Participants in both the Men’s and Women’s Road races will ride the region’s famous Sea Cliff Bridge, the images and videos no doubt then being forever etched into cycling history.
Heading to the Gong for the 2022 World Championships? Here local rider and long time BA contributor Luke Meers offers a guide to the region.
Firstly whilst we now call these lands Wollongong or the Illawarra it is important to acknowledge that the entire course for the world championships lies on what has been Dharawal Country for thousands of years. In September it will be spring time according to our usual European understanding, but the Dharawal people have six seasons of the year and September falls in Murraiyunggory season marked by the changing temperatures associated with this time.
What an honour to be able to enjoy this beautiful land which has such a rich heritage. If you get the chance to visit us here in Wollongong for the racing we hope you enjoy the privilege of riding, cheering and having fun on Dharawal land.
Starting in Helensburgh and finishing in Wollongong, the course has three main sections.
Section 1 The approach
Departing Helensburgh (south of The Royal National Park), the riders descend Bald Hill from Stanwell Tops while the race is still neutralised. Once at the bottom of this descent, the race will be on and riders will be battling to get in the break as the peloton flies along the stunning coast road through the northern suburbs.
This part of the course will only be utilised in the road races on the final weekend of the championships and boasting beautiful rolling coastal roads these are an essential place to ride when in the Illawarra (more on this later).
Section 2 Mount Keira loop
After going through the centre of Wollongong, the riders head out to West Wollongong and then tackle the biggest single climb of the race: Mount Keira. This is “the” climb of the Wollongong area, a beautiful 5.8km climb that averages 6.4%. The average gradient doesn’t tell the whole story of the climb though.
It starts very hard with the initial kilometre known locally as the kicker, which averages around 10%. The climb eases off after this for the final 5km which are steadier and will be fast enough that draft will be very important.
This climb comes early enough in the race, particularly the men’s race, that it will not be a race decider, but it will likely thin the field out somewhat. From here the course winds back down through Mount Kembla, a windy and at times steep and technical descent that will test the confidence and skills.
The course then winds back through some fairly wide and flat roads back to Wollongong’s city beach for the loops that will comprise the bulk of the interesting racing for all the events across the week.
The City Circuit
The city circuit is a weird one when ridden in traffic. However, on closed roads during the event, it should provide a super tough and entertaining circuit. From the start/finish area at City Beach, the course flows inland through the city and into the suburbs, it winds past the Botanic Gardens (a great option for family setup during the races) and then up to the main climb of the city loop Ramah Avenue.
The approach road to this climb is also noteworthy, Dumfries Avenue features 550 metres averaging about 7%, and the riders immediately turn right and have only about 20 seconds respite before turning up what will surely be the deciding climb of each of the elite races.
The 10% Ramah Avenue
Ramah Avenue (depending on where you measure from) is about 1km at 10%, but it is a climb of two halves: steep (15%), brief reprieve, and steep again. You know a climb is steep when you’re in the section that comparitively feels quite “easy” and then you look down at the computer to realise you’re still on a 7% climb. The final kick to the top exceeds 10% once again. The current KOM for the Ramah climb is about two and a half minutes, long enough to cause havoc in the bunch.
Once at the top, the riders take a couple of right turns to descend back down towards sea level; there aren’t sections of note along the final parts of the course in terms of difficulty but there are some great viewing options (discussed later). The finish is pan flat ready for a small bunch sprint or solo winner. It will be spectacular viewing along the road in front of Wollongong City Beach.
This circuit at just over 17km and around about 250m of climbing doesn’t feel too challenging when ridden once but six laps for the elite women and 12 laps for the men will make this a leg-snapping route which, combined with the lead-in course, makes a total of about 4000m elevation.
The TT Courses
The time trial courses will use the same circuit with the exception of the Ramah Avenue climb, so some of the viewing suggestions are relevant across all these events.
The schedule for the nine days in September is split into two sections, the first six days are all the time trial events around the city circuit. There is a training day on either side of this. Then Friday 23rd of September contains the Junior and U23 men’s races (just on the city circuit). Saturday has the junior women tackling the city circuit four times and then the elite women’s race starting in Helensburgh, taking in the Keira loop and then six city circuits.
Finally, Sunday finishes the championships with the men’s elite road race. Each event will be exciting viewing, particularly on the circuit when you get to watch the riders come past multiple times.
Top 5 vantage points
Here are my top suggestions of places to view the races from.
Ramah Avenue and Dumfries Avenue
This will be where the race is decided, the steep climb of Ramah Avenue will, I’m predicting, have a Willunga Hill type atmosphere. That means a lot of people, but also a lot of fun. Get here early to try and get a spot but also just be prepared to be part of the crowd and enjoy the atmosphere. Dumfries Avenue will possibly be a bit less crowded but the climb there will possibly be a solid leg loosener before Ramah and could see some lively racing. Also Dumfries is listed as a feed zone/dump location, so around this spot could to pick up a bidon souvenir.
Wollongong Harbour area
This will be a bustling and really fun place to watch the race from. You’ll get to see the riders each lap, and then in between, you can wander around what is sure to be a whole lot of great stalls and installations around the Lang Park and Flagstaff Hill areas. Take in the two lighthouses, maybe have a quick dip in the ocean, enjoy the harbour and I’m sure much more. Whilst there won’t be too much racing action in terms of attacks here, to be able to watch the finish of a World Championship race will be amazing!
Wollongong’s beautiful Botanic Gardens lie in Gwynneville right on the city circuit. If you’re wanting a slightly more chilled place to park up for the day but still get to see the race, this is a great option. Set up a picnic near the Murphys Avenue entrance of the Gardens and walk 20m over to the road to enjoy the race each time it comes past. Perfect. There is a great playground here for the families to utilise too.
Mount Keira Rd – Gwynneville
Whilst the Mount Keira climb may not decide the race it will be fantastic to see the pros hit the climb hard. Snagging a spot to watch about 800m in to the climb, before the water tank on the right, will not only give beautiful vistas across Wollongong but will also allow you to watch the riders approaching from a distance.
My recommendation is to watch the Mt Keira ascent from here, then move to somewhere else on the city circuit to enjoy the remaining laps. The Gwynneville village area is quite close to here, it’s on the city circuit, and boasts some nice cafes and possibly less crowded viewing than the hectic City Beach area.
Elliotts Road Bridge (western side)
There is a unique spot on the course on the western end of the bridge on Elliots road where you can watch the riders approach, pass under you then loop around to go right by you over the bridge. This is in Fairy Meadow on the city circuit after Ramah Avenue and before the riders make it back to the coast. I really think this will be a fun spot to view from.
Enjoy watching the peloton from above and then see them kick hard as they hit the ascent of the bridge to ride straight past you. This spot will make for an easy escape too as there are no permanent road closures north of here.
The Illawarra is an absolute treasure trove of places to ride. It has the incredibly fortunate geography of being sandwiched between the escarpment and the ocean. As a result, for cyclists, there are options from flat rides to short punchy climbs through to long ascents.
Likely things you’ll encounter are ocean views, quiet backstreets and a range of forests. It is a tough place to be a cyclist. Here are a few great options of where to ride. For more detailed routes, visit the BA Strava page where I’ll have them uploaded as downloadable courses.
Mount Keira/Kembla loop (~30km)
As mentioned in the route description Mount Keira is a manageable and beautiful climb only a handful of kilometres away from the CBD, the road will be open during the week too as the climb will only be used for the Elite races.
Try and grab a spot on the Strava leaderboard or simply enjoy the climb. If you’re keen you can also turn left at the top and descend Mount Kembla, as the road race does then climb Mount Kembla as well. It is a more varied climb with pitches over 12% at times making it more difficult to pace well. Both climbs are lovely.
You could even stop for an ale at the iconic Mount Kembla pub on your way past. If you’re riding these climbs before (or after) daylight hours, just look out for the local wildlife when descending. I’ve had more than a few close encounters with deer, bush turkeys, lyrebirds and echidna here.
North to Helensburgh and RNP (feat bald hill) (50-120km)
Escape the CBD and head north. The coast road is beautiful as it winds its way towards Southern Sydney. Enjoy the rolling terrain doing the reverse direction of the road race course. Tackle Bald Hill, a 2km climb at around 10% then head into the Royal National Park for some beautiful forested roads with great road surfaces. Keep heading north for as long as you like before turning around and making the return trip along the same stunning roads.
Local punchy climbs (30-60km)
If you’re after something a little shorter but want a workout, you can still head north but take a few turns left (west) and find some of the many challenging sub-1km climbs up the escarpment. The locals all know about the challenges of the climbs up Hill St, Asquith St, Cater St, Denmark St and Morrison Ave. Expect gradients of above 15% on some of these climbs but the pain ends in a few minutes. At the top of the climbs just make sure to steer clear of any potholes caused by excessive vomiting from local riders over the years.
Lake Loop (~60km)
For something flat, you can head south of Wollongong and do a loop around Lake Illawarra. You’ll get some coastal views and lovely inland vistas of farmland and rolling hills.
An extended version of the lake loop keeps you heading south to Kiama at which point you can turn inland to Jamberoo and either explore some of the tough climbs such as Saddleback Mountain and Jamberoo Pass or simply head north from Jamberoo through Albion Park and Dapto on your way back to Wollongong. This is one of my favourite rides, the scenery around Jamberoo in particular is just stunning and the rolling terrain is super fun and flowing.
Macquarie Pass/Southern Highlands (80-200km)
For those wanting some longer epics, head south to Albion Park and then up Macquarie Pass (12km @ 6%) to find yourself in the Southern Highlands which offer an abundance of quiet country roads to explore. You could head to Roberston or venture further to Bowral or even down into Kangaroo Valley, from where you’ll have to do some serious climbing to either make your way over to Berry (then Kiama) or back up Barrengary Pass to retrace your steps.
There are almost unlimited options to pick up in the highlands and they are pretty much all good with plenty of food and drink options along the way.
Local’s guide on Top 5 non-bike activities
While in the area you may as well enjoy a few activities off the bike.
Swim Ocean Pools
There is a myriad of beautiful ocean pools (three saltwater pools and nine official rock pools, though there are more) along the Illawarra coast. The water will still be fairly chilly in September but nothing gets the blood flowing like a quick dip in a beautiful location. Emerging research also suggests cold immersion therapy may have numerous performance and recovery benefits. For great pools try out the Continental pool very close to the race finish line, Towradgi rock pool, Wombarra rock pool or head down to Kiama and try the pool near the blow hole.
As mentioned, the Royal National Park south of Sydney is chock full of amazing walks. Walk the spectacular “coast track” and find some natural beauties such as the figure 8 pools or wedding cake rock. The National Parks NSW website has all the details required.
More locally, Mount Keira and Kembla have beautiful walking tracks, particularly the “ring tracks” on both mountains. These are locations of significance for the Dharawal people and contain simply amazing combinations of forests and coastal views. Mt Keira summit park has sections that offer explanations of some Indigenous stories from the area.
This will no doubt be fairly busy but the Blue Mile is a section of walking/bike path near Wollongong Harbour and the lighthouses. If you’re bringing the family, there are playgrounds in this area too.
Wollongong has some of the best beaches in the world. They are all quite beautiful but I would personally recommend heading to Port Kembla beach and enjoying the long sandy expanse stretching south for kilometres or going for a swim in the free pool which boasts stunning views of the coast. Just North of Port Kembla beach is an Indigenous walk that steps the participant through some local history.
Cringilla Mountain Bike Park
This newly-developed area contains 11km of quality mountain biking trails for all abilities. If you’re further north you could try out the equally impressive Helensburgh Bike Park.
Balinese Spice Magic (BSM) has been a local favourite since 2014. Bringing the spirit of Bali to the heart of Wollongong, BSM is the place to nourish your body and get your Bali fix. BSM sources their produce locally, organically, and has strong ties to the community through their regular soup kitchens. BSM has an extensive Balinese menu that provides many options for meat lovers and vegan eaters. Our menu is 95% gluten free and given a bit of notice, they’ll do the best we can to meet most dietary requirements.
They are open for Dinners Tuesdays to Saturdays from 5 pm onwards and Lunches Fridays and Saturdays 11 am to 2:30 pm.
Booking can be made via 02 4227 1033 or BSMreservation@gmail.com
There are too many quality cafes to mention. Wollongong has long had a thriving food and coffee scene thanks to the rich diversity of cultures and nations represented in our local population. Here are a few convenient caffeine retailers with good coffee and suitable bike parking.
Goodies Coffee / Millers’ Local Bakehouse
A quirky cafe about 500m from the CBD. Not heaps of space but quality brew and great baked goods due to the hole-in-the-wall bakery.
Kiss and Drop
A small cafe not far from the base of Mount Keira. Named due to its proximity to the drop-off location of the local school.
Wilde Cafe/ Black Market Roasters
This northern gem is in Thirroul and the elite races will go past it on the lead-in section.
Flat White with One
About 8km north of Wollongong this is a great cafe in a quiet location (Russell Vale).
A great cafe about 5km south of the CBD (Unanderra), it is a convenient stop on the way back to Wollongong from one of the southern rides.
Cafes Near The Finish
These quality small cafes are all within about a kilometre of the finish line but far enough away that they may not be overly crowded – Diggies Kiosk, Lee and Me, Uncle Earl’s, Lili J, Café Léchappé, Utopia.
While coffee is great during the day, as the light fades there are plenty of quality local breweries, wine bars, gin bars and more to help quench the thirst. Many offer great food as well. Here are just a selection of local recommendations: Five Barrels Brewing (Wollongong), Rueb Goldberg Brewing Machine (Tarrawanna), Resin Brewing (Bulli), Seeker Brewing (Unanderra), Principle Brewing (Fairy Meadow), Wine in Wollongong CBD:, Night Parrot, The Throsby, Sonny’s Wine Shop.