The day the Tour de France came to Brisbane

This week's Ride with Relief was a fantastic spectacle for Brisbane. As a digital marketer and as an "athletic powerhouse", I have always wanted to participate in one of Lance's now famous Twitter rides, so I took the opportunity (and the morning of work).

It's a big call, likening it to the Tour de France, I know. Let's face it, it was just Lance Armstrong, Robbie McEwen, and Allan Davis, headlining a charity bike ride for a few thousand cyclists. How can that be compared to the spectacle of the world's largest sporting event?

The event was announced late last week, initially on Twitter by Lance Armstrong and Robbie McEwen but then covered by the Courier Mail, Channel 7, and Nova FM. When I registered online over the weekend, there was no information about how long the ride was, where it would go, or whether there was a speed expectation. All I knew was that it started at the RNA Showgrounds.

Many scenarios had played out in my head:
- What if it goes to Redcliffe... I'll never keep up for that long.
- What if it goes... where else can it go? They won't close the City down, surely.
- What if I get dropped off the back and can't get safely back to my car... I better take my house key as well.

By Sunday they had released the route as a 25k loop, traveling at a minimum of 25km/h, which I thought was achievable, even through the hills of Bulimba and Morningside.

I arrived at the RNA showgrounds early, expectant and ready for a long wait. I hadn't organised to meet anyone, today the Athletic Powerhouse was riding solo. I spotted a Merlo Coffee stall and set off to get a coffee to pass the time.

As I waited in the queue I chatted with an older lady who expressed the doubt she was feeling about keeping up with the 25ks an hour. She revealed, though, that even if she couldn't finish the ride, she felt compelled to show up and start for her husband, who had died of cancer. It is stories like this that remind you of the enormity of Lance Armstrong's influence; of the impact he's had on everyday people all over the world.

Now, as I looked around the thousands of quite serious looking cyclists, I started to feel a little overwhelmed, and to be honest, some of that doubt came trickling back. How was I going to keep up with some of the superstars of cycling? For the most part, the crowd looked pretty serious; though there were also some mountain bikes, folding bikes, and even a lady with a toddler in a bike seat.

The ride was scheduled to start at 10.30am but at this time we were still waiting for the main man to arrive. The hosts from Channel 7 didn't do too bad a job of entertaining us, they interviewed many of the other celebrities that had turned out to support the ride - including Sara Carrigan, Daniel MacPherson, Duncan Armstrong, and many more. To her credit, the Premier, Anna Bligh, had also donned the lycra to ride with Lance for the flood victims.

Finally, more than half an hour after the ride was supposed to start, the helicopters flying above signalled an imminent arrival.

I had positioned myself towards the back of the peleton (and near the Merlo Coffee stand) so although I couldn't see him personally, I heard what Lance had to say. His public persona is polished and yet personable. He complemented Queenslanders on their desire to volunteer, comparing it to Hurricane Katrina. He noted that after Katrina, there were traffic jams of people wanting to get out of New Orleans - but in Brisbane the traffic jams were caused by people wanting to get in to clean up.

He also talked about the LiveStrong philosophy, which started as an inspiration to cancer patients. Now, LiveStrong has morphed into a way to inspire people to live better, and more healthy lives.

Before too much longer, we were away!

I was immediately struck by the crowds of people lining the streets through Fortitude Valley - clapping, cheering, taking photos and capturing video. It was a great feeling and a fantastic sight. Even on the approach to the Story Bridge people had come out in their droves to see the spectacle.

It felt pretty awesome to ride over the Bridge - not somewhere I'd choose to ride in normal traffic conditions. We dropped down off the bridge onto Shaftson Avenue, and the people continued to cheer and clap along the way. The Queensland Police Service were doing a great job of keeping the traffic at bay and shepherding us along.

I had left my Garmin at home so I didn't know how fast we were travelling. It seemed a little faster than the predicted speed and those around me did our best to hang on the back of the main peleton.

As we dropped down into Bulimba, the support continued. Oxford Street was lined with spectators. We slowed a little as we wound through these streets, and it was here that it first struck me that Brisbane was experiencing its own Tour de France. This is how the French participate in their country's biggest sporting event - by setting up outside their homes and businesses to welcome the world's best cyclists into their communities, starting with the amateur cyclists who ride the course before the main event.

I smiled and waved at the people and thanked them for their support. I got the other cyclists around me  doing the same - there was a great vibe in the air and it was fabulous! 

It was around this time that I noticed someone on my wheel. He was an older man, and while at first I was surprised and a little alarmed, I decided it was about time I helped out a stranger, after all the old dudes that have helped me up mountains over the years..

Soon, the cyclists started to thin out a bit. It was obvious that we'd started to lose touch with the main field. Without my Garmin, though, I wasn't sure whether us at the back had dropped our speed or whether the frontrunners had picked it up. Probably, a bit of both.

After a quick 50 minutes, we were back at the RNA Showgrounds. Robbie McEwen and Allan Davis were being interviewed now, and an eager throng of cyclists awaited another interview with Lance. As I picked my way through them, the announcer was saying they were waiting on confirmation on whether he would speak again or not. I took that as a "not", so kept moving.

I made the right decision, it was revealed later that Lance left the event abruptly after being asked about the enquiry into doping that awaits him on his return to the US. The Courier Mail is running the original article and also a self defence article by the journalist in question, Mike Colman.

Monday's ride had it all - an adoring crowd, cyclists en masse, loads of hype, rolling road closures through communities united, and, unfortunately, a drug controversy. On some level, I can't blame Mike Colman for asking the question. It is his job and his defence makes some sense. But I can't help but be disappointed in the fact that this journalist has put a sour taste in the mouth of many, and for what outcome? To think that Lance would reveal anything on a day where his focus was charity work, was just plain folly.

Ah yes. Monday truly was the day the Tour de France came to Brisbane.


  1. Great post. I was there too. For me and my wife it is day we will never forget. And the ride was awesome. As you said, so many people lining the streets. As for Mike Colman? To ask such a question on the day was definitely not in the spirit of the event.

  2. Hey, is this Jason Armstrong of Stillerstrong fame? If so, I've seen a few photos of you from the event... and I remember meeting you at last year's TDU.