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Down Under Digest #26: The summer of Marko

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

Welcome one and all to the Down Under Digest, your weekly round-up of all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. We’ve got a more road-focused edition for you than normal today, now that the European season is kicking into gear and a lot of the big names are working themselves into form ahead of the Grand Tours. 

Let’s get into it, eh?

Jai Hindley is taking his chances

Ever since Primož Roglič signed with Bora-Hansgrohe, the question I’ve been asking is: what does this mean for his now-teammate Jai Hindley? The West Australian looks set to ride for Roglič at the Tour this year and looks unlikely to have Grand Tour leadership at all in 2024. But so far this year, Hindley’s made the most of his opportunities.

With Roglič busy plying his trade at Paris-Nice this past week (likewise Aleksandr Vlasov), Hindley was off the leash at Tirreno-Adriatico. And he had a good week.

On stages 5 and 6, both of them mountainous, Hindley took back-to-back third-place finishes (as Jonas Vingegaard rode away both days and confirmed again that he’s a level above everyone else). Hindley ended up third overall, behind Vingegaard and Juan Ayuso to go with fifth at Valenciana a month earlier. That’s a solid start to the year.

It might be a while before we see Hindley leading another GC tilt in a stage race this year. He’s racing Itzulia Basque Country, but so is Roglič. He’s racing Tour de Romandie, but so are Vlasov and Dani Martinez. And then Roglič and Hindley will be reunited for the Dauphiné and the Tour de France.

Maybe Hindley doesn’t care that he’s getting fewer opportunities this year but as Aussie cycling fans, it’s a little tough to see a Giro d’Italia winner dropped down the pecking order.

Hindley (right) on the Tirreno podium.

In other Tirreno-Adriatico news for those of us Down Under, Corbin Strong (Israel-Premier Tech) took third on stage 4, and Ben O’Connor (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) finished fifth overall after fourth on stage 3.

Meanwhile at Paris-Nice …

Over in France, Aussies and Kiwis were putting on a great show as well. In last week’s DUD we spoke about Laurence Pithie’s great start to the race, and how Luke Plapp (Jayco AlUla) had taken the overall lead on stage 4.

Well, Plapp held on to yellow through stage 5 but then ultimately lost it on stage 6 as Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek) won the stage and Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) moved back into the lead.

By tour’s end, Plapp was down in sixth in GC but it was an encouraging ride nonetheless. It was also Plapp’s best GC result in a WorldTour stage race since he took second overall at last year’s UAE Tour. Promising signs for the bigger races ahead.

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Kim Cadzow’s first stage race win

Kim Cadzow seems to have settled into EF Education-Cannondale very nicely. After winning the Kiwi ITT title last month, the 22-year-old has come to Europe and immediately scored some encouraging results.

She was fifth at the Trofeo Oro in Euro one-day race a little over a week ago, and then, at the Trofeo Ponente in Rosa stage race that followed, she was even more impressive. Cadzow won stage 1 solo by a whole minute (ahead of teammate Kristen Faulkner), and then was second on stage 2, behind Faulkner.

Cadzow ended up winning the race overall in an EF Education-Cannondale 1-2-3 – impressive, but not entirely unexpected given the team was easily the biggest and most professional team at the UCI 2.2 (fourth-tier) race. Still, the stage win and overall victory were both firsts for Cadzow in Europe and will give her renewed confidence as she tackles bigger targets as the season goes on.

The summer of Marko

Peaks Challenge Falls Creek is already regarded by many as the hardest gran fondo in Australia, what with its 4,300 m+ of climbing over more than 230 km in the Victorian Alps. But the 2024 edition, held this past weekend, was even harder than normal thanks to temperatures that soared towards 40 ºC throughout the day.

In the words of Escape’s own Jase de Puit in the EC-Australia channel on Escape’s Discord server, “There were people in the foetal position every 10m or so up Falls [Creek – the final climb of the day]. Many medics. I’d estimate 60% of people walking.” Sounds brutal.

Not that you’d know the day was oppressively hot if you saw Mark O’Brien’s ride. The recent Melbourne to Warrnambool winner was the first rider across the line, pointing to the clock on the finish line gantry when he got there. Marko’s time of 6:43:13 (an average of 35.5 km/h) was a new course record by nearly 20 minutes, beating the previous mark of 7:02:57 set by Ben Dyball back in 2019. O’Brien is the first rider to complete the mountainous loop in under seven hours.

O’Brien’s Strava file from the ride is worth a look. A normalised power of 291 W for 6 hours 40 minutes is one hell of an effort, particularly in that heat. Note that he was less than a minute off the Mt. Hotham KOM in the process …

BNO’s breakthrough

From Mark O’Brien to one of the riders he’s coached for a while now: Bentley Niquet-Olden. If you keep up with the results from the Melbourne crit racing scene, you’ll have seen Niquet-Olden’s name plenty this past summer. For instance, the 25-year-old, who races for Continental team CCACHE x Par Küp, has won at least five rounds of Hawthorn Cycling Club’s weekly crits.

Earlier this week Niquet-Olden turned all those local wins into his first professional win on stage 3 of the Tour de Taiwan (UCI 2.1). Niquet-Olden was fastest in a sprint from a breakaway group of seven which just managed to hold off the chasing peloton.

As Niquet-Olden wrote on Instagram later, his win is quite the turnaround from his experience at the race a year earlier.

Rohan Dennis fronts court for the first time

In less positive news, Rohan Dennis’ court case has begun, with the former world champion appearing at the Adelaide Magistrates Court on Wednesday. The prosecution requested an additional five months to prepare its full crash investigation and finalise the charges against Dennis, who was allegedly driving the vehicle that struck his wife, Mel Hoskins, on December 30, 2023. Hoskins died from her injuries later that night.

Dennis will return to court on August 6.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

Big Things Down Under

Is this the biggest ‘Big Thing’ we’ve ever featured in the DUD? No. Is it still pretty damn big for a postage stamp? Yes. Does it have a fascinating story behind it? Absolutely?

This photo comes in from Escape member (and prolific bike-race photographer) Mark Geary and shows a giant postage stamp on the wall of the Apollo Bay Distillery down in Victoria. This stamp is an enlarged print of a real stamp that depicts the Greek goddess of the sea, Amphitrite, holding a telegraph cable. Why?

As you might be able to see behind Mark’s bike, in 1936 the first undersea telephone and telegram cable linking Tasmania and the Australian mainland was made operational. On the Tasmanian side the cable landed in Stanley, and in Victoria the cable landed in, you guessed it, Apollo Bay. As you can read in a news report from the time, it wasn’t easy getting the roughly 265 km of cable installed.

Copies of the original stamps are still available today. Follow the link to read more about the laying of that undersea cable. Thanks Mark for the photo!

If you’ve got a Big Thing (or similarly interesting 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 … ❤️

This final section of each DUD is reserved for cool stuff I’ve stumbled across in the week prior, and this following item definitely fits that bill. In case you didn’t see it, the Escape crew recently organised fantasy drafts for both the men’s and women’s peloton, with a bunch of staffers each picking a team of pro riders to score points for them throughout the year.

It was a lot of fun, and I had the pleasure of being part of the women’s draft with the Wheel Talk team and having the first pick (Lotte Kopecky, naturally). Now, in just the latest example of Escape members being amazing, ElizabethC has created an automated leaderboard for both drafts which is not only very generous of her, but also saves us a lot of time in manually adding up each drafter’s points after each big race! Thanks so much, Elizabeth!

(Side note: I’m delighted to be in second place in the Wheel Talk draft (behind the one and only Gracie Elvin) and will be aiming for a podium by season’s end.)

In other exciting Escape news, we’ve just launched classifieds! If you’ve got some bike gear you’re looking to sell, or you’re in the market for something, please do take a look.

And finally, guess who’s starting a podcast for the Escape podcast network? It’s none other than Escape lifetime member and Vuelta a España podium finisher, Jack Haig. The first episode of “The Rest Day with Jack Haig” will be out soon. Jack’s such a thoughtful and well-spoken guy and I imagine he’ll provide great insight into the life of a pro cyclist. I, for one, can’t wait to listen.

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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