Down Under Digest #28: ‘Aren’t you blokes retired?’

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 27.03.2024 Photography by
Chris Ling
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G’day and a very warm welcome to this DUD of a newsletter. If this is your first time here, thanks for stopping by. The Down Under Digest is your weekly round-up of all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling, delivered fresh to your inbox (and the Escape Collective homepage) every Thursday morning.

This week’s edition is a little shorter than normal as I’m currently rushing to get everything done before jetting off to Belgium for the Tour of Flanders and then Paris-Roubaix. Sounds tough, right?

Let’s get into it.

🔮 A new future for Australia’s NRS 🔮

By now you’ve probably seen the news that Australia’s National Road Series (NRS) – the country’s highest level of domestic road racing – is winding up at the end of this season. You would have also seen that a new series will take its place: the ProVelo Super League (PSL), helmed by ARA-Skip Capital team manager/race organiser/former pro Matt Wilson, and backed by the one and only Gerry Ryan.

This could turn out to be a significant moment for Aussie road racing. We’re going from a hard-to-follow, commercially embattled series comprised of disparate events and overseen by the national body (AusCycling), to a streamlined, two-month series that leverages private equity to benefit everyone including race organisers, teams, sponsors, and fans.

It’s very early days, and it remains to be seen whether the PSL will work the way Wilson and friends want it to. But it’s certainly looking promising, with a bunch of very smart and dedicated people behind it.

You can read much more about the PSL in the feature story I published yesterday, and we’ll keep you posted as the series evolves. In the meantime, we’ll have coverage of the remaining events in the 2024 NRS, right here in the DUD.

😲 More Pithie brilliance 😲

I’ve written plenty about Kiwi Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) already this season, but he’s earned himself another mention this week with a terrific ride at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.

In a ride not dissimilar to his strong performance at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne a month back (a month already?!), Pithie got into what was the winning move of four on Sunday with Mathieu van der Poel, Mads Pedersen, and Jonathan Milan. That’s some incredible company for a guy who’s only in his second year in the WorldTour.

Pithie was only dropped on the final climb of the day, the Kemmelberg, where Pedersen and Van der Poel went clear to contest the race in a two-up sprint. Pithie rolled in with the main bunch, 16 seconds back, in what was just his latest great ride in 2024. To recap, he was:

Pretty handy start to the year for the 21-year-old. Anyone else excited to see how he goes in his debut Giro d’Italia in May?

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

👏 The understudy steps up 👏

While Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) was busy winning the Volta a Catalunya by nearly four minutes this past week, a quiet Aussie was busy putting in one of the best rides of his career a few steps down the GC ladder.

Normally we wouldn’t focus too much on riders beyond the podium, but Chris Harper’s sixth overall at Catalunya deserves a mention. The South Australian has made a name for himself as a tireless domestique in the mountains in recent years, most recently riding for Simon Yates, but with Yates still recovering from illness at Catalunya, Harper got the nod as Jayco AlUla’s GC man.

Across the race’s three mountain stages, Harper finished sixth, eighth, and fifth, ultimately landing him in sixth overall by race’s end (on the same time as Enric Mas in fifth, and less than a minute off the overall podium). It’s the 29-year-old’s best result at a WorldTour event since he finished fourth at the UAE Tour in 2021 (Pogačar won there as well).

Presumably we’ll see Harper switch back into domestique mode as the year goes on, likely heading to the Tour de France again in support of Yates who was fourth last year.

🤙 Oceania Champs, MTB National Series 🤙

It was a bumper weekend of Cross-Country Olympic (XCO) MTB racing in Brisbane over the weekend, with the Oceania Championships (Saturday) and the fifth and final round of the XCO National Series (Sunday) both held at Mt. Cotton.

In the men’s Oceania Championships, New Zealand’s Anton Cooper rode to his eighth-straight(!) continental title, ahead of former Aussie champ Sam Fox and Caleb Bottcher (New Zealand) in bronze. In the women’s race, U23 world champ Sammie Maxwell rode to a comprehensive victory, more than five minutes clear of silver medallist, Australia’s Zoe Cuthbert. Newly re-crowned Aussie champ Bec Henderson took the bronze, another minute down, after suffering with the ankle injury she sustained pre-Nationals.

On Sunday, Joel Dodds rode to a comfortable win in a slick XCO National Series race, ahead of Jack Ward and Coen Nicol. Ward took out the series overall. Katherine Hosking was victorious in the women’s race, ahead of Mary Gray and Kathryn McInerney. Alanna van de Hoef won the series overall.

😔 Truck driver charged after Indy Pac death 😔

A quick update now on the tragic death of Indian Pacific Wheel Ride (IPWR) competitor Chris Barker last week. A South Australian man has now been charged with manslaughter after he was allegedly driving a road train which struck and killed Barker near Madura on the Eyre Highway last Thursday morning.

The ABC reports that the driver appeared before a magistrate via a video link over the weekend and was remanded in custody to appear again on April 3. He reportedly didn’t apply for bail. 

Another IPWR competitor was struck by a vehicle the same day that Barker was killed. The ABC reports that the rider is in a “serious but stable condition” after being airlifted to Royal Perth Hospital.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

🍌 Big Things Down Under 🍌

We featured this Big Thing in one of the earliest editions of the DUD but this side-on shot from Escape member Matthew Glass shows just how big the Big Lobster actually is (17 metres high, in case you’re wondering). As Matthew writes:

“Here’s me and 20-something of my Tour de Cure mates at the Big Lobster in Kingston, SA. It was our second-last day on our nine-day ride from Hobart to Adelaide. We raised over $2 million for cancer research and support and had a cracking time doing it!”

Chapeau to Matthew and all his mates for a great ride for a terrific cause.

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 … ❤️

Former Aussie pros Richie Porte and Will Clarke might have retired from professional racing but it would seem they haven’t lost any love for riding bikes. The Tasmanian pair roed a lazy 335 km in 12 hours last Wednesday for the MAAP Equinox Ride, tracing out a big loop starting and finishing in Launceston.

Sounds like it wasn’t just the distance that made the day challenging. As Clarke wrote on Instagram: “Battling some winter like conditions early in the morning 🌧 to a lovely headwind most of the way home from St Helen’s.”

Meanwhile on the mainland, fellow former pro Mitch Docker was doing his own MAAP Equinox ride, covering 338 km in a massive loop in and around Melbourne.

As former pro turned commentator and tour host Dave McKenzie commented on Clarke’s ride, “Aren’t you blokes retired??”

Docker’s ride around Melbourne.

Cyrus Monk has another edition of his ‘Race like a Monk’ series now out, this time featuring his stint in the breakaway at Gent-Wevelgem last weekend. Worth a watch.

And finally, we teased it last week, but Jack Haig’s new podcast has now launched! The first episode is now live and features Jack and his roommate, Wout Poels, chatting about Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. You can subscribe to Escape’s “everything” podcast feed to get this and all of our podcasts, as soon as they drop.

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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