Down Under Digest #25: Laurence Pithie, eh?

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

Hello and welcome to your weekly guide to all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling: the Down Under Digest. We’ve got a range of disciplines for you again today – road, MTB, track – plus a bunch of other non-racing-stuff besides.

Let’s get right to it, eh?

? Laurence Pithie continues to soar ?

It’s been a tremendous start to 2024 for Kiwi Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ). The 21-year-old was great at the Tour Down Under, finishing top five on three different stages, then stepped up and won Cadel’s Race a week later. In his first race in Europe this season, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Pithie got in the winning break for a time, and now at Paris-Nice, he’s again shown himself to be a star in the making.

On stage 1, Pithie finished third in the bunch sprint (behind established winners Olav Kooij and Mads Pedersen), and then on stage 2 he went one better, taking second behind Arvid De Kleijn. Better still, that result put Pithie into the yellow jersey of overall leader.

It would be a short-lived stint in yellow with Pithie’s Groupama-FDJ squad finishing 14th in the stage 3 TTT, and the Kiwi slipping down to 27th overall. Still, what a way to confirm your talent on European soil, and what a start to the year it’s been for the former runner from Christchurch. Oh, and he’s leading the points classification now too.

I’ve reached out to Pithie in the hope of organising a chat post-Paris-Nice. I’ll let you know how I get on …

? Also at Paris-Nice … ?

Speaking of the stage 3 team time trial at Paris-Nice, Australia’s team Jayco-AlUla had a good one, finishing second. That put Michael Matthews, Chris Harper, and Luke Plapp all within 15 seconds of the overall lead of Brandon McNulty with three stages complete, after McNulty’s UAE Team Emirates squad won the TTT.

And then, on stage 4, another antipodean took the yellow jersey. On the penultimate climb of the day, Aussie champion Plapp rode away from the group of favourites, leading solo for a time. He was joined by Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) who ended up winning the stage, but the pair had built enough of a lead to move Plapp into the overall lead.

Of course, the race is only halfway through. Stages 7 and 8 are properly mountainous days to round out the race and Buitrago, McNulty, João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep), and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) are all still within striking distance. So far though, there’s been much to celebrate at Paris-Nice if you’re a fan of Aussie and Kiwi cycling. Hopefully that continues!

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? MTB in the ACT ?

Rounds 3 and 4 of Australia’s Cross-Country National Series were held in Stromlo, ACT this past weekend, with a couple of riders taking back-to-back wins.

In the elite women’s field, Bec Henderson won the round 3 short-track event, while Jack Ward took out the elite men’s race. It was a similar story in the round 4 Cross-Country Olympic race with Henderson and Ward both doubling up.

In case you’re wondering, participation numbers in the elite fields were up a little from the disappointing turn-out on the Gold Coast: nine in the elite women’s field for round 4, and 16 for the elite men (vs two and nine on the Gold Coast).

Many of Australia’s top cross-country racers will now head to Lake Macquarie in New South Wales for the MTB National Championships. Stay posted for more in the coming weeks.

? Track Nats ahoy ?

On the subject of Australian national championships, Track Nats have just come to a close in Brisbane. There were a lot of races over the five days of competition so I’m not even going to attempt to bring you all the results, but here were a few interesting tidbits from the meet:

If you want to read more from the Aussie Track Champs, you can find the full results at the link

? Across the ditch ?

At the time of writing, the Kiwi Track Nationals are currently underway as well. You can keep up to date at the Cycling New Zealand website and via the federation’s Instagram account, but here are a couple of stand-out results so far:

? Introducing the Sapphire Tour ?

Back to road cycling now with the news that one of Australia’s most beloved one-day races, the Grafton to Inverell (G2I), is expanding this year. The gruelling 228 km race will remain on the men’s National Road Series (NRS) calendar (scheduled for April 27), while the women’s NRS event will expand into a two-stage race called the Sapphire Tour.

Last year’s women’s NRS race was a 119 km one-day event, won by Mia Hayden in a BridgeLane 1-2-3-4, but in 2024, the Sapphire Tour will include a 109 km opening stage, and a 45 km Lake Inverell Circuit Race.

Race organisers have also introduced an intriguing Pairs Relay event, with one team member riding the first half of the G2I course, before passing the baton (figuratively, I presume) to their teammate for the second half. More info on that as it comes out.

?‍? Turbulent times in the Aussie advocacy space ?‍?

You might have seen the news last week that, after nearly 20 years spent advocating for cyclist safety in Australia, the Amy Gillett Foundation (AGF) is shutting up shop. As Escape’s Iain Treloar writes at the link above, that decision came down to “the absence of new Federal Government funding”. Sadly, AGF isn’t the only advocacy organisation to be hit by a lack of funding recently.

Over at Bicycle Network, the organisation’s 17-year-old Ride2School program is in difficulty after the Victorian Government pulled its funding in July 2023. The program, which aims to get more school kids on bikes, is now being crowdfunded via the Peaks Challenge event, which is being held this long weekend.

Riders who raise funds for Ride2School will earn a special “Peaks Legend” kit. Raising $175 earns a jersey, $400 gets knicks as well, and there are various rewards all the way up to $5,000.

As Bicycle Network notes: “Back in the 1970s eight out of 10 kids rode to school. Now just two out of 10 actively travel to school.” Apparently $50 covers the cost of bike education for one child, while “$5,000 could pay for a complete Ride2School program for one school.”

? Hit-and-run motorist charged ?

Remember the news a few months back of the driver who allegedly hit two cyclists on Melbourne’s Beach Road in a stolen car, before driving away? Video from the incidents helped identify the driver, and they’ve since been arrested and charged with 14 offences.

The accused is a 16-year-old male who was seemingly on a crime spree that also allegedly saw him break into homes to steal cars, commit robbery at a nearby shopping centre, and threaten another motorist with an axe. The individual was refused bail in a court appearance late last month but as The Age reports “in the four weeks since his arrest, the teen had been involved in nine incidents in custody, including one in which he allegedly fashioned a weapon.”

The 16-year-old wasn’t the only one arrested after the two cyclists were hit. Another boy, 15 at the time of the collisions, was reportedly on four counts of bail, having been accused of a string of offences over a six-month period. He was allegedly a passenger in one of the vehicles involved in the incidents.

Both teens are due in court again next month. The two cyclists, meanwhile, are still facing a long road to recovery. One is still in hospital with bleeding on the brain. The other suffered three fractured vertebrae and a shattered ankle.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Big Things Down Under ?

Fish statues three weeks in a row? Why not. While this section was designed to highlight the weird and wonderful Big Things of Australia, it was probably about time we featured some statues from across the Tasman.

In the heart of Gore, in the Southland region of the South Island, lies the Gore Brown Trout Statue, a nod to the town’s claim of being “the world capital of brown trout fishing”. The photo below was sent in by regular reader Andy C, who writes:

“[Gore is] also home to the finish line of the Tuatara 1000, a gravel bikepacking event of 1,073 km, where Matt Zenovich has just set a new course record of 56 hours, 28 minutes, four seconds. 

“Here is Charles Smart enjoying sitting on something other than his saddle after getting second in 58 hours, 25 minutes and 30 seconds. NB: His bike is bamboo and homemade!”

Thanks Andy!

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 … ❤️

So this isn’t something specific to Australia and New Zealand, exactly, but it certainly has captured my attention this week. BikeGrid is a new game from Escape that puts your rider knowledge to the test.

The smart people behind the scenes at Escape (shout-out to Jase and Denis, in particular) have been pulling this together over the last little while and it’s come up great. The concept is pretty simple: you’ve got a grid of nine squares, with categories across the top and side. For each combination of categories (nine in total) you need to pick a rider, male or female. The less often that rider is picked among those playing the game, the better your answer.

I love a bit of competition, and with a leaderboards allowing you to compare your scores to your friends’, I can see this becoming a regular part of my day (a new grid is out every weekday). Speaking of which, let me just drop this screenshot from the Escape team leaderboard here …

I need to take my wins where I can (i.e. before Caley, Abby and other Escape staffers have submitted theirs for the day …)

You can join the fun at the BikeGrid homepage and if you want to learn more, Escape’s resident fantasy sports expert Dane Cash has a primer you can read.

? 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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