G’day and welcome to your first edition of the Down Under Digest for February. Thanks for stopping by and for taking an interest. It’s great to have you.
The bulk of the Australian summer races are done for another year and those of us who have been out covering races for the past month can now take a deep breath before looking to the year ahead. Not that all of the racing is done in Australia and New Zealand though …
The Kiwi Road Nationals get underway a week from today, and back here in Oz, the National Road Series is about to kick off this weekend with the legendary ‘Warrny’. We’ll have more from both events in the weeks to come.
For now though, let’s get into this week’s edition of the DUD.
☀️ Looking back at the summer ☀️
The Aussie summer of cycling is smaller than it used to be but it still feels like it’s been a big month. Nationals, Tour Down Under, Cadel’s Race – all provided their fair share of interesting storylines and takeaways for the months and years ahead.
Which is why I wrote a story earlier this week looking at the six things that stood out over the last few weeks, from Jayco AlUla / Liv AlUla Jayco’s challenging time at the international races, to the (many) young riders that had breakout performances this month.
Check out the story if you haven’t already (follow the link above). And if there’s something you think I missed, please do hit me up in the comments. I always love hearing different perspectives!
💨 The Warrny 💨
The international road race season is done in Australia, but the domestic season is just about to begin. And what better place to start than one of the oldest and longest races in the world: the Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic.
Friend of Escape, Ryan Miu, has written a typically great preview over at AusCycling, and if you’re keen to learn all about the race, I’d recommend you take a read. Here’s the condensed version of what you should know:
- The men’s race is happening this Saturday February 3 and covers 267 km from Avalon Airport to Warrnambool, and includes more of the Great Ocean Road than the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
- The women’s race – the Warrnambool Women’s Cycling Classic – spans 160 km and runs from Colac to Warrnambool, following the same route as the last 160 km of the men’s race. At this length, it’s one of the longest women’s races anywhere in the world.
- The men’s race could be won in any number of ways – Raglan Parade has seen bunch sprints, solo winners, and reduced groups vying for the win.
- The women’s race is only in its third edition as a standalone event and was previously won from a small group, and in a bunch sprint.
- BridgeLane is the team to beat in the men’s race, with defending champ Tristan Saunders, Cadel’s Race breakaway riders Zac Marriage and Jackson Medway, plus Tour Down Under KOM winner Luke Burns.
- Other men’s contenders include Alastair Christie-Johnston (CCACHE x Par Küp), Declan Trezise (ARA-Skip Capital), and Ben Hill (Blackshaw Racing).
- Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) is arguably the rider to beat in the women’s race – the highest-profile rider in either event.
- BridgeLane will have a typically strong line-up, including two-time winner Matilda Raynolds, Gina Ricardo, and Amanda Poulsen.
- ARA-Skip Capital will also have riders to watch including defending champ Sophie Edwards, new recruit Lucie Fityus, and Lucy Stewart.
Follow the links for startlists for the men’s and women’s events.
Both races will be livestreamed via SBS On Demand: the men’s race from 11:30am-3pm local time on Saturday, and the women’s race from 11:30am to 2pm on Sunday.
Got a story tip? I’d love to hear from you! Please reach out via email.
🥁 An ode to GCN+ 🥁
Speaking of live coverage of bike races, we’re about to enter a post-GCN+ era where watching your favourite races likely just got quite a bit harder. That’s the subject of the latest musical project from Aussie pro road racer/musician/science graduate/coach Cyrus Monk (Q36.5).
You might have come across the jams Cyrus created in COVID times, with the Victorian recording multiple parts by himself. Take a look back through his Instagram feed and you’ll find a whole bunch of such recordings. This latest one is a very clever lament about the closure of GCN+, parodying Blink 182’s much-loved 2004 classic “I Miss You”.
Also enjoyable was the banter on Twitter between Cyrus and the GCN account that followed:
Cyrus isn’t alone in feeling the frustration of losing GCN+’s live coverage. It was never as cheap or as easy to watch so much bike racing as it has been these past few years. GCN+’s disappearance is going to leave a giant hole in the cycling broadcast landscape here in Australia, and indeed in many places around the world.
Thankfully, you don’t have to wander that post-GCN+ landscape alone. Escape’s own Joe Lindsey has put together his annual How to Watch guide to pro road racing and this year it’s even more crucial than ever before. No longer is it just a US-focused thing either; now there’s a column specifically dedicated to those of us in Oz.
You can find Joe’s great piece at the link. And if you’re an Escape member, there’s even a dedicated channel on our Discord server where you can chat to other members about how to get access to your favourite races now!
⛰️ RIP to local KOMs ⛰️
It’s always fun when a pro race heads up a local climb. What better way to see how good the pros are than by comparing your time to theirs on your favourite climb? Which brings us to the Surf Coast Classic last week, which started in Lorne and headed straight up the popular Benwerrin climb – a climb familiar to anyone who’s ridden Amy’s Gran Fondo.
As reader Matthew Seale informs me via email, the previous Strava KOM on the 10 km climb was 20:48, set by Jesse Featonby back in 2017. Now, the top 51 times on the Strava leaderboard are all faster than that, with all but one of those riders setting a time between 19:56 and 20:03. The one exception to that rule is the new KOM, ARA-Skip Capital’s Will Eaves who bridged across to the breakaway on the climb, and rode a 19:09 – almost a minute faster than the rest of the peloton, and nearly two minutes faster than the previous KOM.
🐍 Attack of the nope rope 🐍
I’m sure you’ll agree that this next story is the perfect intersection of cycling and Australiana. It also won’t do anything to help Australia’s reputation as a place where anything and everything wants to kill you (a reputation that’s a little unfair, except when it comes to Drop Bears – those things are vicious).
MTBer Andy Barlow was out for a spin in the You Yangs near Melbourne earlier this month when he rode over what he thought was a stick but was, in fact, one of the deadliest snakes in the world: an eastern brown snake.
“I heard [something] in the bushes riding past, then [something] hitting my back wheel,” he wrote on Instagram. “I thought it was just a branch going into the back wheel, then [something] hitting [the] back of my right leg as the wheel was turning, slowly locking my back wheel.
“My first reaction was I was bitten for sure. I laid down in shade comprehending what just happened.”
As Kirrily Carberry reports at the AusCycling website, Andy got some help from a couple of fellow riders and after calling 000, paramedics came and took Andy to hospital.
Thankfully, tests showed no venom in his blood stream and Andy ended up being fine. The same couldn’t be said for the snake however.
🏆 Results of note 🏆
Since the last edition of the DUD, three races at the Cadel’s Race carnival were held. Here’s how they went:
- Eritrea’s Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) won the inaugural Surf Coast Classic (UCI 1.1) from a reduced bunch sprint. A small break led for much of the day with the last escapees being caught in the last 5 km. Results here.
- 19-year-old Dutchwoman Rosita Reijnhout (Visma-Lease a Bike) took her first-ever win (professional or otherwise) at the women’s Cadel’s Race (officially the “Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race”). Reijnhout was in a group of three that formed with around 5 km to go, then attacked solo and held on to the line.
- 21-year-old Kiwi Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) won the men’s Cadel’s Race in a reduced bunch sprint. The race splintered on the final ascent of Challambra Crescent and after a bunch of promising late attacks, a group came together just as the sprint was starting. The win is Pithie’s first at WorldTour level and the result of great patience and reflection after coming close to a TDU stage win.
✂️ Snippets ✂️
- New research out of the University of Queensland has looked at the growth of cycling in Brisbane during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers interviewed a bunch of local residents who took up cycling during lockdown, to learn what pushed people to taking up riding, and what we can learn from that going forward.
📅 Up next 📅
There’s actually a bit of racing coming up in the next week or so. Here’s what’s on around Australia and New Zealand:
- February 2-4: Track Nations Cup (Adelaide)
- February 3-4: Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic (Warrnambool)
- February 3-4: Rounds 1&2, AusCycling Mountain Bike National Series (Gold Coast)
- February 8-10: New Zealand’s Elite Road National Championships (Timaru, South Island)
Expect a run down on each event in the coming weeks.
🍌 Big Things Down Under 🍌
In this week’s Big Things Down Under we head back to 2009 and down to Tassie to join Jan Aalders in the town of Penguin to visit … The Big Penguin. Unveiled in 1975, this fibro-cement sculpture was built to commemorate the centenary of the old timber town.
Thanks for the pic, Jan!
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@example.com.
❤️ And finally … ❤️
Let’s close this out with a couple of tasty nuggets from the world of Australian cycling social media. First up, props to Cyrus Monk for his impressive socials game, earning himself a second mention this week. In this Instagram reel, Cyrus takes us along on one of his training rides, and it’s a fascinating look at the life of a pro cyclist.
There’s a bunch of interesting things in here to pull out: the detail and specificity in his training plan, for instance. And his deadpan humour is fantastic, particularly his jab at fellow Aussie pro Jensen Plowright, and the shade he throws at Tadej Pogačar and others.
The final item today is a simple one, but a good one. Who doesn’t love a good bit of Strava art? Chapeau Aidan Rich and those who helped create this route.
🙏 Until next time … 🙏
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