launch them because we need to consider how those race routes work with a COVID-safe event.

“So, we are looking at those race routes, considering how they would work – and considering what a COVID-safe event would look like, and what a COVID management plan would look like.

“We are working really closely with SA Health and also with the UCI, and also taking some advice – or thoughts – from watching the Tour de France, watching some of the other races happening this year, and also talking with the teams.”


The Santos Women’s Tour Down Under will be staged from 14-17 January 2021. (Photo: Chris Auld, TDU)

Managing travel and quarantine requirements

When lockdown measures were imposed in March, the hotel that’s been used as the TDU race headquarters since the event’s inception in 1999, the Adelaide Hilton, closed its doors. Positioned directly opposite the ‘Tour Village’ the Hilton has been a hub of cycling activity every January for 21 years.

What plans does Events SA and the TDU have for travel and quarantine requirements in 2021?

“Obviously we’ve thought of how we would bring in the teams and the athletes,” says Rasheed, “and I think there is the capacity for that.

“We’ll see it with other sports as we head towards the summer with potentially cricket and tennis, and there is the capacity to look at how we bring in the teams and quarantine them… We are working through what quarantine would look like, and what would work for the teams. We feel confident that we could find a way of achieving that.

“With hotels, obviously we would need to think about how the teams would train every day in a quarantine environment and, again, we think that is achievable. But we also would need to consider what the conditions are for the teams in quarantine because ultimately the safety of the people of South Australia is our number-one priority. We put that first, and our health authorities and our government will put that first.

“So, we are working through what it looks like. And we will remain in contact with the teams post-Tour de France and we’ll see whether we can come to a place where it can work for all of us.”


David Lappartient, president of the UCI, has attended the TDU a number of times. (Photo: Rob Arnold)

Instructions from the UCI?

Hitaf Rasheed: “They have their protocols in place… and they’re obviously back racing now, so we understand what the UCI protocols are, so our two race directors – Stuey and Kimberly, as well as Ryan [Healy] – are looking at those and considering that in terms of the delivery of the race.

“From us then, it’s really more about SA Health and our transition committee, and what they expect of us in terms of having all protocols in place with a focus on keeping South Australians safe – those rules of density distancing and contact tracing are important to us.”


Old Willunga Hill has become a focus point of the cycling season each January with huge crowds always gathering for the stage in McLaren Vale. (Photo: Chris Auld, TDU)

Tourism in a closed-door environment…

The race is a tourism initiative – the impetus for the Tour Down Under is to bring people to South Australia but could Rasheed imagine there ever being a Tour Down Under ‘behind closed doors’?

Hitaf Rasheed: “I would imagine anything after this year.

“I think that we have to be open to anything.

“So, if our intent is to deliver the race, and deliver this event, then we need to be imaginative and make sure that what we deliver meets the guidelines that are in place, and meets our safety guidelines, particularly with SA Health.

“We are open to anything and we have been, and so we are imagining anything.

“The truth is, you can’t have big crowds sitting on hills and climbs, and starts and finishes, congregated up against each other for long periods of time. Right now, in the current environment, that’s not acceptable.

“So, all of the things we’re looking at are about how we could deliver this event for the people of South Australia, for the fans of the Santos Tour Down Under – including those people who would travel, and we’re hopeful that all of our borders will be open in Australia by January…

“We hope people will still be travelling and we will welcome them with open arms.

“There’s lots to consider but we’re working locally, we’re working with the UCI, we’ll talk with the teams, and there’s also a nice level of collaboration with the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.”


Yann Le Moenner, CEO of ASO, has been a strong supporter of the TDU. (Photo: Rob Arnold)

Any lessons from ASO and Le Tour?

Hitaf Rasheed: “Our event manager and race directors are watching the Tour de France closely, as am I. We do have a good relationship with the ASO, so hopefully – once they have finished the Tour de France – we will be able to touch base and see if there are lessons for us to learn. And I think we’ll have some questions for them that they may be able to help us with as we try and piece together what a UCI WorldTour race, or ProTour race, can look like in Australia in January.”

 

 

– Interview by Rob Arnold