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Down Under Digest #17: It’s TDU time!

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 10.01.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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G’day and welcome back to the Down Under Digest, your wrap-up of all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. First up, if you didn’t catch my on-the-ground coverage from the Australian Road Nationals last week, you can find it all at the link above. Second up: by the time you read this, I’ll be in Adelaide for the Tour Down Under (women’s and men’s) so expect to see a bunch of coverage on Escape about both races.

And finally, if you haven’t already, please consider signing up to get the DUD delivered direct to your inbox. In fact, why not sign up for some of the other great Escape newsletters while you’re at it: Wheel Talk, Spin Cycle, and Threaded? Hit that big button below to get where you need to go.

Without any further ado, let’s get into this week’s DUD.

🇦🇺 Let the WorldTour season begin 🇦🇺

The first WorldTour races of the season are upon us! The women’s Tour Down Under features just three stages (Friday January 12 to Sunday January 14) but that final stage concludes atop Willunga Hill.

While the women’s race featured Willunga a few years back when COVID forced a downgrading of the race into a domestic-level event, this is the first time Willunga has featured in the Tour Down Under proper. Can Sarah Gigante win up there again? 

If you want to read more about the women’s Tour Down Under, you’ll want to check out this week’s edition of Abby Mickey’s terrific Wheel Talk newsletter, where she’s written a detailed preview of the race, including a look at all three stages, and the riders to watch.

As usual, the men’s TDU experience begins with a curtain-raiser criterium on the evening of Saturday January 13, before the actual TDU itself is held over six stages from Tuesday January 16 through to Sunday January 21. Let’s break it down a little:

The course

Here’s what’s on tap for the riders:

Down Under Classic: Adelaide CBD (1 hour + 3 laps) – Flat, flat, flat. A chance for the riders to warm up their legs before the sprinters duke it out. (Profile and map)

Stage 1: Tanunda to Tanunda (144 km) – Three laps of a relatively easy circuit. Almost certainly a bunch sprint. (Profile and map)

Stage 2: Norwood to Lobethal (141.6 km) – Hillier than stage 1 with a couple of ascents of the punchy Fox Creek climb (1.6 km at 8.8%). Probably a reduced bunch sprint. (Profile and map)

The stage 2 profile.

Stage 3: Tea Tree Gully to Campbelltown (145.3 km) – A couple of climbs but almost certainly a bunch sprint. (Profile and map)

Stage 4: Murray Bridge to Port Elliot (136.2 km) – The sprintiest of sprint stages in this year’s race. (Profile and map)

Stage 5: Christies Beach to Willunga Hill (129.3 km) – Willunga (3 km at 7.4%) returns with the customary two ascents, the stage ending atop the second. The big GC day. (Profile and map)

Stage 6: Unley to Mt. Lofty (128.2 km) – Another hilly day to finish with, including three ascents of Mt. Lofty (ending with 1.3 km at 7.3%). The stage ends at the top of the last climb. (Profile and map)

The stage 6 profile.

The riders

Possible contenders for the overall include:

The sprint field is quite deep and includes:

Others worth keeping an eye on:

Watching it

For Australian viewers, the Tour Down Under will be live everyday on 7plus and 7mate. Overseas broadcasters include:

And again, you’ll find plenty of Tour Down Under coverage right here on Escape and via our main podcast feed. Myself and Iain Treloar will be there to report on the racing, and both Dave Rome and Ronan Mc Laughlin will be there to help you get your early-season tech fix.

🇳🇿 The New Zealand Cycle Classic is underway 🇳🇿

The Tour Down Under isn’t the only pro stage race happening in the region this week. The New Zealand Cycle Classic (UCI 2.2), New Zealand’s only UCI-classified stage race, is now underway in Masterton (North Island).

Stage 1 of the five-stage race was held on Wednesday with Aaron Gate (New Zealand National Team) powering away on the uphill drag to the line to take the stage win and the first leader’s jersey. Bailey O’Donnell (Oxford Edge) was second, and Gate’s teammate Logan Currie rounded out the podium.

Look out for a full breakdown of the race in next week’s DUD.

🔒 Jayco AlUla locks down two potential stars 🔒

Aussie WorldTour team Jayco AlUla isn’t about to let two local up-and-comers start their careers anywhere else. The team announced this week that it had signed 19-year-old Hamish McKenzie and 17-year-old Wil Holmes from 2025 and 2026 respectively.

McKenzie rode with ARA-Skip Capital last year and did a stagiaire gig with Jayco AlUla at a few races. This year he’s with Hagens Berman Axeon-Jayco – Jayco AlUla’s Continental feeder team – before stepping up to the big leagues in 2025, on a two-year contract. McKenzie finished second in the U23 ITT at the recent Road Nats … and tested positive for COVID that evening.

Wil Holmes will follow a similar pathway to the WorldTour, albeit a year behind McKenzie. He’s with ARA-Skip Capital this year (and with La Pomme Marseille Provence over in France), and will join Hagens Berman Axeon-Jayco in 2025. He’ll then start a three-year contract with Jayco AlUla in 2026. Holmes recently won the U19 time trial at Aussie Road Nats and was second in the road race.

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

💻 Aussie esports champs to be crowned in March 💻

For the first time ever, AusCycling is hosting a Cycling Esports National Championships which in 2024 will be held at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in March 2024. 

To quote from the AusCycling press release:

“Qualifying rounds during March will decide eight of the male and female finalists who will compete in Brisbane. All Australian adults on Zwift with an AusCycling race licence will be eligible to qualify.

“AusCycling has indicated it may also invite wildcard riders to the final. Competitors will race for the iconic green-and-gold jersey of Australian champion, which will be awarded both physically and digitally to the winners.”

The final will be broadcast by SBS and will take the form of an omnium-style multi-round event, “taking cues from the latest UCI Cycling Esports World Championships.”

You can find out more at the AusCycling website and at the Esport Nationals website.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

📅 Up next … 📅

As noted in the intro, I’m currently at the Tour Down Under which will be occupying much of my attention over the next week and a half. I’m planning to have a DUD out next week as usual, but it might well be thinner than normal. 
In a way though, the whole of Escape will become a DUD of sorts during TDU. We’ll have lots of content on the site, there’ll be dedicated podcasts – it’s going to be great. Please tune in!

🍌 Big Things Down Under 🍌

Big Things Down Under returns today with the following photo sent in by reader Mark Johnston. Mark and his family were recently on a Christmas roadtrip from Hobart to Coonabarabran in New South Wales. They stopped off in Barellan, the birthplace and home of Aussie tennis legend Evonne Goolagong; also the home of the Big Tennis Raquet.

According to the Visit NSW website:

“The racquet was made to celebrate the 100th year of Barellan and its proud association with Evonne Goolagong-Cawley MBE AO. The completed racquet is an exact 20:1 scale model of Evonne’s battered wooden signature Dunlop racquet.”

Thanks for sending in the pic, Mark!

If you’ve got a Big Thing in your neighbourhood, or you’re heading past one, I’d love to see a photo of your bike and the Big Thing in the same photo! You can email it through to me at matt.deneef@escapecollective.com.

😢 And finally … 😢

As usual, here’s a handful of cool bits and pieces to round things out this week, starting with a little edit from the Tour of Bright. You get a real sense of the beauty of Victoria’s High Country here. I’m definitely not desperate to get up there and ride again sometime soon. Nope, not at all.

Next, if you want a quick round-up of the elite road races from Aussie Road Nats on Sunday, AusCycling has you covered:

And finally, take a squiz at this Insta post from Jayco AlUla ahead of the (men’s) TDU. There is a lot going on here.

🙏 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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