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Down Under Digest #22: Breakout rides and Kiwi champs

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 14.02.2024 Photography by
Wade Wallace
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G’day and welcome to another edition of the Down Under Digest, your weekly round-up of all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. As you might have seen, it’s been a big week for our road pros, with a bunch of great results and emerging talents to talk about. But before we get to that, a quick note about something that’s on the horizon ...

It’s nearly a year since we turned on the lights here at Escape; nearly a year since we asked readers just like you to put your faith in us and sign up as members. A lot of people did, and a lot of people have come on board since as well, and it’s thanks to all of that support that we’re able to keep the lights on. Thanks to everyone that’s pitched in!

The only downside to having so many people sign up when we first launched is that we’re about to reach what we’re calling The Cliff – the point where many of our founding members will have the choice of whether to renew their membership or not. Honestly, it’s a bit scary.

We hope we’ve done enough to impress you all over the last year, and make it feel like you’re getting good value for money. But there’s no real way of knowing until we see how many members decide to stick around.

All of this is to say: if you’re one of our founding members, we’d really love it if you stuck around. If there’s something you’d like to see from us that you aren’t already seeing, please do let us know! Of course, if you haven’t yet signed up as a member, but you’re considering it, your support will mean more than you probably realise. Follow the link for all the info you need.

Alright. Let’s get into this week’s DUD.

Neve’s ascent continues

For those us familiar with Aussie road racing, it feels like Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM) has been around forever. She’s had a bunch of U23 podiums at Road Nationals, she’s been in the WorldTour since 2021 (after winning the Zwift Academy), and it’s always felt like a great result was just around the corner.

At Tour Down Under she rode to her best result yet – third on Willunga Hill and third overall – and it seemed as if the 21-year-old was poised for her best season yet. After the UAE Tour, that seems even more likely.

On the queen stage of the season’s second WorldTour stage race, Bradbury rode away from the lead group around 3 km from the top of the Jebel Hafeet climb. The only one able to bridge across in the end was world champion Lotte Kopecky, who went on to beat Bradbury in the sprint.

While Bradbury would surely like to have won, she rightly pointed out afterwards that she could be pretty happy beating everyone but the world champ. She ended the UAE Tour second overall, won the best young rider classification, and is now the leader of the Women’s WorldTour.

What a great start to 2024 for Bradbury. What’s next?

✌️ Two wins for Finn ✌️

Speaking of young Antipodean talents who have stepped up in early 2024, how about Finn Fisher-Black (UAE Team Emirates)? The 22-year-old Kiwi has promised great things in recent seasons and was very strong at the recent Tour Down Under. But it’s over in the Middle East that Fisher-Black has taken the next step in his career.

On the final stage of the AlUla Tour in Saudi Arabia, Fisher-Black took third, securing the same place on GC. At the one-day Muscat Classic on the eve of the Tour of Oman, Fisher-Black burst away from the peloton on the final climb, and held on for an impressive solo win. And then, a couple days later, on an unusually wet stage 2 of the Tour of Oman, he got a gap on the short stage-ending climb, won the stage, and moved into the overall lead.

Until this year, Fisher-Black has arguably been riding in the shadow of his older sister, Niamh. Who will be leading the battle for sibling supremacy by the end of season 2024?

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

? Caleb’s comeback continues ?

After a tough Aussie summer campaign, Caleb Ewan finally got the win he was looking for on the opening stage of the Tour of Oman this week. It was the one sprint finish at the race and Ewan and his Jayco AlUla teammates took their opportunity, helping the 29-year-old to victory on the uphill drag to the line. Listen to how much it meant to him.

I caught up with Ewan a couple weeks back, ahead of Cadel’s Race, and we published a story from that conversation this week. Ewan’s answers shed a bunch of light on his approach to the (evolving) art of sprinting, what it’s been like moving from Lotto Dstny back to GreenEdge, and what he wants from this important year. You can read the story at the link. 

? First race, first win ?

Another Aussie rider who nabbed his first win of 2024 is Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale). In his very first race of the season, the Spanish one-day Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia, O’Connor attacked solo on the last climb, 13 km from the finish, and rode across the line almost a minute ahead of second.

It’s O’Connor’s first victory since he took out the Tour du Jura Cycliste one-day race in France back in April 2022 and hopefully signals the start of another good year for the West Australian. While he wasn’t able to manage a win in 2023, he did finish third at the Critérium du Dauphiné, third on two stages of the Tour de France, and had another few top-10s throughout the year.

O’Connor will now head to the UAE Tour as he builds towards the Giro d’Italia.

?? Kiwi Road Nats round-up ??

Ella Wyllie (Liv AlUla Jayco) and Aaron Gate (Burgos-BH) were the big winners at the Kiwi Road Nationals near Timaru last week. 

Wyllie kicked off her campaign with a win in the U23 women’s time trial before winning both the elite & U23 women’s road race titles the following day. Wyllie made her move on the steep climb in the final lap of the combined road race, before winning the sprint from a group of three. Kim Cadzow (EF Education-Cannondale), who’d won the elite time trial the day before, was second and Sammie Maxwell (the U23 MTB XCO world champion) was third.

In the elite & U23 men’s road race it was an elite group of five riders that got to the finish to contest a sprint in filthy conditions. Gate took the win ahead of fellow pros Corbin Strong (Israel-Premier Tech) and Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) with George Bennett (UAE Team Emirates) and Logan Currie (Lotto Dstny) also in the group.

Gate’s win adds to a slew of victories across the 33-year-old’s track and road career, including Omnium and Points Race world titles, four gold medals at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and two Kiwi ITT titles.

Other results of note from the three days of racing:

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Big Things Down Under ?

Speaking of Wade, this week’s edition of Big Things Down Under is a little bit of a departure from the norm. This photo comes from Wade who last week headed out on what he called an “impromptu overnight bikepacking trip” with some mates.

This photo isn’t a Big Thing, really, but it is an interesting one. It’s a piece of art called Memory Palace 2, found on the Great Victorian Rail Trail near Merton, and created by artist Tai Snaith. This and its companion piece – a small bronze frog on a nearby boulder – are “inspired by the psychological process of Memory Palaces or Method of Loci, a method of recalling physical markers in a space to remember information and create meaning.”

Thanks Wade!

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 … ❤️

I shared a couple of Cyrus Monk’s videos recently and I’ve got another one for you today. As well as being a pro road racer for Q36.5, Monk is a coach, musician, and a science communicator with a science degree from the University of Melbourne. Here’s the latest instalment in Cyrus’s Train like a Monk series in which he interviews fellow Aussie road pro Jensen Plowright about his training and plenty more besides.

? 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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