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Down Under Digest #14: A little bit damp

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 13.12.2023 Photography by
Garry Snell
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Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of the Down Under Digest, your guide to all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. This week we’re chatting about some interesting new additions to the Aussie summer racing calendar, some bad weather for our ultra-racing friends, and plenty more besides.

Before we get started, this and every edition of the DUD is made possible by our wonderful members here at Escape. If you aren’t already a member and you’d like to support what we do here, you can help us out by joining. Member or not, you can also sign up to receive this newsletter each week, direct to your inbox. Just mash that big button below and get yourself sorted.

If you’d like to contribute to the DUD in some way – with a story idea, a photo for Big Things Down Under, or something else entirely – please don’t hesitate to reach out. I love hearing from you all! You can get me on email at matt.deneef@escapecollective.com.

Alright, let’s get stuck in.

😎 The Aussie summer just got bigger 😎

You might have seen the news that the Cadel’s Race carnival is expanding in 2024 with the addition of two, mid-week races in the lead-up. On the Thursday the men get a 158 km UCI 1.1 road race, starting in Lorne and finishing in Torquay. A day earlier the women get … a non-UCI-sanctioned crit on one of the Bay Crits circuits.

At a quick glance that disparity is not ideal, especially given Cadel’s Race organisers are “long-time supporters of gender equality” and have offered equal prize money since 2020. So what’s the story? I put that question to race organisers and they got back with a statement that didn’t really answer my questions, but did highlight that the men’s and women’s races will offer equal prize money.

It’s complicated. Times are really tough for cycling event organisers in Australia right now – everything’s more expensive, and sponsor budgets haven’t necessarily increased to keep up. And so difficult decisions need to be made. The way it was explained to me, by someone with inside knowledge of the event, is that it wasn’t feasible to close the Great Ocean Road for a second day (for a women’s race), and so rather than just not holding a women’s event at all, the Geelong Classic was the preferred solution.

Some people will be frustrated by the lack of parity, but if any one from the Cadel’s Race team is reading this, I’m sure they’ll be thinking: “we just created two new races, with equal prize money – give us a break!” So credit where credit’s due – more racing on the Aussie calendar is great to see. Hopefully it keeps building from here.

You can read my full article about the new races at Escape. And speaking of how hard it is to organise cycling events in Australia right now …

😔 More heartache in the gran fondo scene 😔

A few months back I wrote about the challenges facing the gran fondo scene here in Australia, what with the rising cost of event management among other things. At that time, a bunch of big events had been cancelled and now, another couple have been added to that list.

It was bad weather that forced the Giro della Donna into its second postponement this year, so that’s not so much a reflection of the current financial challenges for event organisers, but rather just bad luck. The Dams Challenge in Western Australia, though – that was cancelled recently “after a cost-benefit and risk analysis found the event to be financially unsustainable in the current climate.”

“Significant increases in event and insurance costs; diminished private and public funding potential and tightened household purse strings due to cost-of-living challenges all played their part in the decision,” organisers wrote. The event was first held in 1998.

It’s not clear if the Dams Challenge will return in the future. The Giro della Donna is set to return in November 2024.

💧 A little bit moist 💧

Speaking of bad weather affecting cycling events, spare a thought for those who took part in the Hunt 1000 bikepacking ride from Melbourne to Canberra recently. The route crosses Australia’s High Country which means amazing views and great climbs, but it also means a bunch of river crossings which, in heavy rains, can get a big gnarly.

Behold: Exhibit A:

And Exhibit B:

Not fun. Thanks to James Garriock for the heads up on this one.

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

🏃 Life after cycling: Jesse Featonby 🏃

Last week I made a brief mention of former Mt. Buffalo Strava KOM holder Jesse Featonby, which prompted Escape member Damien Cook to reach out with an update on what Featonby’s up to these days.

During his racing career, Featonby spent a couple seasons racing at the Continental level with the Drapac Pat’s Veg team in 2017 and 2018, and Oliver’s Real Food in 2019. As Damian writes, Featonby (36) is now a runner and triathlete. He’s “got a good engine which he is now putting into use as a marathoner. In ’22 he ran the Melbourne Marathon 2.25.42 and this year he ran 2.21.57. Very, very good running.”

Very speedy indeed.

Image: Jesse Featonby’s Strava profile

📈 A chat with up-and-comer Will Eaves 📈

If you’ve been reading the DUD since it began a few months back, you’ll be familiar with Will Eaves. The 19-year-old ARA-Skip Capital rider had a great end to the year, finishing third overall at the Tour de Kyushu (UCI 2.1) in Japan, then second overall at the high-altitude Trans-Himalaya Cycling Race (UCI 2.2) in China.

The young Aussie had a nice chat recently with U23 Cycling Zone about his journey so far and his goals for 2024 and beyond. Here’s an excerpt from the interview, in which he talks about those two GC podiums late in the year:

“I had a break after racing in Europe, where I wrote down where I wanted to improve, starting with trying to increase my power and lose some weight. Going to Japan, it was a shock to be able to hold on to WorldTour pros on a hilly day.

“Himalayas was more of a sprinters race at altitude, but on one stage, it was really aggressive, and I attacked and got third, before winning some bonus seconds later in the race to get me to 2nd on GC. Racing at altitude is hard, especially the first 10km, but you soon forgot about it and began to feel normal. There is a bit of a power decrease, but that is to be expected, and I slept fine during the race too.”

You can check out the full interview at U23 Cycling Zone.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

🍌 Big Things Down Under 🍌

In today’s edition of Big Things Down Under, we head to Belconnen in the Australian Capital Territory. ‘Ray from Canberra’ sent in this photo of The Big Powerful Owl, an eight-metre high sculpture that keeps watch over a large intersection north-west of Canberra.

Unfortunately, as Ray explains, the Big Powerful Owl has been the target of some ridicule since it was first erected back in 2011. You see, some people believe that when you look at the sculpture from behind, it looks rather, well, phallic. Even Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, has referred to the sculpture as “Canberra’s notorious penis owl’. The local government had to install CCTV cameras around the owl a few years back in an attempt to reduce the amount of graffiti the sculpture attracted.

Image: ABC News

Thanks for sending in your photo, Ray!

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 wrap up this week’s edition of the DUD the same way we normally do: with a bunch of cool bits and bobs from around the traps.

First up, a lovely adventure story from the one and only Andy White over at Fyxo. I’m a sucker for a great cycling adventure and Andy’s been posting stories of his great cycling adventures for as long as I can remember. Gravel roads, Victoria’s stunning high country, chicken parmas at a local pub – this tale’s got it all. 

Image: Fyxo

Speaking of great gravel adventures, check out the ride Escape member (and 2024 Team BridgeLane recruit) Matilda Raynolds did the other day: the 300 km Alps 2 Ocean Trail on New Zealand’s South Island. She and a bunch of mates covered the full 300 km in around 12 hours 20 minutes of riding and judging by the photos (and video) it was a stellar day out.

And finally, here’s Aussie road pro Jensen Plowright (Alpecin-Deceuninck) just straight-up reinventing the on-bike camera game. This is just art.

🙏 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.

If you’d like to receive this round-up via email each week, you can sign up via the button below. And if you’ve got a story you think I should include in the next edition, please reach out.

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