Down Under Digest #15: The biggest race of the year

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 20.12.2023 Photography by
Jan Aalders
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Hello and welcome to the final edition of the Down Under Digest for 2023! We’ll be taking a week off next week before the madness of the Aussie summer of cycling begins. Before we get there though, there’s plenty in this week’s DUD to tide you over.

First up, a couple of pieces of housekeeping. This and every edition of the DUD is made possible by our wonderful members at Escape Collective. If you’re a member already, thank you for your support. It means more than you probably realise. If you aren’t, why not give yourself an early Christmas present that sets you up perfectly for 2024? You can join at the link.

If you’d like to receive the DUD in your inbox each week, to ensure you never miss an edition, hit that big long button below. And finally, if you’ve got a story or some info you think people might be interested to know, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Alright, let’s get started.

? The biggest race of the year ?

You thought all the important races were done for the year, right? You thought the pros were done smashing each other for 2023 and were focusing on 2024, right? Wrong. The biggest race in Australia is coming up in less than a week: the Boxing Day Papa’s Ride in Perth.

OK, so it’s not an official race, and it might sort of maybe be held on open roads, but if Jai Hindley calls it his favourite race, who am I to argue?

The Papa’s bunch ride is a Perth institution and has been running for decades now. Public holiday editions are notoriously fast. And Boxing Day Papa’s? Well that’s the one to be at. It’s a ride the local pros love, and which hundreds of other cyclists ride out to watch. Seriously: check out the video below from last year’s edition, courtesy of the Press Room Podcast

Last year’s Boxing Day Papa’s had Sam Welsford, Jai Hindley, Ben O’Connor, Luke Durbridge, and Harry Sweeny all in attendance – quite the squad. Who will turn up next week?

? Austral and the mado ?

From the biggest race in Australia to one of the oldest. The 126th edition of the Austral Wheelrace was held this past weekend, with some of Australia’s best track riders taking part in the venerable handicap race at the DISC velodrome in Melbourne.

In the women’s event Georgia Baker avoided a late crash to win from scratch – her second Austral victory – ahead of Sophie Edwards (40 metres) and Keira Will (60 m).

In the men’s event, Graeme Frislie won off scratch, ahead of former winner Kell O’Brien (scratch) and Liam Walsh (50 m).

Also held this past weekend at DISC were the Aussie Madison championships. As you’d probably expect, Georgia Baker and Alex Manly defended their title in the women’s race.

Meanwhile, Kell O’Brien and Blake Agnoletto took the victory in the men’s event.

? A doozy of a neo-pro year ?

Young Aussie Alyssa Polites didn’t have the best neo-pro season. She came into the year with long COVID and it took her months to get back to full health. And then when she did, a crash at the Tour de l’Avenir left her with a ruptured spleen.

I had the chance to chat to Alyssa this week and, despite her tough introduction to pro racing, she was impressively upbeat. You can read the full interview at Escape, but here are a couple of excerpts, in which she talks about rupturing her spleen and the aftermath:

“My bike literally just stopped underneath me and I catapulted. There was this culvert ditch – it was grassy, luckily – but it was this curved ditch and I just went bang, and I landed on my ribs. And at first I thought I just winded myself. I was like, ‘Ah, give me a couple of minutes. I’ll be fine to get back on.’ And then the adrenaline started to wear off and I was like, ‘Oh, no, I’ve done something.’

And then later in hospital …

“They sent me into ICU and they kept coming in and out of the room. ‘You’ll only be here for two weeks and then you can go home to Australia, no worries.’ And I was ‘OK, I can do that. That’s easy.’ And then they came back in again. ‘Nope, five weeks you’ll have to stay in Europe.’ ‘OK, I can do that. That’s like a month and a bit. Should go pretty quickly. Everyone’s not starting their offseason until the end of that. That’s fine.’  And then they came back to me again, and they’re like ‘Nup, you’ve got to stay here for three months.’ And I was like ‘I can’t do that!’

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? Gigante leaves Movistar early ?

She was contracted with Movistar until the end of 2024 but Australia’s Sarah Gigante will now leave the Spanish team at the end of this year.

Movistar announced on Wednesday that a “mutual agreement” had been reached between the two parties in October, and that Gigante’s time with the team will end on the final day of 2023.

The reasons for the early split haven’t been made public and it’s not yet clear who Gigante will ride with in 2024. She is planning on racing the Australian Road Nationals in the first week of January, however.

Straya’s got talent

AusCycling has unveiled a new virtual talent ID program which uses Zwift to identify the next crop of talent in Australian cycling. The national body is looking for a) 16-to-22-year-olds with no background in high-performance sport; b) potential paracyclists of all ages; c) people of all ages with previous experience in high-performance sport.

There are a few ways to try out for the program, but the most eye-catching is via a “30-minute test on Zwift”. That test includes efforts of 15 seconds, three minutes, and 12 minutes, “designed to test your critical power”.

AusCycling writes that “candidates who hit benchmarks will proceed to further testing, with successful participants offered a development opportunity.”

If that sounds like it could be up your alley, you can read more at the AusCycling website and at the Virtual Talent ID homepage.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Big Things Down Under ?

Our roadtrip to Australia’s Big Things continues this week with a visit to Edenhope in Victoria. It’s there that we find reader Jan Aalders and the Big Bigeye Scad.

Apparently this giant fish sculpture was one of 72 sea creatures created for the opening ceremony of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games – one for each nation – and then distributed to local councils afterwards in an attempt to boost tourism. The bigeye scad sculpture was designed to represent St. Vincent and the Grenadines at the Comm Games as fried jackfish (another name for bigeye scad) and breadfruit is supposedly that country’s national dish.

If it looks like this photo of the statue is a little old, that’s because it is. It was taken back in 2007, the year after the Comm Games.

Thanks for sending in your photo, Jan!

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.

? A DUD-free Christmas ?

You might have noticed that Christmas is on our doorstep. That doesn’t just mean it’s time to listen to snow-themed carols that really don’t fit the Aussie/Kiwi Christmas vibe – it also means the Escape crew is taking a little break.

As noted above, there won’t be a DUD next week but we’ll return with what is sure to be a bumper edition in the first week of January. We’ll be reporting from the Australian Road Nationals by then and there should be plenty to talk about.

In the meantime though, here’s a little something from the Escape team for those of you that decide to sign up in the silly season. Support Escape as an annual member and as a special Christmas gift we’ll include a free T-shirt from our store. In addition to the shirt, you’ll get full access to all Escape Collective content, plus you’ll also get member-only episodes of the Geek Warning, Performance Process, and Wheel Talk podcasts.

Really, it’s the perfect gift to yourself this Christmas. Follow the link to get stuck in.

(Oh, and if you’re looking for a Christmas carol that maybe does feel a little more relevant to modern day Australia, allow me to (self-indulgently) point you towards this (slightly depressing) little ditty that my brother Ash and I wrote.)

❤️ And finally … ❤️

Let’s wrap up the final DUD of 2023 with a number of interesting treasures that found their way across my desk this week.

Jensen Plowright caught my attention last week with his game-changing video skills while descending Kinglake near Melbourne. This week he attracted a different sort of attention: from a New South Wales police officer.

Seems like Plowright was a Very Naughty Boy, crossing the centre line while out riding with his mates. For his troubles, The Plow copped a fine and a talking-to from the officer involved.

On the other side of the Tasman, and for something completely different, the team at Edition Zero Gravel pulled together this video from their event a few weeks back. Looks like a beautiful ride, as you’d expect from quiet dirt roads on New Zealand’s South Island.

And finally, if you’re getting excited for Aussie Road Nationals like me, you might enjoy the little recap videos from past editions that AusCycling has been producing. Luke Durbridge made one about his 2013 win, Peta Mullens took us back to her win in 2015, and Sarah Gigante re-lived her remarkable victory from 2019, when she beat WorldTour pros as an 18-year-old. Check it out:

? 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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