By Melissa Keogh
Last year South Australian teenager Maeve Plouffe was working behind the scenes as a podium assistant in the Tour Down Under (TDU), the biggest cycling event outside of Europe.
Now the 18-year-old is preparing to race alongside some of the world’s best cyclists as she makes her debut in the women’s tour today (January 11).
As one of the youngest riders in the competition, Maeve will compete in her first Women’s TDU as part of the Tasmanian Institute of Sport team.
“To be able to race at this level at home, in front of my family and friends is an amazing opportunity,” she says.
In 2017 the TDU became the first major cycling race to stop using female models as stage assistants and instead use junior cycling champions to hand the jerseys to winning riders.
Maeve was one of the eight stage assistants who met their idols on the podium.
The move put SA in the spotlight of the cycling world, with Spain agreeing to consider adopting the move.
More than a dozen junior cyclists will assist on stage this year, having access to the world’s top riders and gaining an insight into the world of top level international racing.
Tourism Minister Leon Bignell says he’s hoping the event will draw a record one million spectators along the various routes across the state.
“It’s such a thrill to be standing roadside as the peloton rushes past, so I urge all South Australians to support this fantastic home-grown event and get us to the magic million spectator mark,” he says.
The biggest names in cycling will power through the city, suburbs, Adelaide Hills and seaside towns across the next nine days.
Today’s (January 11) Women’s TDU kicks off in the Adelaide Hills town of Gumeracha and will see elite international and Australian female riders compete in four stages.
The TDU’s official opening will take place on Saturday at the Tour Village in Victoria Square, where Adelaide’s ARIA Award winner Guy Sebastian will headline a free concert.
A stall promoting SA cycling businesses and organisations will be set up in the village – spot it by looking for the I Choose SA brand.
The TDU is one of the biggest events on SA’s calendar and 2018 marks the 20th anniversary.
In 2017, the event injected $56.5m into the state’s visitor economy and created the equivalent of 683 full time jobs.
A record 840,000 spectators lined the streets, with 43,000 cycling fans travelling from interstate and overseas for the event.
A number of TDU events and street parties will unfold over the next week, including in Adelaide’s CBD, Prospect, The Parade at Norwood, Stirling and the Barossa. Head to the website for more information.
Header photo: Facebook, Maeve Plouffe/Con Chronis.