Tour de Brisbane start line for women's event.

Race day: Tour de Brisbane

Gina Ricardo
April 29, 2024

Brisbane, Australia – home to 2.28 million residents, ranks as the third most populous city in the Australia and the third largest geographically in the world. Not exactly where you’d picture a bike race. But for one tranquil Sunday morning each year, the city comes to a standstill as thousands of cyclists ride on traffic free roads, motorways and even tunnels.

Picture this: it’s the early hours of Sunday morning, I’m lost in my dreams about surfing when suddenly, my teammate Lillee barges into our room, urgency in her voice.  “Guys you need to get your bags in the truck… Now!” Bleary eyed, I check my phone. It’s 3:45am, my alarm hasn’t gone off. We stumble out of bed, blindly grab our pre-packed bags and hand them over to our tireless team staff. I can barely comprehend the early start, but they’ve probably been up since 3am, orchestrating our race day logistics.  

The Tour de Brisbane is the most unique race in one sense; it probably has the earliest race start in the world. Bags sorted; I head back in for a much-needed coffee. But at 3:57am, mid-sip, I’m informed we’re leaving in a minute. Crap! Down the coffee, clean the press, scramble for my luggage, and jump in the team car. I’ll eat my breakfast on the way. Few. I don’t think they realised I got the timing wrong. To be fair, everyone’s half asleep. 

The drive in is straight forward but made more complicated by the road closures for the race. The course begins at the heart of the city in the Brisbane Showgrounds. Whilst our staff prep bikes, I sneak in a quick tooth-brushing session. We kick off at 5:50am. It’s dark as we get ready. A couple of locals stumble past after a big night out in the Valley. The city is asleep but there’s a quiet sense of anticipation within the team of the race to come. 

And then, we're off. The Legacy Tunnel looms ahead, 54 meters underground, an otherworldly experience. The absence of wind, together with the humid warmth, amplifies the sound of whirring wheels and clicking gears. I’m grateful for the early start as navigating this tunnel in the midday heat would be torturous. 

Credit: Nicola Farquhar at NX 

When the neutral is over we waste no time. Attacks fly as we navigate the open roads. We start the race with 7 riders. We have the numbers and we’re here to race, we want to make it exciting. Though we secure good time gaps, the bunch is hungry. It neutralises our efforts. In the early hours of the morning, there’s barely any wind and the roads are too open and wide. It’s too hard to get away. With 30 kilometres to go, the inevitable looms: a bunch kick. I settle in, conserving energy for the final push. 

Scenic views blur as we zoom through the course. I know we’re going past the Brisbane River and over the Storey bridge at some point, but I’m fixated on the wheel ahead, marking riders who dare to play the game of chance off the front and keeping an eye out for my teammates in the bunch. 

At 8km to go we get the call on the radio: “Ok ladies, time to take up the front. Find each other on the right side of the road.” We rally to the front and start to pick up the pace. I’m sitting in sixth wheel. It’s my job to follow Haylee in front of me, and it’s our jobs to finish off the hard work of our teammates into the final corner – we’re supposed to win the race. Matilda behind me is the gate keeper. She’s got one of the hardest jobs of all, trying to keep other riders off our wheels. She’s security but also back up in case one of us doesn’t get there. The sight of my teammates sacrificing for the team is inspiring to see; we're in this together, aiming for victory.

But at 2km to go – it implodes. A misjudged turn shatters our control. As we approach a U-Turn onto a motorway ramp, our first rider mis-judges the turning point. She overshoots it by about 5m. Suddenly we go from the top 6 riders, in control of the bunch, to scrambling in the chaos.  

Three of us find the way through. We accelerate hard to get back to the front but it’s too early out and we don’t have enough legs to hold control. Attacks start to fire on our right. Instinct kicks in, I leave the safety of Haylee’s wheel and jump onto the riders coming past on our right. There’s at least two of them and they have momentum. I slot in, managing my efforts. We turn right and then almost immediately turn left. This is it. This is the finish. There’s no time to think. Head down, click it into a big gear, get out of the saddle. I have no idea where my teammates are, but I know I owe it to them to give it my all. Second place – a mix of pride and disappointment. We aimed for gold but must settle for silver. 

There’s a definite sense of disappointment and frustration because we knew we could have done better. Three years ago, I would have been stoked with second but all of us as a group; we’ve grown; we’ve gone to Europe to race, raced World Tour events, we expect more from ourselves. But that’s bike racing for you. There’s always the next race.

As the dust settles, I reflect on the day—the camaraderie, the thrill of the race, and the sheer joy of cycling. A grin spreads across my face as I realise the magnitude of the event – 7,000 cyclists taking over the city's streets, a testament to the love for this sport.

I’m still smiling when I get home that afternoon. My alarm goes off. It’s 3:45pm. 

Strava route

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