Down Under Digest #19: Surf’s up!

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 24.01.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Hello, welcome, and thanks for being here. It’s that time of the week again where we round up all the latest goings-on from the world of Aussie and Kiwi cycling.

The Tour Down Under might be finished but the Aussie summer of cycling is not. Cadel’s Race and its associated side events are all happening this week, and it won’t be long until the Melbourne to Warrnambool is getting underway. There’s been some racing over in New Zealand as well, with more on the way in the coming weeks.

So, without any further ado, let’s dive in and see what’s happened over the past week.

? Cadel’s Race is upon us ?

Now that the Tour Down Under is done – you can see all our coverage at the link – it’s time for the WorldTour peloton to travel from South Australia to Victoria for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. The women’s Geelong Classic criterium has been contested (see below), and the men’s Surf Coast Classic (UCI 1.1) is happening today (Thursday January 25).

You can find a preview of the women’s WorldTour event – the “Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race” – in this week’s edition of Abby Mickey’s wonderful Wheel Talk newsletter, so there’s no real need for me to rehash the same story. But it is worth giving a quick primer on the two men’s races.

Surf Coast Classic

Spanning roughly 158 km from Lorne to Torquay, this new race is the spiritual successor to the short-lived Race Torquay. There’s a 10 km climb right out of the start (a great launchpad for the day-long break), some rollers near the finish, and about 1,850 total metres of climbing for the day, but from where I’m standing this looks like a day for the sprinters. I’d happily be wrong on that, and I’d also be delighted to see the wind play a role (light winds are forecast), but that might be wishful thinking.

If it does come down to a sprint, it’s worth noting that Sam Welsford and his fellow Bora Boyz aren’t at the race. Instead, the best sprinters are likely to be: Caleb Ewan (Jayco AlUla), Corbin Strong (Israel-Premier Tech), Elia Viviani and Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers), Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty), Max Kanter (Astana Qazaqstan), Daniel McLay (Arkéa-B&B Hotels), and Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ). Corbin Strong is my pick, assuming he’s recovered from the illness that knocked him out of TDU. The startlist is here.

If you were hoping to watch this race, well, sorry – it’s not being broadcast or live-streamed anywhere. We’ll have a wrap up on Escape though, likely in next week’s DUD.

Cadel’s Race

The main event for the men’s field is a 176 km race starting and finishing in Geelong with four laps of a closing circuit that’s very similar to the circuit used for the 2010 Road Worlds. The toughest part of that circuit is the Challambra Crescent climb (1 km at 8.5% with a max grade of nearly 20%), which the riders will tackle four times, including in the last 10 km.

While Challambra is hard, the men’s Cadel’s Race normally ends in a reduced bunch sprint. Here are the sizes of the winning groups for the seven editions of the race so far: eight, one (Peter Kennaugh won solo in 2016), 23, 24, 33, two, and 25. So while it’s possible for a small group or solo rider to win, expect a reduced bunch to duke it out.

Really, any of the riders mentioned above as contenders for the Surf Coast Classic, could feature. My pick, though, is Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) who looked great at TDU. Here’s the startlist.

The men’s Cadel’s Race will be broadcast live from 10:30am local time on Sunday, on 7mate and 7plus for those watching in Australia. FloSports will have coverage in the US and Canada, and Eurosport/Discovery+ is your best bet in Europe.

Stay posted to Escape for on-the-ground coverage from the women’s and men’s WorldTour races.

? Geelong Classic ?

Speaking of Cadel’s Race and its side events, the women’s Geelong Classic was held in Eastern Gardens on Wednesday evening.

A few breaks got away throughout the 50 km criterium but ultimately it all came back together for a bunch sprint where Sofia Bertizzolo (UAE Team ADQ) took the win ahead of Georgia Baker (Liv AlUla Jayco) and Francesca Barale (DSMFirmenich-PostNL).

? Bling’s first win ?

Michael Matthews (Jayco AlUla) didn’t waste any time taking his first win for the season. In the first edition of the GP Castellón in Spain (UCI 1.1), the race came back together before the final ramp to the finish line where Matthews hit out early and wasn’t overtaken.

Check out how long Matthews spent on the front in that final, uphill sprint.

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

? Gravel and Tar ?

Over in New Zealand, the country’s only UCI-classified one-day race for men and women was held last weekend. Held in the Manawatu region of the North Island, Gravel and Tar is a road race featuring a bunch of off-road sectors … which you could probably tell from the name.

Kate McCarthy (Green Monkey) took out the women’s race in a two-up sprint ahead of U23 MTB XCO world champ Sammie Maxwell (Tactic). Charlotte Clarke (Tinelli) completed the podium.

In the men’s event, Josh Burnett (MitoQ-NZ Cycling Project) took the win ahead of Kiwi national team rider Boris Clark and Australia’s Tali Lane Welsh (CCACHE x Par Küp).


Speaking of gravel events, RADL GRVL, the new gravel race created by Tiff Cromwell and her partner (and F1 star) Valtteri Bottas was held last weekend on the same day as stage 4 of the men’s Tour Down Under.

In the women’s race, it was a pair of former Aussie road champs who took the top two spots on the podium: Brodie Chapman (Lidl-Trek) with the win, just ahead of Nicole Frain (Hess Cycling). The USA’s Heidi Franz (Lifeplus-Wahoo) completed the podium.

Tasman Nankervis (BMC Shimano) took out the men’s race ahead of Brendan ‘Trekky’ Johnston (Giant Off Road Team) with Adam Blazevic behind in third.

? Kiwi crit champs crowned ?

Back over the ditch now and the Kiwi Criterium Championships were held earlier this week in Palmerston North (North Island). In the men’s race it was a day of more success for the MitoQ-NZ Cycling Project, with James Gardner getting the win ahead of teammate James Wilson. Ryan Christensen completed the podium.

Michaela Drummond (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) won the women’s race ahead of Rylee McMullen and Sharlotte Lucas in a field that, sadly, was only 14 riders strong.

New Zealand’s time trial championships will be held in Timaru (South Island) on Thursday February 8. The road races will also be held in Timaru, on Friday February 9 (elite and U23 women) and Saturday February 10 (elite and U23 men). You can read more at the Cycling New Zealand website.

From our partners: Looking for a gravel adventure?

You can view our advertising policy here.

Gravel cycling tour? Holiday with mates? Training camp? This journey ticks all boxes …

Our good friends at Rapid Ascent are hosting a six-day gravel tour through the Great Ocean Road region on March 12-17.

Riders will get to explore the A-grade gravel roads deep within the Great Otway National Park between Anglesea and Port Campbell (return) with accommodation, logistics and food all sorted.

You’ll get off the asphalt and ride champagne gravel through the ranges – past secret waterfalls, towering trees, emerald oceans and fast, rainforest descents in a coordinated group ride environment.

The small group of 8-14 riders will cover 60-110 km per day fully supported. Then, in the evenings you’ll stay in select accommodation and enjoy plenty of downtime, banter, and local food + wine in one-of-a-kind venues scattered throughout the hinterland. There’s already an awesome group of men and women booked in (ranging from 33-68 years old) and space for a few more.

Get all the details at the Rapid Ascent website.

? A horror morning on Beach Road ?

Police are investigating a pair of hit-and-run incidents on Melbourne’s Beach Road on Tuesday which left two cyclists in hospital. Police believe the same (allegedly stolen) vehicle was involved in the two crashes, with reports suggesting the riders were deliberately struck. Footage reportedly showing one of the incidents was uploaded to Instagram.

The 51-year-old cyclist involved in the first crash, which occurred at roughly 5:15am, was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Five minutes later, a 72-year-old man was struck, leaving him too with serious injuries. In both cases the driver failed to stop. A stolen Holden Astra, believed to be the car involved, was found nearby just before 9am.

Anyone with information about or footage from the incidents should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

? Big Things Down Under ?

It’s only fitting that this week’s edition of Big Things Down Under takes us to Adelaide where Escape member David McCook took time out of his TDU trip to snap a shot of the Big Rocking Horse for us.

You might have seen this beastly equine on live coverage of the Tour Down Under. Located in Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills, the Big Rocking Horse reaches some 18 metres high and is apparently the biggest rocking horse in the world.

Thanks for the photo, David!

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 [email protected].

❤️ And finally … ❤️

To round out another edition of the DUD, here’s a handful of social posts that tickled my fancy this week. 

It’s Cadel’s Race week which means it’s time for … pro cyclists to try surfing? This isn’t a new innovation for Cadel’s Race, but it does make me chuckle every time I see the photos each year.

Race organisers also put on your typical “meet the Aussie animals” photo shoot which is always a good bit of fun. Ilaria Sanguinetti probably doesn’t agree – she does not look like she’s enjoying having a giant snake around her neck.

Elsewhere on the ‘Gram, Aussies Nicole Frain and Emily Watts have revealed their new team kits for 2024. Frain’s racing for Hess Cycling and Watts is with Duolar-Chevalmeire. Frain’s kit is particularly nice with those (large!) green and gold bands on her sleeves.

The last word today, though, goes to Niamh Fisher-Black who posted a nice humble-brag post about her training roads at home in Aotearoa. I’m not jealous of those views at all.

? 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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