Podcast interview with Mike Turtur AO

People of Adelaide

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Mike Turtur AO

"One summer, I entered the gates of the old (bike) track at Hanson Reserve and my mind was just blown away. For whatever reason it captivated me and I just didn’t think of anything other than riding a bike from that day on."

After 22 years at the helm of what has become Australia’s greatest cycling race, the Santos Tour Down Under (TDU), Mike Turtur – champion cyclist, TDU founder and director, hands the reins to Stuart O’Grady at the end of the 2020 race.

Career changes are a time for looking forward, as well as reflecting on past achievements and challenges.

In this conversation with presenter Dr Christina Hagger, Mike opens up about what ignited his lifelong passion for cycling, pushing through pain barriers to win Olympic gold, a nail-biting negotiation with a top German sprinter that potentially saved the TDU from being derailed after year one - and, of course, what comes next.

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About the guest

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Christina Hagger

Dr Christina Hagger combines her radio presenter, writing and researcher skills to help people tell, and share, their stories. She understands the power of voice and narrative to inform, build community, and influence change.

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With Podcast Works, you’ll have access to Radio Adelaide’s decades of award-winning experience in audio storytelling. We’ll help you to clearly define your concept and target audience, craft a compelling story, produce high-quality audio and get your podcast into the ears of your community.

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The transcript has been automatically transcribed for accessibility purposes; we apologise for any inconsistencies with the recording.

Christina Hagger: 00:39

Mike Turtur AO has totally transformed the summer heartbeat of our city. The Santos Tour Down Under launches the international pro cycling calendar in the heat of Australia's summer. It is a massive international event, one that totally transforms Adelaide into an electric city every January. How did he bring that about? How did he and his team generate such a remarkable groundswell from a baseline of almost zero? Let's hear the story from Mike.

Mike Turtur: 01:14

There's a bit of a story behind the facts that made the race happen. We're talking back in the mid-'90s, there was a proposal by a couple of entrepreneurs who were pitching to government a race from Melbourne to Adelaide and a million dollars prize money. Which is nice, but they had no knowledge about the sport of cycling; didn't know how it worked; that was their pitch - just simply two lines. So I was asked to meet with these guys, which I did. I was asked of my opinion. I thought, well, a million dollar prize money is nice but it won't deliver what we want and I don't understand why you would include Melbourne in a race if you're going to try to promote South Australia. At that point I was asked to come up with a concept and an idea about a race in and around Adelaide, which I did, which turned out to be the Tour.

That was about the mid-'90s. The first race was staged in '99 so I think we got the nod that it was going to be funded by the then liberal government in about '97, late '97/'98 -so about a year out to get it all organised. But it was a great vision of the Liberal Government under Olsen, John Olsen at the time. When we lost the Grand Prix, it was doom and gloom everywhere but they made a decision and it's worked out to be the best decision ever, is they couldn't replace the Grand Prix with one event - because the Grand Prix was just so big. So, what they did, they decided to try to replace the economic benefit by a series of events, the Tour, the horse trials, the arts, the 500 and it's worked out to be a tremendous winner because all of those events collectively return to the State more than any Grand Prix ever did for a fraction of the cost. So it was a great strategy and it worked brilliantly - gave us an opportunity to stage the race.

Christina: 03:05

Great opportunity to stage the race but you had to go .. despite all your cycling experience, which we'll get to .. you had zero infrastructure to pull together a race of that calibre and get people from the Northern Hemisphere to take it seriously. How did you do that? Was it all based on your reputation?

Mike: 03:24

No I mean, my concepts, my ideas were put in place. The factors that made the race what it is today is that rather than stage the race at the end of the European season, I proposed that the race be at the beginning of the season in January rather than October. Traditionally, all of the races that were staged in Australia that featured international riders were at the end of the European season. So the riders are tired and they're not really interested in racing. That was number one. Number two was the participation of professional teams - the same teams that would ride the big races like the Tour de France. That had never been done in Australia. So to get those teams to come here to compete as they would in any big race in Europe was another big factor. Those two things we knew, I knew, were going to be really important to make it happen and to be any chance of a success.

We did a feasibility study with the big teams in Europe and asked them would they be interested in coming on the other side of the world at that time of year and we got a positive response, which was great . From that we started to plan the race. How it would work, going out each day from Adelaide but using Adelaide as the base, which has never been done by any race in the world before; using the same hotel where all the riders stay, all the riders eat together - that had never been done before. The Tour Village had never been done before. So, all of these elements that make the race a great success of this today were all unique to the race in those early years.

Christina: 04:53

That's exciting.

Mike: 04:54

Yeah, it was - but it was a lot of pressure because you mentioned the fact that there was not a lot of knowledge about cycling. All the people that I was working with - SAPOL, all of the councils, all of the people in operations - everyone across the board had no experience or knowledge about the sport of cycling. So we had to educate people very quickly on a very steep learning curve to bring them up to speed to stage a race in '99 that was at the required level acceptable to professional teams. Because I knew if we didn't get that right in the first year ..

Christina: 05:24

You only had one chance to get it right the first time.

Mike: 05:26

Yeah, if we had a problem in the first year, we were going to have a major problem moving forward. But we were able to do it, so it was a terrific effort by a lot of people.

Christina: 05:35

You could promise the pro teams that they could come and you could guarantee they'd ride every day: no snow, no rain, no hail. Was that part of the deal to get them down?

Mike: 05:45

Yeah it was, apart from the heat. Didn't mention too much about that. But they can ride every day. If it's hot, you go out earlier, get back early. But the Europeans, I know that we had some potential drama in the first year with Zabel, the big sprinter. We had a bit of a heat wave that went three days, 40 degrees or whatever it was, and he wasn't too impressed. He wanted to go home. I knew that if he went home and that it got out to the press that we were dead in the water, because it would have ruined our whole concept of what we were trying to achieve.

Christina: 06:18

That you can ride every day.

Mike: 06:19


Christina: 06:21

How did you negotiate with him?

Mike: 06:23

I pleaded with him and took him out to dinner, him and his other two teammates, and we sat down and I said, 'Training in this weather is great for your physiology' - and it is. I mean training in heat does benefit you more so than training in the cold, but I said 'This will go away in a few days and the weather will be perfect' and thank God it did - and he stayed to his credit. He won two stages. He went back to Europe, had a brilliant year and then came back the following year too. It was a really important thing to make sure that he didn't leave because it would have been reported heavily that he left because it was too hot.

Christina: 06:59

It was too hot. So of course you've educated the people of Adelaide very much because we're now very cycle-savvy. But we were not.

Mike: 07:06

No. Well back then, if you look at the early posters, '99 poster, it says Tour Down Under, and then underneath: International Cycle Race - because no one knew what the hell we were talking about. Just weeks prior to the first event, we had a survey done on awareness and it was under 5 per cent.

Christina: 07:25

How did you feel at that time?

Mike: 07:26

I was worried then and then the first stage was just here down the East End, outside the (old) Stag Hotel there. That was Stage One in those days - a circuit race on Tuesday evening at about 7:30 just before dark. So, we were petrified, we were hoping that 10,000 people would turn up and on that first night 40,000. Yeah it was ... It just struck a nerve. We knew from that night that something had triggered the imagination of the locals and interstate people and it just never looked back since.

Christina: 08:02

In 2008 it became the first event outside cycling's traditional European home to join the prestigious UCI ProTour. Can you tell non-cyclers like me, what that really means?

Mike: 08:15

It's the world series of cycling. It's like the highest level you can get your event rated in the world.

Christina: 08:22

You could have had that race anywhere in Australia. You could have made your life a lot easier and spent a lot less time on planes if you had taken that race to say Sydney or Melbourne. Why Adelaide?

Mike: 08:34

Well, I lived in Adelaide, I was born and bred here. This concept was pitched to government based on a tourism event to promote South Australia and Adelaide and the surrounds, so it made sense that the race had to be in South Australia. On that basis, I was more than keen to make it happen here of course. Melbourne, Sydney of course are big cities and the travel would be easier with their frequency of flights and everything else but logistically Adelaide lends itself to cycling more than any other city in the world because it's 10 kilometres to the open country, in the Adelaide Hills. In Melbourne and Sydney, to start a race within the city limits the suburbs and try to manage the right to get to a safe road, you might be talking 50 to a hundred kilometres. It's just logistically a nightmare. So Adelaide logistically was the city to stage an event that we designed being centralised in the middle of the city.

Christina: 09:29

Is it too long a bow to suggest that Colonel Light's plans for the city of Adelaide really helped your race and your thinking?

Mike: 09:37

It might be, but as we know Adelaide,the city is flat, which is beautiful for cycling of course but as I said, it's only five or 10 k and you're in the open hills, the beautiful roads of the Adelaide Hills and the climbs and the vineyards and so on. So from a logistic point of view, we can start in Unley, Norwood or Glenelg. We can have short neutral zones where we're under the red flag and we can ride between five and 10 kilometres and then the race starts. That's ideal for that type of race.

Christina: 10:06

When you were talking about that you were petrified with only 5 per cent recognition, you had actually made a professional commitment, career commitment to this. You had resigned from your position as ..

Mike: 10:19

Correct. Superdrome manager and promoter, yeah.

Christina: 10:22

For this event?

Mike: 10:23

For a one year deal.

Christina: 10:24

How'd you feel?

Mike: 10:25

Well, I mean I knew how important it was. I mean, it was a lot of stress I can tell you. Especially the inaugural year of course, but the lead up time when the team started to arrive .. and in the first year we had some big riders here and big teams. We had Erik Zabel the best sprinter world, the current world champion, Oscar Camenzind from Switzerland was here, Laurent Jalabert, who was a famous French cycler - so we had some big riders and some big teams here in the first year and that was added pressure to make sure that everything went correctly. But as I said, we did a lot of work with South Australian police and other agencies to make sure that everything was as best we could have it on the road for safety and the first race from that first night here in the East End just didn't stop day after day after day - it was just fantastic.

Christina: 11:18

Day after day after day and year after year after year and you keep it fresh every year.

Mike: 11:22

Try to, yeah.

Christina: 11:23

How do you do that?

Mike: 11:24

Just try to mix up the style of the race and the start and finish locations. There are locations that are favourites on the race that have been hugely popular, tens of thousands of people gather in different parts of the state and you tend to go back to those successful locations of course because the number of people that they attract. But also finding new climbs and sections of road we've not been on before is difficult after, this will be the 22nd edition coming up, within a two hour radius of Adelaide that makes it hard to find new roads - but we've been able to design the course each year with elements that are different from one year to the next so it's been refreshing and interesting for the riders and spectators.

Christina: 12:08

I understand you're an expert on map reading because of your investigations of all the different roads.

Mike: 12:14

Well, I've ridden them since I was 12 years old. That's the beauty about designing a race in and around Adelaide because I've ridden every road the race goes on as a kid in my early years. So I had a really solid knowledge of how difficult the climbs are and what road surfaces are like and how to do circuits and where circuits work and where they don't. So my knowledge from my own years riding the roads was really valuable to me.

Christina: 12:39

Because you started cycling, I think you saw your brother race when you were about ..

Mike: 12:44

Chris my brother, yeah.

Christina: 12:45

... 12 at Pennington Primary-

Mike: 12:46

Hanson Reserve. Yeah well I was at Pennington Primary School but Chris was in his first years at high school and met up with a family by the name of, the Zucker brothers that were racing locally, and so they got friendly and they just told Chris, 'We're cyclists and we race at Hanson Reserve', so he went there and watched them a few times and he got hooked. Got himself a bike at Osterstocks at Port Adelaide, an old bike shop. I laugh about it now but anyway, that was his first bike. We went as a family to watch Chris race one summer and I entered the gates of the old track at Hanson Reserve and I was just... my mind was just blown away. For whatever reason it just captivated me and I just didn't think of anything other than riding a bike from that day on.

Christina: 13:33

Did you actually ever imagine that you would make your entire career out of it?

Mike: 13:36

No. Not for a second.

Christina: 13:38

Because at one point you were tossing up carpentry or cycling, is that right?

Mike: 13:42

Well, to a degree. I was told by a foreman that when I finished my apprenticeship,: 'Son, you've got to make a choice. You're either going to be a carpenter or a bike rider' and I said, 'Well, it's no choice to me. I'll be a bike rider every day of the week'. Not knowing in my wildest dreams that I would become gainfully employed in the sport for the next 30 odd years, 40 years. Incredible.

Christina: 14:05

Also, when you were starting out, it was early days in cycling, certainly here in Oz - and there was very little support for you, I mean you had to-

Mike: 14:14


Christina: 14:15

... train yourself, fund yourself, get yourself to Europe - yourself?

Mike: 14:19

Yes. Like most Olympic sportspeople that are in my era, there was very limited support for training and travel to try to compete at the high level - and Mike Nunan created the South Australian Sports Institute which was a god send for a lot of athletes because it gave support to sports that would normally not get anything. And Mike Nunan and the work they did at at SASIs, the sports institute, in the '80s, was a real help to a lot of athletes.

Christina: 14:50

Can you remind me who was Mike Nunan?

Mike: 14:53

Mike Nunan was a famous football coach. He coached North Adelaide Football Club. He's a famous player of his own right. He played for Sturt and Norwood, but he coached North Adelaide to a couple of premierships and he was the director of the South Australian Sports Institute. He was a big mover and shaker in sport at that time in Adelaide and he established the Institute with John Bannon the then premier, the Labour Government support. That's when things started to really work and help athletes in those minor sports that would never get any financial support or anything like that.

Christina: 15:26

Financial support, which is massive - but also I think the sport science filled the gap. You're on record as saying that we were knocking on the door, meaning you were so fit, you were training so hard, but you needed the sports science to fill the gap.

Mike: 15:39

Sport science was the key because Charlie Walsh, who came into full time coaching, he was ahead of his time. He understood what the requirements of preparation were to become a highly competitive cyclist internationally and he also knew the benefit, the great benefit of sports science, which he utilised to the nth degree. We were tested regularly every six weeks. We knew exactly why we were doing a certain activity in training which I think should be happening all the time. Athletes need to know why they're doing a certain activity because it gets pretty tough. If you understand the reason why you're doing it and the benefits from doing this work, then it's easier to actually commit to do the hard work. We knew exactly the reason why we were killing ourselves out training, because the benefits were going to come later and they certainly did.

Christina: 16:32

Tell us about those races including the one where you rode with a broken arm.

Mike: 16:38

It was a wrist. I mean, that was in Los Angeles when we won the gold medal.

Christina: 16:42

How did you do that?

Mike: 16:44

We just had to. I had crashed in Germany about two weeks before going to Los Angeles, or maybe less than that, maybe 10 days or so. It was the final race in Germany that we had in Europe before we left to go to Los Angeles. It was the last preparation race: a circuit race in Cologne, a hundred kilometre event. And we were just asked by Charlie just to get the full distance in your legs and don't take any chances because this is the last race and we don't want any crashes and let's get to LA in one piece. Obviously that didn't go to plan because there was a pile-up and I was involved in it and I went over the top of a group of riders, put my hand out to brace the fall and I broke the scaphoid bone in my wrist. Which I knew immediately I was in trouble. When we got to LA it was x-rayed and they confirmed that it was broken, though I just had to grin and bear it really.

Christina: 17:37

Because you were the lead rider.

Mike: 17:39

I was the starter, yeah.

Christina: 17:40

What does that entail?

Mike: 17:41

The starter of a team pursuit, the four man event, is really critical to the whole setup, because it's firstly the most difficult position because you don't get any opportunity to settle. You're exposed from the word go, from the standing start. But your responsibility is to get the team up and going to a good pace; the right pace required for the opponent that you're racing. So you have to have a good judgement of speed and I was, for whatever reason, I could judge speed pretty good and if Charlie asked me to go a bit quicker, I could just lift it that little bit but not too much to blow the other riders off the wheel at the start. So it's a very responsible position on the race and I believe is the most difficult position to ride team pursuit. So yeah, I was the starter.

Christina: 18:24

Was there some thinking that somebody else could do it?

Mike: 18:27

Well, that was mostly in my favour because out of the group I was the only proven starter. There were other riders, maybe one or two maybe, I think maybe one at a push, that could start - but they were a little bit inconsistent, so my place was protected to a degree. I asked Charlie a couple of years ago, whether they ever thought of leaving me out because of the issue but he said never. It was never even a consideration, which I thought was pretty good. It's hard to explain the level of discomfort but it's a bit like trying to ride with one arm, if you can imagine - because I couldn't pull too much with my left. Eventually I had a pin put in there. But from the standing start, when you're using all of your strengths to get away and you're pulling on the handlebars to try to get the momentum of your body moving forward with the bike, you normally do it with two hands, two arms and the upper body all being even. But I was compromised on the left, so I'm trying to do it all on the right. So I was a bit out of whack. It was taxing. It was really giving me trouble. But anyway, we got through it. We had a good team.

Christina: 19:31

And you won.

Mike: 19:32

We ended up winning. Yeah, that was a life changing moment.

Christina: 19:38

Yeah you said your life changed that day without a shadow of a doubt.

Mike: 19:40

It did. Absolutely.

Christina: 19:42

Tell us.

Mike: 19:43

Well, doors opened, the phone was ringing. People knew who you were, what you did. It opened opportunities. It just allowed you to be a little bit more active in the business world, trying to get things done. It really did change not only my life but all of our lives. Absolutely.

Christina: 20:03

Then you came back, because there was an offer I think when you came back that you could start at the Sports Institute. Is that right?

Mike: 20:11

Mike Nunan. He knew how keen I was to change jobs because ..

Christina: 20:17

This was still with public buildings?

Mike: 20:18

Public buildings. I was a carpenter. I'd qualified - it took me seven years to do a four year apprenticeship because all the time I had off. But when I left school, all I wanted to do was be a carpenter and when I became a carpenter, that was the last thing I wanted to do, because I was heavily involved in cycling. So, Nunan said to me that, 'If you win a medal in LA, I'll get you a job at the Institute' - because I could be transferred from one department to another. So, of course the first phone call I made when I got back was to Mike Nunan and to his word, he got me a job. Then I became a full time cycling coach at SASI when they started to get a bigger budget and then employ coaches on the full time basis. I did that for five years.

Christina: 20:59

Sp, you would have been a lot, in that position, changing how cycling was happening in South Australia and Australia.

Mike: 21:05

Yeah, there was change of course. After LA, cycling was admitted to the Australian Institute of Sport, as an official sports program within that organisation, which hadn't been before. That was a big moment because it allowed people like Charlie Walsh and others to be employed on a full time basis and really put a lot of energy and more energy into the task of preparing riders. They had bigger budgets, better equipment - so the athletes were well looked after after Los Angeles, because before that it was always a big struggle.

Christina: 21:38

Also, I think you said that these days if you went in and bought a $1,200 bike, it would be better than the bike you had in Los Angeles.

Mike: 21:47

Yep. The bike that we rode in LA, the bike that I rode was pretty ordinary by comparisons today. I mean there's no comparison. There's a number of factors: the tracks are a lot better, the indoor board tracks are beautifully designed. In our day, the Los Angeles track was outdoor concrete - it was bumpy, badly designed. It was terrible. The bike materials used now, carbon fibre so it's a fraction of the weight that we were using. The disc wheels were a big factor; skin suits; sports science. I mean we rode skin suits, long-sleeved, no, short sleeve latex-covered skin suits in LA. The worst possible garment you could have ridden in that heat to retain heat. We weren't thinking about aerodynamics. They were covered in latex and we were sweating like there was no tomorrow. They were the worst garment we could have rode but we just didn't know to that degree how important ..

Christina: 22:42

Because sports science is developing in all its facets ..

Mike: 22:43

Yeah - with heat and all that. I mean in Brisbane at the Commonwealth Games two years prior, we had long sleeve ones up in Brisbane - which were even worse. You live and learn but every aspect of every bit of equipment that we used in LA has been superseded by a hundred mile in comparison to what they use these days.

Christina: 23:04

So, obviously this innovation and creativity and sports science, this is continuing to develop here in Adelaide.

Mike: 23:09

Yeah. Yeah. I mean the sports science element is still really important because they monitor the progress of the athletes when they're doing certain phases of training. When they're in phases that are targeting to improve blood lactate, anaerobic work and all the different aspects of physiological training, they can monitor to the nth degree as to the benefit of what you're doing, whether it's delivering the benefits that you're after. Exposing athletes, to blood lactate levels so that their body can learn to cope with the blood lactate levels to get rid of it out of the system, to allow them to perform and go harder and faster - is what it's all about. I mean lactate is what stops you from continuing.

Christina: 23:53

No your physiology apparently was spot on for cycling, is that right?

Mike: 23:57

Yeah, I mean we knew, Charlie knew that VO2 max, which is a measurement of your body weight plus your oxygen consumption, is a special formula that the scientists can work out and they give you what they call a VO2 max number. If you score anything from 75 up, between 75 and 100, you're regarded as being at the required level with the motor required to cope with this sort of work. Our group in LA, the majority of the group were in the 80s. Like the 80 to 85 range, with VO2 max, which is a real solid base to suggest that the athlete has the engine to cope with the work and can perform at that level. It's what your mum and dad give you. It can be trained but it can't be developed to a degree where you can get someone from a 60 to an 80. It's not possible. But if you have that from your genetics, then you've got a chance to make it.

Christina: 24:58

We've had a couple of golden ages of cycling here in Adelaide, haven't we? I mean there was the age with you and then there was the age with O'Grady, is that right?

Mike: 25:07

Yeah. I think from '84 through to present day, there's been a consistent performance level from a lot of athletes during the '80's, '90's and 2000's that have been really significant. I mean Stuart O'Grady, Bret Aiken, and Luke Roberts - they're all local riders that have won Olympic medals, world championship and performed at a very high level.

Christina: 25:30

And all coming from Adelaide?

Mike: 25:31

Yeah. Yeah. Adelaide has never been huge in numbers but we've always had a really good quality of riders, male and female, that have performed at the highest level. I don't know why but it's just one of those things. South Australia has really punched above its weight many, many times in cycling disciplines on road and track, mountain bike and BMX for many, many years. It's having people, like in our time Charlie Walsh, change the whole deal. Because South Australia was considered to be okay, but when it came to national championships the big riders were coming from New South Wales and Victoria - because of the population thing. But when Charlie came along, suddenly things started to change at the national level. We started to win national championships - and it was because of the training we were doing. Then slowly but surely they all realised that these guys are doing something bigger and better than what's been done previously and that's why they're performing and that's why we're getting beaten - so they tried to do catch up after that.

Christina: 26:32

And they're still trying to do catch up.

Mike: 26:34

To a degree, yeah.

Christina: 26:35

I just saw the stats for the 2019 Tour and I gather it generated a record, $70.7 million in economic benefit for the state and 837 full time equivalent jobs. All this from at one level, one race, one week.

Mike: 26:53

Yeah, because the beauty about tour racing, cycling, is unlike sports that are held in stadiums or arenas where they're just in one place, the Tour goes out to the Barossa, Fleurieu Peninsula, Adelaide Hills, goes through 50 odd country towns during the course of the week of racing. It's free to the public. It's international, so all of your ethnic groups, the Italians, the Germans, the French, the Dutch - have all got representatives in the race so they all come out. There's no age demographic. The little kids through to their grandparents enjoy it. So, it has a lot of attributes that make it popular. It's different and it's exciting to see on the road with the entourage, with the police and everything that's happening on the road. So the race has major benefits over a lot of other things that are contained within a stadium or a venue, because it goes out on the road and shares the experience with a lot of people. It goes past where people work, where they live.

Christina: 27:52

It also helps get people fit.

Mike: 27:55

Yeah. I mean there's been an increase in cycle activity of course through the Tour, especially in the early years it was just staggering but yeah - gets people out and about.

Christina: 28:05

When you made the move to take up that initial just one year contract with the Tour - was that the biggest career crossroads for you?

Mike: 28:14

In life things happen and decisions are made that make a big impact on your life and this was one of them from a business point of view for me. I was at the Superdrome and it was becoming difficult out there, with riders turning professional and we were losing them to the domestic scene. So it was not becoming easy and then the Tour possibility came along and I just thought this was a great opportunity to do something different but stay within the sport of cycling. Road cycling of course is different to track.

I've made two major career decisions in my life. Actually three. From a cycling point of view, I had an opportunity to turn professional in 1983. It was after the Commonwealth Games, so between '82 and '84 LA Olympics, and I chose not to turn professional because at the '83 World Championships we finished fourth in the team's pursuit, so I knew that we were close to an Olympic medal and to win an Olympic medal was a dream come true for me. So I thought, I'll stay for another year for LA, try to get in the team and then maybe we might have a chance at the medal. And then we won the gold medal. So, that was a major decision not to turn professional in '83. Then another decision, when I was coaching at SASI, was to continue to coach or go into event management and promotion when the Adelaide Superdrome was built in '93.

I looked at the possibilities. Charlie Walsh was then the head coach so, in '93, in my view, there was a minimum of a 10 year period where Charlie would remain head coach, so I would have to stay at state level for that period until I had an opportunity to become the national coach. I wasn't prepared to do that, so I decided that I'm going to go down the path of a race organiser and manager - and that's what I did. So, that was the second major decision that paid off for me, becoming a promoter and race organiser rather than continue to be a coach. Then the third major business decision was quitting the job at the Superdrome and taking a one year deal to do the first Tour.

Christina: 30:23

Yeah, that's a pretty scary one.

Mike: 30:25

It was, but here we are 23 years later and we're okay.

Christina: 30:31

That's true. You also, you could have been a great footballer I gather.

Mike: 30:35

Well, I've actually milked that a little bit but yeah, I was playing for my school and then I played for Port Adelaide Districts. My cousin played league football for Port Adelaide, Brian Holmes during the '60s when we lived at Alberton, just around the corner from the oval at King Street, Alberton. So I was heavily into the interests of the Port Adelaide Football Club and my ambition was to play for the Magpies and I played for my school, then I played Port Adelaide District Football against the Barossa and so on, and then I was getting personal tuition from Marx Kretchmer from Port Adelaide that was giving me handball and kicking tuition, left and right and all this sort of stuff - and then Chris decided to go to Hanson Reserve one night and ride his bike and that was it. I never kicked a football again.

Christina: 30:24

You've been given the keys to the City of Adelaide. I checked that out on a website. Not many people get it.

Mike: 31:30


Christina: 31:32

How does it feel to get the key to your own city?

Mike: 31:36

It was a beautiful moment because my family, all my friends were at the Town Hall and it was a terrific gathering of people that are close and dear to you. It was a great honour. Adelaide, I've always been a fierce defender of South Australia as an athlete and also as a race organiser. I mean, Adelaide and South Australia to me is where it's always happened and I would never think for a second to live anywhere else because I just like it here. I love it here. So, to be awarded the keys of the city was a big honour for me. I did investigate it a little bit, I was told what are the benefits of the keys to the city, about opening doors. It doesn't open any doors, many doors, but it does give me the privilege of something that was proclaimed back in the 1800's that I have the right, if I choose, to herd my sheep and cattle down the main street of Adelaide as a holder of the key the city.

Christina: 32:33

This is your last year as Tour director?

Mike: 32:34

Yes, it is.

Christina: 32:37

What's next for the race, what's next for cycling in South Australia and what's next for Mike Turtur?

Mike: 32:44

For the race, I mean I direct my last race in January so this will be it in 2020. So I've completed 22 editions of the race. That is beyond my wildest dreams. The decision to stop. I'm 62 in July, so obviously at this time of life you've got to start making decisions as to what the future may hold. Stopping and retiring from the race is something that's been in my mind for a number of years, so it's not something that's just happened in the last few months. I've been thinking about it and planning it for a while. The transition from my directorship to a new person has been carefully planned and worked out and that'll be implemented in the next period.

So, the future of the race I think is really solid and exciting because it continues on a good foundation. We've created a really solid base for the race over the years that we've staged it since '99 so, that's not in question. But I'm excited to see the new person, the new director come along and implement their ideas about the race. The new courses, the new climbs or whatever else they may think would benefit and be different for the race. So I'm looking forward to that because fresh eyes and the ideas are really good for anything. I look forward and I'm excited to see what developments happen on the race when I do leave and there's no reason to suggest why the race might go on for a hundred years - because there's races in Europe that do have a history of a hundred years, many of them.

Christina: 34:16

What's the future for cycling.

Mike: 34:17

The future is bright. I mean, we had a problem with doping that was a serious issue in the '90s that was out of control. But cycling had been singled out and there was a major problem in many sports. It was that just cycling was the only sport that was exposed in the media to the degree that it was. That problem has been managed and it's a lot better. It will never go away, but it's a lot better than what it was - because of the procedures, testing and monitoring and all that type of thing and education. Things have improved greatly since those years. So from that point of view, the sport is solid. It's still a sport for the people and you can see that every time you turn on to see the Tour de France or the Tour here, the thousands of people that support it on the road. Because everyone's ridden a bike in their life and they know how difficult it is. You don't necessarily have to race to know that when you're out riding to school with a headwind and it's up hill, it's bloody hard. People appreciate how difficult it is. That's something that nearly everybody has done, ridden a bike, during some time of their life - so they've got a bit of a connection there. 

So, the race moving forward; the sport - with the Australian Institute of Sport at the Superdrome is a magnificent setup, with high level coaching and facilities there - and Matthew Glaetzer and Stephanie Morton who are both South Australian world champions, leaders in their field; the Olympics coming up in Tokyo. We have riders who train and live here that are going to be gold medal prospects in Tokyo. So we're continuing to be very, very impressive in that area. All in all, I think it's an extremely bright future for the sport.

Christina: 36:02

It's a very exciting sport and a very dangerous sport, isn't it?

Mike: 36:05

Yeah, well that's an element that attracts people too. The speed, the danger are elements that human beings enjoy to watch. I mean that's one of the aspects - when they're coming off a climb in the Tour here at a hundred kilometres an hour, coming off a corkscrew down Montacute Road or Pennys Hill Road down south before they tackle Willunga Hill is a hundred kilometre descent on the bike. I mean there's 130 of them all together and when they hit the climb at Willunga then it's a survival of the best. It's just people love it. They see the suffering and the endeavour and the effort of the riders trying to make every post a winner up the climbs. It's just an aspect of the race or cycling that's been a big attraction to the public for many years.

I never lose my respect for the riders because I know what they go through. I know the danger of the sport when you crash and come close to serious injury or sometimes worse. The chance they take and the requirement to hurt yourself on the bike, especially at the high level, is immense. There's only a handful that can get to that threshold and go above, so it's a big factor in the sport.

Sports that require you to hurt yourself are a lot different to sports that are not oxygen driven and requiring that massive effort. Rowing, cycling, swimming, athletics, running - these are sports that demand that you inflict physical pain on yourself to a level that the normal person could never imagine. People often think because you fit it doesn't hurt. I can tell you ..

Christina: 37:50

You would know.

Mike: 37:51

Well because people see athletes that trained highly at a very high level on a bike running or rowing, they don't lose their style. They still seem to be doing it within, but it's absolutely screaming inside. But what that fitness and training does for you is to allow you to go fast and for a long period, but it also allows you to recover quickly to do it again. It doesn't take away the pain. Nothing can take away the pain.

Christina: 38:19

Final question. What's the future for you?

Mike: 38:22

For me, we've got a place on Yorke Peninsula where I enjoy fishing and I just like getting away and being in the little country towns. I want to explore Yorke Peninsula, every aspect of it during the next period, but also Sandy and I want to continue... we do the Track Down Under, The Advertiser Track Down Under, an event held at The Superdome. So it's getting back to my old roots, if you like, when I was a track promoter. I enjoy organising, especially with the quality of athletes that we have here at the AIS. So, we do that in January each year before the Tour Down Under. I want to try to develop that and maybe make that bigger and better into the future and still keep a hand in regard to management and promotion of events on the track, like the old days.

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The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of the City of Adelaide.