South Australia's Tour Down Under, which starts on Sunday with the Tour Down Under classic on Sunday night, is primed to become the focal point of the international cycling this week as it plays host to the first round of the prestigious 2008 ProTour. For the first time in its history, an event outside of Europe will play a role in deciding the overall winner of the ProTour series. Making it all the more special, the Tour Down Under - celebrating its tenth anniversary - will also be the first round of the year-long series.
Earlier this week, Premier Mike Rann joined with one of the State's greatest cycling legends, Stuart O'Grady, to call on South Australians to make this year's Tour Down Under a record breaker. "Never before in the ten-year history of the Tour Down Under have we broken the half-a-million spectator's mark. I'd love to see it happen this year," Premier Rann said.
"It would be the best possible tenth birthday present and a just reward for an event that has grown in stature every year to now become the first stop in world cycling."
The pair visited the revamped Adelaide City Council Tour Village with Tourism Minister Jane Lomax-Smith to unveil the new village and preview the first-ever UCI ProTour race to be held outside Europe.
The village will be open to the public each day from January 22-26 between 4pm and 7pm. Fully air-conditioned, the village will act as a home base for the world's top cycling teams. It has nearly tripled in size this year and will include more exhibitors, interactive displays, Skoda car displays and merchandise sales.
"We are joining the world stage of cycling and this is our chance to show the world that our own Tour Down Under is up there with the best races in the world. I want us to give the Belgians, French, Germans and Italians a lesson in cycling and show that South Australia is an emerging force in the cycling world," Premier Rann added.
In an attempt to get the whole cycling community involved in the event, each year a series of three public cycling events have taken place. This year, the Skoda Breakaway Series has been enormously popular as it enjoyed its biggest turn out yet with over 4200 entrants. Along with the these cycling events, celebrations are scheduled to take place all over the State.
"South Australia will become party central, with events taking place everywhere from Adelaide city, Unley, Glenelg and Hahndorf to Victor Harbor, Willunga, Mannum, Strathalbyn and Angaston," Rann said.
O'Grady, a proud South Australian, has once again put his support behind the race. "This is the best cycling you'll see anywhere in the world and it's right here in our own backyard," he said. "If you've ever wondered what the Tour Down Under is all about, this is the year to find out. I would encourage South Australians to get behind this race and join in the fun."
As part of the celebrations, an official welcome parade has been scheduled for Tuesday January 22. Team cars, bikes and riders will take part in the parade which will make it's way down King William Street from 8am, with balloons, signifying the arrival of the ProTour being released at 9.20am.
Visit the official Tour Down Under website for more details on all the events taking place to coincide with the event.
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