Down Under Digest #13: ‘Career goal achieved’

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 06.12.2023 Photography by
Garry Snell
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G’day and welcome back to another edition of the Down Under Digest, your weekly guide to all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. Thanks for stopping by.

It’s been a while since I’ve scrolled through social media posts from a cycling event and felt a real sense of FOMO. I got it last week with the Tour of Bright though. Particularly that final stage, people racing up Mt. Buffalo – the best climb in Australia – in stunning weather, KOMs and QOMs tumbling, big names in attendance. I wish I’d been there, either covering the event or, better still, just riding my bike up Mt. Buffalo.

You can read on for more from the event. It might just be a humble club race, but as you’ll see, the Tour of Bright continues to punch above its weight.

Before we get started today though, I hope you’ll consider a) signing up to get this newsletter sent direct to your inbox each week (hit the big button below) and b) signing up to be an Escape Collective member. Every bit of support helps keep the lights on and allows us to do all kinds of cool stuff. And of course, if you’ve got a story tidbit that you think people should know about, or a photo for Big Things Down Under, please reach out!

Alright, let’s do it.

⛰️ ‘Career goal achieved. Time to rack it’ ⛰️

Reigning Aussie champ Luke Plapp was very clear about his goals for the Tour of Bright: win the time trial that goes right past his hobby farm, and set a new Strava KOM on Mt. Buffalo. Fair to say he achieved both those goals.

Plapp wasn’t in the winning break on stage 1 and finished some 4:10 down but in the stage 2 ITT he put more than 50 seconds into his closest rival in a 15.8 km time trial, moving to within 2:43 of the lead. And then on the Mt. Buffalo queen stage, well, Plapp did as you’d expect him to do.

He initially had Luke Burns (BridgeLane) for company on the stage-ending climb, and then he didn’t. Plapp won the stage by 2:31, enough to win the tour overall by 1:15. More importantly, he’d set a new Mt. Buffalo Strava KOM of 41:18. That’s more than three minutes faster than the previous mark, set by former Continental rider Jesse Featonby. As Plapp wrote on his Strava file: “Career goal achieved. Time to rack it.”

Plapp wasn’t the only one setting a blistering time on Buffalo. In fact, the top seven times and 16 of the top 18 on Strava are now from that Tour of Bright stage. Speedy.

Meanwhile in Women’s A Grade, Sarah Gigante (Movistar) was being similarly destructive. She won stage 1 atop Tawonga Gap, came seventh in the time trial (on a road bike), then took nearly two minutes off Justine Barrow’s Mt. Buffalo QOM to win the stage and the overall. Her winning margin: 4:58.

Sure, this is the Tour of Bright we’re talking about, not the Tour de France, and we’d expect the top pros to beat even the best local hitters. But there’s still something cool about seeing world-class riders on the local stage. I’m sure a lot of riders got a buzz out of racing alongside the likes of Plapp and Gigante. And plus, it shows both are hitting some good form in the lead-up to Nationals, which is less than a month away now, and which both are targeting.

If you want more from the Tour of Bright, follow the links for full results from all grades, and a nice breakdown of the Mt. Buffalo day from my former colleague at The Other Place, now Aussie editor at Cyclingnews, Simone Guiliani. 

? Warburton MTB Park clears its latest hurdle ?

Some good news for MTBers this week – Flow Mountain Bike reports that the Victorian Government has signed off on its latest approvals for the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination, meaning construction can finally (finally!) get underway in 2024.

The Warby MTB project has been over a decade in the making and was the first-ever project of its kind to require a hugely laborious Environmental Effects Statement. Renowned trailbuilders World Trail are now set to start work in April 2024, and they’ll have plenty of work to do – there’s over 100 km of trails to be built.

If you want to read more about the ins and outs of this latest round of approvals, check out Flow for all the details.

? What we learned from the 2023 Aussie NRS ?

Australia’s National Road Series is over for another year, making it the perfect time to look back at what the series has taught us in 2023. Who were the star performers? Was BridgeLane’s dominance actually kind of a problem? What sort of state is the NRS in more generally?

Team BridgeLane, the dominant team of the 2023 NRS.

With the help of race director and TV commentator/producer Scott McGrory I tried to answer those questions. You can read the full breakdown at Escape, but here’s an instructive quote from Scott about the health of the series:

“It’s struggling. We can’t sugarcoat it. Each of the organisers have their challenges around putting the events on. It’s becoming really expensive. Whether it’s cost of barriers, cost of workforce – doesn’t matter what it is, everything is going to be more expensive. Cost of police is getting more expensive, and we can’t have road races and rolling road closures without the cooperation and the work of the police.

“So there’s a whole bunch of factors around why it’s become more expensive, but that really is hurting the series. It makes it harder for the organisers to come up with the funds and the infrastructure required to have a safe race at the level that we want it.”

Got a story tip? I’d love to hear from you! Please reach out via email.

? Traffic marshall charged after Masters Nationals collision ?

Remember that horrible story about the rider, Rhianon Norton, who collided with a truck that got onto the time trial course at the Australian Masters Nationals Championships in September? It turns out the traffic marshall involved in the incident has been charged by police, for both “negligently causing injury” and, interestingly, “perjury”. It would seem the marshall has been accused of lying in a sworn statement they initially made to police.

The marshall appeared at an initial hearing at the Shepparton Magistrates Court a week or so back and their case will continue in the same court in April 2024.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Big Things Down Under ?

This week’s edition of Big Things Down Under comes to us from Garry Snell at the Big Rainbow Trout just outside of Harrietville in Victoria’s High Country (just down the road from Bright).

This sculpture lives out the front of the Mountain Fresh Trout and Salmon Farm where, fun fact, you can pick up fresh trout for $26/kg or fresh salmon for $34/kg. #notanad

Anyway, kudos to Garry for this great picture – an A+ demonstration of the form. Bike and rider in the foreground, Big Thing in the background, landscape orientation. Chef’s kiss.

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 … ❤️

Let’s round out this week’s edition of the DUD with a handful of cool bits and bobs from around the place.

First up: you might remember from a previous edition that marine scientist Annie Ford was riding from Tasmania to Queensland to raise awareness about seismic blasting. Well, Annie has just finished her journey and judging by her Instagram posts, it’s been an amazing adventure. She did 3,926 km in 39 days of riding with a whole bunch of film screenings along the way to raise awareness about an issue she cares deeply about. Chapeau, Annie!

Someone else finished their memorable cycling adventure this week too: former Aussie road champ Nicole Frain. She and her partner Sven just did a big ol’ loop of Tassie, covering around 1,150 km in 10 days of riding, finishing up in Launceston with a lazy 244 km day with 2,900 metres of climbing. Ouch.

And finally, this is a lovely video from filmmaker Dominic Hook about Aussie domestic racer Elizabeth Nuspan. As Elizabeth explains in the video, she was racing over in Europe a few years back when she was hit by a car driver in a roundabout, fracturing her pelvis in multiple places and requiring 42 days in hospital.

She’s since returned to Australia and has been “reborn” as a mountain biker for the Roxsolt Liv SRAM team, where she was part of the winning duo at the Cape to Cape MTB race in Western Australian a few months back.

? Until next time … ?

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