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Down Under Digest #12: Aussie ingenuity

Keep up to date on all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling with our weekly round-up.

Hello and welcome to another edition of the Down Under Digest, your weekly round-up of all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. If I’m honest, I probably thought there’d be less news at this time of year, what with the pro racing season being done, but as it turns out there’s still plenty to talk about.

Before we dive into that though, let me remind you that you can get this newsletter sent direct to your inbox each week if you like. There’s a big button below that will get you where you need to go. And if you aren’t already an Escape member, but you like all the cool stuff we’re doing here, it’d be amazing if you could think about signing up. If it weren’t for our members, there’d literally be no Escape.

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Alright, let’s get stuck into it.

🇮🇹 Caleb’s calendar is clearer 🇮🇹

When it was first announced that Caleb Ewan was ‘coming home’ to Jayco AlUla next year, one of the first questions we had was: “How’s that going to work, given Dylan Groenewegen is on the team too?” Would the two sprinters be fighting for one Tour de France spot?

Well, thanks to some reporting from Tuttobiciweb and Cyclingnews, we now seem to have an answer. It seems Groenewegen will be Jayco’s man for the Tour de France, while Ewan will race the Giro d’Italia.

Caleb Ewan celebrates winning a Giro stage with two hands in the air.
Ewan winning a stage of the 2021 Giro.

If I had to guess, I’d say Caleb would probably rather do the Tour than the Giro, but after a bad year this year, he’s probably just happy to have a fresh start and get stuck in. 

Speaking of which: After starting his season in Australia (presumably with Nationals and Cadel’s Race, in addition to his confirmed started at TDU), Ewan will then build up to his first big target: Milan-San Remo (where he and fellow Aussie Michael Matthews will lead Jayco AlUla).

🍷 Big names head back to the TDU 🍷

We already knew Caleb Ewan would race TDU and now we’ve got a clearer idea of who else will be there for the men’s race. For starters, Ewan will go head-to-head with Sam Welsford in the sprints, with Welsford joining Bora-Hansgrohe in the new year. Kiwi sprinter Corbin Strong is also expected to be there for Israel-Premier Tech.

Defending champion Jay Vine is due to return and with Willunga Hill back in the race after a hiatus, Vine will again be among the riders to beat. Vine is also the Aussie TT champ but it’s not clear yet whether he’ll defend that title in early January.

And then there’s Jack Haig who is set to race TDU for the first time since 2015 – when he was part of the UniSA-Australia national team. Haig tells Escape he won’t race Nationals or Cadel’s Race – there’s a Bahrain Victorious team camp during Nationals that the team wants him at, and the team isn’t racing Cadel’s.

👏 From world champ to rider agent 👏

It’s been a couple years now since Aussie track star Nettie Edmondson retired. In that time she certainly hasn’t sat around wondering what to do next – she’s started up a rider management agency which now represents more than 20 athletes, most of them Australian.

Nettie Edmondson salutes to the crowd in a track race while wearing the Australian colours.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Nettie earlier this week about her life after cycling and it was fascinating to hear her perspective. My favourite part of the interview was when she explained how she developed the skill of negotiating contracts:

I remember when I was 21 I asked the team that I was in whether I had a contract for the next year, given I won three major races in the calendar as a 21 year old. They said, ‘Yep, we’ll send it to you soon.’ And then a month later, still no contract. A month later, still no contract. And I said, ‘OK, well, are you gonna send me the contract?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, yeah, here it is.’ And it was for $0. And I said, ‘Well, that’s not really fair. Can we have a meeting?’

I had a meeting a week later and I had three middle-aged white males in a room looking at me, telling me that I was worth $0, and that they were doing me a favour by having me in the team. That was a defining moment for me. There have been a lot of moments since then that I’ve had to fight for my worth throughout my career as a female cyclist. I think through these moments you naturally get that fire and that passion to do something about it.

So that’s what motivates me, when I’m in these meetings on behalf of my athletes. These athletes are worth so much more and they deserve way more than a lot of them are offered. It might also just be that they don’t know their value. So being able to chat with these athletes and explain that side of things is equally important.

You can check out the full interview with Nettie at the link.

🤯 Munda Biddi Dreaming 🤯

According to his website, ultra-endurance cyclist Jack Thompson’s riding “pushes the boundary of what is humanly possible on a bike”. Based on his latest mind-bending effort, that’s pretty hard to argue.

Last weekend Thompson set a new fastest known time (FKT) on the Munda Biddi Trail in Western Australia, covering the 1,067 km from Mundaring to Albany in just 2 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes. That’s an average of 426 km per day, off-road, in searing heat, with some sections on foot, and 60 km/h+ headwinds for the last 140 km. Yucko.

Image: Zac Williams Photography

Apparently this latest ride provided “some of the toughest moments he’s ever endured on a bike”, which is saying something for a guy who broke the Guinness World Record for most kilometres ridden in seven days (3,505 km – a record that’s since been broken) and who, in one year, completed 52 Everestings and accumulated more than 1 million metres of elevation gain (almost 20,000 m a week!). And those are just some of his achievements.

One of the coolest things about Thompson’s riding is that he often raises money and awareness for charity along the way, particularly for mental health charities (he was diagnosed with clinical depression at 13.) This latest project was no different – after finishing the ride, Thompson’s been doing a bunch of charity fundraising events at schools in WA, sharing his story and the ways he combats his mental health challenges.

A documentary film about Thompson’s Munda Biddi ride will be released in early 2024.

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✂️ Snippets ✂️

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⛰️ Coming up … ⛰️

OK, it’s not the biggest race we’ll report on all year, and there’s certainly a bit of geographic bias going on here (love me some Victorian Alps), but the Tour of Bright is happening this coming weekend and it’s worth talking about.

Arguably Australia’s biggest amateur stage race, the Tour of Bright has been a vital proving ground for up-and-coming riders for 20 years now. Some bloke called Cadel Evans raced it and Richie Porte won A grade in 2007 – the same year Michael Matthews won B grade. And who could forget that Escape CEO Wade Wallace won Master’s A grade back in 2008!

More-recent winners of the mountainous stage race include Sarah Gigante (2019), Lucy Kennedy (2016), and Ben Dyball (2015). Note that Dyball won that 2015 edition ahead of future WorldTour pros Lucas Hamilton, Brendan Canty, Ben O’Connor, and Michael Storer.

Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) and Sarah Gigante (Movistar) headline the A-grade fields for this weekend but with plenty of strong domestic riders in attendance, the competition should be fierce. We’ll have a brief recap in next week’s edition of the DUD.

🍌 Big Things Down Under 🍌

No bike-against-a-big-thing photo this week, but with any luck it’ll be back real soon. Have you got one of Australia’s Big Things close to you? Or travelling past one? We’d love to see a photo of your bike parked up against it. Bonus points if you can snap it in landscape mode – perfect for the feature image up top of this newsletter! Hit us up here.

❤️ And finally … ❤️

To wrap things up today, here are a handful of interesting items that came across my desk this week and were worth sharing.

For starters, an email from Escape member Neil Payne who was following up on last week’s discussion about WorldTour pros coming home to Australia and New Zealand for the off-season. As Neil wrote, a recent Tuesday night race at the Te Awamutu Sports Cycling Club on New Zealand’s North Island didn’t just have pro sprinter Corbin Strong (Israel-Premier Tech) in attendance – WorldTour rider Rui Oliveira (UAE Team Emirates) was there too (Oliveira’s partner and fellow pro racer, Michaela Drummond, is from Te Awamutu).

Oliveira and Strong ended up sprinting it out for the win in A grade, and it was super close (see image below). Oliveira got the win ahead of Strong, with none other than Bolton Equities Black Spoke’s George Jackson in third. Fair line-up for a club race.

Image: “Arthur” / Te Awamutu Sports Cycling Club

Down on New Zealand’s South Island, Edition Zero Gravel was held last weekend and judging by the many photos from the event, it was a super day out in a stunning part of the world.

And finally today, I got a great chuckle out of this email from Mike Clucas, founder of online cycling app FulGaz, which had the subject line “The ultimate Aussie upgrade?” I’ll let Mike tell the story:

“I was at the Hamilton Island Triathlon last week, and a guy decided to do the whole race in thongs. He felt he wasn’t getting the power down, so he “upgraded” his bike by zip-tying a pair of thongs to his bike. Total shoe and pedal weight would be roughly 30% lighter than Dura Ace / high Nimbl ultimate combo, so he could be on to something…?”

🙏 Until next time … 🙏

Thanks for reading! This and every other Down Under Digest was made possible by our wonderful members here at Escape Collective. If you’ve already signed up, thank you. If you haven’t yet, but you’d like to, please do. Just click the link in the top right of the page to get started.

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