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Down Under Digest #23: The Fisher-Black Cup

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 21.02.2024 Photography by
Olly Hambidge
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G’day and welcome back to the Down Under Digest, your weekly guide to all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. Can you believe that Spring Classics season starts this weekend?! I’m not sure where February went but I’m not sure I like how fast this year is rattling by.

With any luck we’ll have plenty of great Aussie and Kiwi performances to talk about from the Spring Classics in the coming weeks and months. Thankfully there’s plenty to talk about from the past week as well, from road, MTB, and from track.

And so, without any further preamble, let’s get right into it.

? The Fisher-Black Cup ?

I’m going to guess Niamh Fisher-Black (SD Worx-Protime) is a regular DUD reader and that she saw last week’s edition, in which I mentioned that her brother Finn was currently leading the Fisher-Black stakes in 2024. I can only assume that it was her desperation to match her brother’s great start to the year that allowed her to win the queen stage of Setmana Ciclista Valenciana (UCI 2.Pro) this past weekend.

In stage 3 of her first race of the year, the 23-year-old Kiwi was part of an elite lead group on the final climb of the day. With the group splintering apart on the steep slopes, Fisher-Black made her move with just over 5 km remaining (2:06:00 into this video). Gun climber Gaia Realini (Lidl-Trek) stayed within striking distance for a time, and the pair crested the summit together, but when Fisher-Black surged on the descent that followed, Realini couldn’t follow.

Fisher-Black ended up winning the stage 13 seconds clear of Realini. She ended the four-stage race in third overall, with her SD Worx-Protime teammate Marlen Reusser taking out the race overall.

So who’s leading the Fisher-Black Cup now? Well, with her stage win and third overall at Valenciana, Niamh now has 150 UCI points for the year so far. With two wins, and a handful of other podiums, her younger brother Finn is still handily in the lead with 355 UCI points. Still, Finn’s already done 18 race days for the year vs Niamh’s four, so on a points-per-race-day basis, Niamh’s in the lead (37.5 vs 19.8).

Watch this space.

? Aussies in the UAE ?

Last week it was Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM) flying the flag for Australia at the UAE Tour, putting in a breakout ride to finish second on Jebel Hafeet. This week a pair of Aussie men have followed in Bradbury’s tyre tracks, putting themselves into a great position after the first mountain-top finish.

After a sprint stage on the opening day, Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) rode a very strong individual time trial on stage 2, finishing second behind his teammate Brandon McNulty. (In its home race, UAE Team Emirates swept the podium in the time trial, putting McNulty into the leader’s jersey for a day).

Vine followed up his strong time trial with another second place, this time on the stage 3 uphill finish to Jebel Jais. That result put Vine into the overall lead with four stages remaining.

Victory on stage 3 though? That honour went to Vine’s compatriot Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale). With just over a kilometre to go, O’Connor’s teammate Valentin Paret-Peintre surged clear from a thinning bunch, with only O’Connor on his wheel. The West Aussie made his move a few hundred metres later and held off a concerted chase from Vine and others, taking his second victory in just four race days this year.

The UAE Tour will end on Sunday with another mountain-top finish, this one on Jebel Hafeet.

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? Just two elite women? ?

A few weeks back I reported on the poor attendance numbers in the first rounds of Australia’s MTB National Series on the Gold Coast – just two elite women and nine elite men. At the time, a few of you asked why numbers were so low. So I went and asked some people in the know, namely Kipp Kaufmann, AusCycling’s executive general manager of sport, and Sam Fox, Australia’s reigning XCO national champ and the winner of those two rounds on the Gold Coast.

You can read their answers in the full article here at Escape, but one thing that both Kipp and Sam agreed on is that National Series events need to be more fun. Here’s Sam on that subject, with a suggestion on how things could be improved:

“I think something European races do well is run UCI races in conjunction with other events. So you have a festival-like weekend where hobby riders can compete themselves in an event (like Otway, or stages of Quad Crown etc.) and then spectate the dense elite fields. This gives a great spectator vibe to the races, and it generally makes the races quite accessible (e.g. in or near a town).”

? Red Bull Hardline hits Tassie ?

In other MTB news, the Red Bull Hardline downhill event is underway over in Maydena, Tasmania. The races are happening later in the week, but riders have been out practising on the new course for a few days now, and it’s all looking pretty sweet.

Here’s a video from the Red Bull Bike YouTube channel showing the “first massive hits on the toughest MTB track”:

And if you want more, check out this first-hand perspective from British racer Bernard Kerr who’s in town for the event:

? Gate and Wollaston dominate at the Oceania Champs ?

The Oceania Track Championships went about as you would expect: with Australia and New Zealand claiming a whole bunch of medals. The bigger track meets are yet to come this season – the Track Nations Cup in Hong Kong next month, say, or a little event called the *checks notes* Olympic Games later in the year – but there were a couple performances at the Oceanias worth noting.

More specifically, Kiwis Ally Wollaston and Aaron Gate managed to snag 10 Oceania titles between them over the five days of racing. Gate won the individual pursuit (setting a new Kiwi record in the process), the points race (which he rode in the rainbows of world champion), the omnium, the elimination race, and the madison. Wollaston won the points race, the scratch race, the team pursuit, the omnium, and the elimination race. Solid.

If you feel so inclined, you can find a full breakdown of every Australian medal over at the AusCycling website. Cycling New Zealand’s round-up is understandably focused on Gate and Wollaston.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Big Things Down Under ?

In this week’s edition of Big Things Down Under we head to the town of Oberon in the central tablelands of New South Wales. Dr Olly Hambidge picks up the story.

“We stayed in Oberon last weekend and saw this delightfully tacky Big Trout at the Big Trout Motor Inn! We stayed elsewhere so regrettably missed out on one of the “33 ground floor units with facilities to suit everyone” but I couldn’t resist the photo op as I cruised by on my Brompton!

“I’ve no idea who the guy in the mural is – perhaps it might be local fishing legend Mr Cyril Evans who, as reported in the Gundagai Independent in 1953, caught ‘what must be the biggest brown trout ever to be taken from an Oberon district stream. It weighed 14 lb 6 oz (6.5 kg) when cleaned.'”

Thanks, Olly, for the great photo and for doing my research for me. Love your work.

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 … ❤️

As a general rule, scrolling Instagram tends to leave me questioning my life choices, and wishing desperately that I didn’t need to use social media for work. Occasionally though, amongst all the cringeworthy ads for ice baths and other assorted #content I didn’t ask for, I’ll stumble across something that actually improves my day. This week it was the @cycling_is_beautiful account which, in collaboration with the all-knowing Instagram algorithm, served me a couple of pieces of Aussie cycling history that made me smile.

The first was this video from way back at the 2002 Tour Down Under when Michael Rogers finished a stage on a fan’s bike after an untimely mechanical. Rogers went on to win the race overall. A great piece of TDU history and a great story besides.

The second video that popped up was this one from Mat Hayman’s mercurial win at the 2016 Paris-Roubaix. Goosebumps every time, just in time for the Classics season to start. If you want to dig deeper into that win, be sure to check out Orica-GreenEdge’s Backstage Pass from the day. Stirring stuff.

And finally, you might already know that EF Education-EasyPost pro / Reddit’s favourite cyclist, Harry Sweeny, has a YouTube channel where he shares some behind-the-scenes goodies from life as a pro racer. Either way, here’s the latest from Harry in which he takes us through a big motorpacing session ahead of Paris-Nice, and talks about “the best instant coffee in the world”.

? 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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