Down Under Digest #29: Holy Week

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 03.04.2024 Photography by
Chris Ling
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G’day and welcome back to the Down Under Digest, your one-stop-shop for all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. This week’s edition comes to you from a very drizzly Kortrijk, Belgium, in the week between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

‘Holy Week’ has provided its fair share of interesting storylines to follow so far, some of them from the Antipodean contingent. So let’s get into it.

😲 Cyrus’s big day 😲

I learned a lot from speaking to DUD favourite, Cyrus Monk, at the Tour of Flanders. First, I learned that Antwerp’s red light district is plenty busy even when it’s pre-9am on Easter Sunday. Let’s just say the wrong turn I took to get to Monk’s Q36.5 team bus turned out to be an eye-opening one.

I also learnt what it means to a rider to start their first Monument when they just see themselves as a “regular guy”. And I learned it’s possible to climb Flanders’ toughest climbs – the Koppenberg and the Paterberg – in the big ring if you have to. And Monk had to, when his gears crapped out in the horrendous conditions.

When Monk told me that on the phone I had to send him a text later to check I hadn’t misheard him:

“Just confirming, you said you big-ringed the Paterberg AND Koppenberg, right?!”

“Yep. Done both climbs dozens of times before but definitely never in the 54. 😂

All of this is to say Monk had a very eventful day in his first Flanders, and that you can read all about it in the story I wrote.

😬 Bling’s brief podium 😬

For a brief moment on Sunday, Australia’s Michael Matthews (Jayco AlUla) was a podium finisher at the Tour of Flanders. And then he wasn’t, with the race jury relegating him from third to 11th after what it deemed was an irregular sprint.

As Escape’s Caley Fretz wrote afterwards, it was clear Matthews’ team didn’t agree with the decision. But there was nothing they could do. Sad times for Matthews, missing out on his best-ever result in the Belgian Monument.

Possibly a little unlucky if you ask me.

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

🙏 Farewell, Roxsolt Liv SRAM 🙏

We’ve reached the end of an era in Australian women’s road cycling. After 10 years as one of the country’s best domestic teams, the Roxsolt Liv SRAM program wrapped up this week. Looking at the series of Instagram posts the team published this week, I was reminded just how much the team did in its time:

As of March 31, 2024, the team is officially no more. Congrats and thank you to Kelvin, Peta and everyone else that made the team such a stalwart of the Aussie scene for so long. You’ll be missed!

🎙️ A chat with Jai Hindley 🎙️

If you’ve followed the DUD since it started, you’ll know I have a keen interest in Jai Hindley and what his opportunities look like now that Primož Roglič is part of Bora-Hansgrohe as well. Well, just before jetting off to Belgium, I had the privilege of chatting to Jai over video and it was an interesting chat. We’ll publish the full thing after the dust (mud?) has settled on Paris-Roubaix, but I thought I’d share a short excerpt with you today.

Here he is giving his perspective on the increasing amount of altitude training being done these days:

“I think it’s pretty stupid to rent an apartment, actually, these days. I mean, it’s just part of it. It’s part of the evolution of the sport. You see it now, guys going to altitude already in December, January to be good in the first races of the season, because they know they won’t be able to be competitive later in the season, at the bigger races.

“I mean, I also understand that but then you go to a race like Valencia, for example, one of these early season races, and the level is super high already in February. So then I think we just get to the point where there’s not really a proper ‘offy’ anymore.” 

Stay posted for the full article, coming soon.

😔 Troubled teen back at it 😔

Remember those teens who were accused of hitting a couple of cyclists on Melbourne’s Beach Road earlier this year? Well, after getting bail initially, the 14-year-old involved in the case was arrested again in the past week.

As The Age reported this week, the 14-year-old (who allegedly urged the driver of the stolen car to hit cyclists) “was involved in a police pursuit in a stolen car and caught smoking drugs within days of being granted bail.”

The kid was out on three counts of bail, and broke out of care early one morning, allegedly stole a car, then was caught going at 150 km/h. He has been refused bail this time.

“[Justice James] Elliott noted that between May 31 and February 27, the 14-year-old was reported missing from his care home 46 times, all in breach of his various bail conditions,” The Age reports. The teen will face court again this month.

📋 New helmet standards for Australia 📋

After a review that lasted seven years, Australia is set to get a new safety standard for bike helmets. The new standard will allow suppliers to sell helmets in Australia so long as they meet an applicable safety standard from Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the US, and beyond. The full list of relevant standards can be found here.

Crucially, while this change means overseas-certified helmets can be imported into Australia, current road laws in Australia currently make it illegal to use helmets that don’t meet Australian standards.

Bicycle Industries Australia says that it expects it will take “at least two years for states and territories to update the appropriate road legislation” to make overseas-certified helmets legal to use. One to keep an eye on.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

🍌 Big Things Down Under 🍌

In today’s Big Things Down Under, we head up north to Darwin where Ben Gibson has been out visiting one of the stranger Big Things Australia has to offer. I’ll let him tell the story:

“The Easter weekend lent itself to long rides around the network of quiet roads that criss-cross Darwin’s rural area so, this morning, I made sure to include a brief stop in Humpty Doo to grab a photo of my bike with the world’s largest boxing crocodile.”

According to the Land of the Bigs website, this sculpture was inspired by the boxing kangaroo logo used in Australia’s successful 1983 America’s Cup campaign. Thanks Ben!

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 … ❤️

There was a brief moment when it seemed like maybe this video from Jayco AlUla was legit; that Mat Hayman was making a comeback to race Paris-Roubaix this weekend. Of course, it was an April Fool’s gag from the Aussie team, but Hayman racing eight years after his epic victory would have been amazing.

And finally, here’s something pretty inspiring. Melbourne’s Sadie Fitton is about to attempt the women’s record for the most elevation gain on a bike in 24 hours – currently set at 14,624.89 metres.

Sadie had a crack at the record this time last year and got to more than 10,000 metres before the heat ended her attempt. Six weeks after that ride she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC).

After responding well to her initial treatment, Sadie is now using her second attempt at the record to raise funds for MBC research at Peter MacCullum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. Follow the link to find out more about Sadie’s ride and/or donate to the cause. 

Chapeau, Sadie, and good luck!

Until next time …

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