No Tour Down Under would be complete without riders in their new liveries cuddling cute critters. But, let me take you behind the scenes and tell you a bit about the bun fight that precedes the official photographs where the wee animals are fair game for the riders, team staff and the press pack.
Let me introduce you to the main players. The two fully grown koalas and the snake are old hands at this. It’s not their maiden tour and the koalas are content to be photobombed by whomever as long as you keep those delicious fresh leaves coming.
The serpent, a magnificent specimen all fluorescent green, black and white, proves rather less popular with the riders though many of the team staff and kids are game. All three come from the Victor Harbor Animal farm, suitably supervised by one of their keepers.
The more popular baby kangaroos, a grey and a red, and the baby wallaby are orphans saved after road traffic accidents killed their mothers – sadly an all-too-common occurrence. The animals spend the rest of their lives in shelters manned by volunteers, often on their own properties. [The volunteers’ properties, not the joeys’ properties – Ed.]
The action all takes place prior to the official team presentation, in the area reserved for the teams’ boxes, in Adelaide’s Victoria Sq, home of the Tour Village for the duration of the events.
I took the opportunity to chat to a couple of the riders present. The ever-smiling Little Kangaroo Esteban Chaves admitted that he wasn’t too keen on snakes – his favourites were the baby kangaroos, though he couldn’t resist a picture with one of the koalas. Meanwhile, team-mate Roger Kluge tenderly cuddles a baby wallaby.
I caught up with a decidedly jet-lagged Marco Marcato (UAE Abu Dhabi) on his maiden visit to Australia. We’d initially met back in 2013 at a Cannondale team camp where he told me that before he’d taken up cycling he’d been an ice dancer! Hopefully, he’ll find his feet and his racing legs before the race start on Tuesday.
Phil Bauhaus and Nikias Arndt (Sunweb) both hail from the Cologne area in Germany. They should feel right at home in Adelaide, which has strong Germanic roots.
Sebastian Henao (Sky), another rider making his debut at the Santos Tour Down Under, was talking softly to the joey in Spanish – we don’t know if the joey understood him or not, but he didn’t seem to mind.
Some support staff and press were unafraid to tackle THE SNAKE!!!
No one is immune, not even The Lion of the Peloton™ who was greeted by the same cuddly animals when he arrived in Adelaide some three weeks ago.
Header: Koen de Kort and Nathalie Desmarets ©GETTY Corbis KT/ Tim de Waele