O'Grady readies for his own reign at TDU

Roger Vaughan
Stuart O'Grady is in the process of taking over as Tour Down Under race director from Mike Turtur

Even as Stuart O'Grady tries to absorb 21 years of the Tour Down Under in 10-minute conversations, he's thinking about the 22nd edition.

The January 16-26 Adelaide event is a watershed moment for Australia's top bike race, with Mike Turtur in the process of handing over to O'Grady as race director.

Turtur, the 1984 Olympic track cycling gold medallist, is the Tour creator and its only boss.

What started out as an ambitious six-day men's stage race is now a festival also featuring a women's tour, an expo, paracycling and an exhibition track event.

Since O'Grady was confirmed as the new race director late last year, the first Australian to win Paris-Roubaix has been having a crash course in Tour Down Under institutional knowledge alongside Turtur.

"Every now and again he tries to blurt out 21 years of information in about 10 minutes," O'Grady said.

But O'Grady has hit the ground running.

"I'm already deep into my course design for 2021, which has been a lot of fun," said O'Grady, an Adelaide native and the winner of the inaugural 1999 Tour.

"I'm a bit like the kid in his first day at school.

"In the back of my mind, I've been aiming for this role for many years and I always thought 'wouldn't this be a great stage'?

"I'm trying to bring those dreams to life."

Turtur's resignation caps a period of unprecedented transition behind the scenes for the Tour.

Several key people who have been fixtures at the event for more than a decade have left their roles, for a variety of reasons.

Turtur said that has brought its challenges, but the foundations are solid.

And at its heart, the Tour has not changed since day one. As Turtur notes, the Tour lives or dies on state government support.

"We always knew it's a tourism event. It just happens to be a bike race," he said.

To that end, whatever is to be said of Lance Armstrong's controversial and pivotal 2009-11 visits, there is no denying the ongoing impact.

While some brutal heat may have hurt spectator numbers in the last couple of Tours, the effects of the Lance boom years are still evident.

"I was a true believer - call me an idiot," Turtur said of the disgraced star, who is banned for life.

"What Armstrong did was he brought people to the race who were thinking about it, talking about it - but never came.

"Once that group of people came, they're coming back and they've also told their friends. Armstrong was the hook that got them."

While Turtur is about to leave the Tour, he will continue organising the associated Track Down Under exhibition event at the Adelaide Superdrome.

When the men's Tour ends at the top of Willunga Hill on January 26, he is adamant there will be no tears.

"A lot of planning and thought has gone into this ... I've had a dream run," he said. "I will be more than happy - I will be ecstatic."