Down Under Digest #24: The insanity of Red Bull Hardline

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 28.02.2024 Photography by
Olly Hambidge
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It’s that time of the week again. Time for another edition of the only best weekly round-up of Australian and New Zealand cycling anywhere on the internet: the Down Under Digest. This week we take a look at some more great Aussie performances over the Middle East, some strong rides closer to home, and we catch up with Niamh and Finn Fisher-Black’s dad!

Let’s get crackin‘.

?? Aussies in the UAE ??

The last time we spoke, Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) had just taken the lead at the UAE Tour by finishing second atop Jebel Jais. A few days later, when the race came to a close on Jebel Hafeet, Vine was no longer at the top of the standings, but it was a great week for the Aussie men regardless.

Sam Welsford (Bora-Hansgrohe) took third in the stage 5 bunch sprint, and then, when the road went up again, the attention was on Vine, and on Welsford’s fellow West Australian, Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale). After winning stage 3, O’Connor finished third on the final stage, netting himself a very nice second place overall by week’s end, behind final-stage winner Lennert Van Eetvelt (Lotto Dstny). Also in the mix on that final stage was Michael Storer (Tudor) who finished fourth after a late attack, to secure sixth overall.

As for Vine, well, he lost more than four minutes on that final stage, dropping down to 22nd overall. The 28-year-old was typically forthcoming in his post-stage comments on Instagram, saying that with only three weeks of “proper training”, and with crosswinds sapping his energy on that final stage, he didn’t have the legs on the race-ending climb. Also, that ‘tash is quite something.

Vine and Storer will now head to Paris-Nice – where Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious) will also be in action – while O’Connor will join fellow Aussie GC contender Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) at Tirreno-Adriatico.

?‍?‍? A chat with Niamh and Finn’s dad ?‍?‍?

If you’ve read the last few editions of the DUD you will know I’ve been keeping a bit of an eye on Niamh and Finn Fisher-Black’s performances so far this year. Hard not to really – they’ve both been great. Given that, I thought it’d be cool to chat to someone who knows them both well, and who’s been there for their whole journey from first-time racers, right through to the professionals they are today.

And so earlier this week I jumped on the phone with Jim Black, Niamh and Finn’s dad. Speaking from Christchurch, Jim gave some great insight into the personality of the two young riders, what got them into racing to begin with, how they’ve managed to take a step up in 2024, and a bunch more besides. Here’s a snippet from the full interview:

Matt de Neef: For those that don’t know Finn and Niamh, how similar are they personality-wise?

Jim Black: Oh, chalk and cheese really. Very different. Niamh’s just … there’s never downtime. She never eases off, she’s just so serious. She’s so 100% committed and she can be kind of a bit critical of Finn but I think Finn is just as serious and just as committed but he’s just got a much more laid-back attitude and doesn’t get so worked up over small things as Niamh does. Everything’s gotta be perfect whereas Finn is a little bit more accommodating.

They’re both traits you need. You need to be able to detach and be a bit laid-back, which she is – she’s learned that. You can see she’s learned from years in the peloton now that she’s realised when you have to be switched on and when you can just let it slide. She’s getting much better at that. But Finn’s always had this ability to be super-relaxed.

Image: Concept78 Cycling Photography

The story Jim goes on to tell about Finn’s individual pursuit world record is quite something. You can check out the full Q&A here.

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? Big names hit up the Otway Odyssey ?

Last week, Australia’s XCO national champ Sam Fox told Escape about how plenty of big names would be racing the Otway Odyssey over the weekend just gone. He certainly wasn’t wrong. Take a look at the top 10 from both the men’s and women’s 100 km races and you’ll find a who’s who of Aussie MTBing.

Here’s the women’s top 10:

And here’s the men’s top 10:

Now, if only the big names would turn up to the MTB National Series events in such numbers

? Hardline Down Under ?

Speaking of big MTB events, the inaugural Red Bull Hardline Tasmania was held down in Maydena over the weekend and it was quite the spectacle with big crowds, a wild course, and some great downhill racing. First up, check out this course preview from the Red Bull Bike YouTube channel to see just how intense the course was. That Baxter’s Highway section in particular looks incredibly fast.

Irishman Rónán Dunne took out the top prize ahead of Bernard Kerr (Great Britain) and George Brannigan (New Zealand), with wildcard entry Gracey Hemstreet (Canada) and Louise-Anna Ferguson (Great Britain) becoming the first-ever female riders to compete in a Hardline final.

If you want more, be sure to check out the full recap at the Red Bull website, some great photos and a video at Flow MTB, or you can just watch the full replay of the finals below (featuring some helpful timestamps in the video description). Maybe this is just the inner roadie in me speaking, but the things these riders are able to do, their technical skills and their confidence on such tricky terrain – it’s all pretty mindblowing.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Big Things Down Under ?

This week’s edition of Big Things Down Under is another fishy one, courtesy of reader Garth. Garth sent in the following photo of him and a couple mates from a bikepacking trip from Albury to Canberra via Bright a few years back.

“This shot was in Adaminaby [New South Wales] at their Big Trout,” Garth writes. “Looking fresh and ready to go after beer and pizza in town after three days since the last resupply!”

The Adaminaby Big Trout stands some 10 metres tall, is made of fibreglass, and was completed by local artist Andy Lomnici in 1973. Apparently there’s a popular trout fishing spot nearby.

Thanks for sending in your pic, Garth!

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 wrap things up this week, more great stuff from our man Cyrus Monk (Q36.5) who took us along for the ride at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, with his usual mix of self-deprecating humour and actual insight you don’t tend to find elsewhere.

? 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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