At the foot of Menglers Hill cyclists realise they've got a tough haul ahead. Two-wheeled racers are preparing to take on South Australia's Bupa Challenge. Rosemary Garratt previews the route.
Menglers Hill loomed large in front of us. It looked more imposing than its 7.1 per cent average gradient suggested and there was only one way to go - up.
Luckily our rental car surged up to the lookout. It would have been a different story if I had been on my road bike.
Menglers is the second mountain climb riders encounter on the 138km Bupa Challenge Tour, which is part of South Australia's festival of cycling that surrounds the week-long Santos Tour Down Under professional cycle tour.
The hill overlooks Barossa Valley, which is better known for its wine than Lycra-wearing cyclists. But that is slowly changing as the tour draws increasing numbers of spectators and avid cyclists to the region.
As the first stop on the professional world cycling calendar, the tour has also attracted some big names in the sport, including American great Lance Armstrong and Australian stars Cadel Evans, winner of last year's Tour de France, and sprinter Robbie McEwen.
This January, New Zealand cyclists Hayden Roulston and Jesse Sergent will compete with their American RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team.
Other teams confirmed for the tour's 14th year are Lampre (Italy), Vacansoleil (Netherlands), Katusha (Russia), Rabobank (Netherlands), BMC Racing (US), Sky Procycling (UK), Astana (Kazakhstan) and Liquigas-Cannondale (Italy).
While the tour takes in many of the delights of South Australia during the week, at the heart of all the action is the capital, Adelaide, where four of the six stages start. If you want to immerse yourself fully in the buzz of the event book into the Hilton Adelaide, which is where all the pro teams stay. It is located opposite Victoria Square, where the Tour Village is set up. Here, you can watch team mechanics work on the bikes, get some autographs or catch the race highlights on the big screen.
Bethany Wines in the Barossa Valley offers spectacular scenery as well as great wines.Barossa's farmers' market is the place to find fine food.If you're going out on the road to see the race up close, pop into the Central Markets next to the hotel on Grote St for amazing fresh food, including wonderful cheeses and cured meats that are perfect for a gourmet picnic. It is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays.
From Adelaide the tour branches out to visit other wine regions, including the Clare, McLaren Vale and beautiful Victor Harbour. So, while you're cheering on your favourite rider, you can take in the sights and tastes of the region, too.
One of the great things about the sport of cycling is that fans can get up close to their heroes, whether by stalking them in the Hilton lobby or watching them from the roadside.
The other is being able to ride one of the race stages to see what the pros go through and to compare your performance against theirs.
The Bupa Challenge on Friday January 20 follows stage four of the tour, 138km from Norwood in Adelaide to Tanunda in the Barossa Valley. Last year, 7512 riders took part in the challenge, with about 4000 doing the full distance, but race director Mike Turtur rates this year's route the hardest in its 10-year history so it remains to be seen how many will be brave enough this time.
If you don't think you're up to pedalling the full distance there are three shorter options, the shortest being 33km. But no matter which ride you choose, Menglers Hill will be waiting for you. If the thought of Menglers Hill puts you off there is an escape route which will take you 19km off the course to avoid the category-three climb.
After expending all that energy on the Friday morning and seeing the pros sprint to the finish on Tanunda's main street, treat yourself to some of the region's great food and wine.
Recommended is the 1918 Bistro & Grill housed in a historic stone villa on the main street near the finish line. It is open for lunch and dinner. The wagyu beef carpaccio starter was amazing but the standout for our table was the 1918 parmesan olive oil which accompanied the freshly baked bread. The wine list highlights some of the Barossa's best wines, too.
If you are not up for the challenge but still want to do some pedalling in the valley, contact Barossa Bike Hire.
They can provide a pick-up or delivery service to your accommodation and also offer massage if you have any aching muscles from one too many hill climbs.
The pros' race doesn't finish until Sunday January 22 with a 20-lap circuit of Adelaide, which gives you a great opportunity to be a spectator again. At the end of a week's racing there can be only one wearer of the leader's ochre jersey. Will Menglers have helped to shake up the peloton?
Best of Barossa
Maggie Beer Farm Shop
Pheasant Farm Rd, Nuriootpa; 61 (0) 8 8562 4477:
Maggie Beer is one of Australia's most well-known food personalities and may be known to New Zealanders from Food TV's The Cook and the Chef. Her farm shop on Pheasant Farm is a tourist magnet. Visitors can sample her produce, from duck and pheasant pate, to verjuice and icecream.
Jacob's Creek Visitor Centre
Barossa Valley Way, Rowland Flat; 61 (0) 8 8521 3000:
The award-winning visitor centre in the Barossa Valley is more than a cellar door - you can learn about the region, eat the best of South Australia's seasonal produce, visit the demonstration vineyard or follow the trails on the property.
Barossa Farmers' Market
Vintners Sheds, corner Nuriootpa and Stockwell roads, Angaston:
If you fancy some local fare, visit the Barossa Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings from 7.30am to 11.30am. There are over 50 stallholders.
Santos Tour Down Under: Adelaide, January 15 to 22. Registrations for the Bupa Challenge ride close on January 6.
Hilton Adelaide: 223 Victoria Square, Adelaide. 0061 (0)8 8217 2000.
Adelaide Central Markets: Gouger St, Adelaide.
Rosemary Garratt travelled to Adelaide courtesy of South Australian Tourism.