Down Under Digest #30: Roubaix is ruthless

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

Cyrus Monk en route to becoming the final finisher at Paris-Roubaix.

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 10.04.2024 Photography by
Kristof Ramon
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G’day and welcome back to the Down Under Digest, your weekly guide to all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. With Flanders and Roubaix now complete I’m back home in Melbourne and delighted that a) I picked up a virus of some kind on the way home, and b) that the weather is worse here than it was in Belgium. Some effort that.

As the dust settles on Paris-Roubaix, there’s plenty to share from that most challenging of one-day races, plus a bunch more stuff to get across. Let’s get right into it.

😢 Grace Brown’s brutal Roubaix 😢

If you want to see a great demonstration of just how hard Paris-Roubaix is, and the emotions it stirs in those who tackle it, look no further than Grace Brown’s Instagram Stories from last Saturday’s race. Here’s the before and after, which I’ve just dropped into a single video for your viewing convenience:

The Aussie FDJ-Suez rider ended up 61st on the day, 7:41 off the win, as Lotte Kopecky rode to a stirring victory on the Roubaix Velodrome.

😠 Sarah Roy speaks out 😠

Here’s another Aussie who had a less-than-ideal day at Paris-Roubaix. Former national champ Sarah Roy (Cofidis) took to Instagram on Sunday to voice her displeasure at the lack of support she received from neutral service in the race. Let’s let her pick up the story:

“Part of the way into sector 16 my tyre was sliced and blew out. I drifted to the back of the pelo with my hand up. It was impossible to ride the rim on those cobbles so I stopped, with my hand up. The neutral spares moto past me as I yelled “Neutral” and they turned their head to look at me but continued on. The comm car passed, then the neutral spares car passed me as well, all of whom had time and clear vision to see me as they approached me.

“I accept the chaos of racing Roubaix but I don’t accept the neutral spares failing to do the job they are there to do. This cost me, and my team a fair race. Other riders were serviced by neutral spares and given the opportunity to race their best. I feel like I was denied the opportunity for a chance to even try yesterday. If this happened to one of the top riders we would all be talking about it.

“It shouldn’t have happened. Obviously I am sad and angry, but check these guys out. They were RIGHT THERE, when I needed them… 💔”

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

👏 Laurence Pithie has earned a break 👏

It feels like I’m writing this every week these days but wasn’t Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) impressive over the weekend? At his very first Paris-Roubaix, the 21-year-old Kiwi finished seventh (he’d been aiming for a top 10), and could well have had a shot at the podium were it not for a crash with around 30 km to go.

After trying for weeks to get a chat with Pithie, I had the pleasure of catching up with him both before and after Paris-Roubaix, and wrote a story about his race. The thing that stood out most was just how hard he is on himself. Exhibit A:

“I mean, I’ll look back on this and be happy with seventh but I could have been playing for the podium. I had really good legs. I made a mistake and yeah, that crash took me out of that group.”

And Exhibit B:

“I think if I hadn’t made this mistake … the plan was to have numbers in front and we [Groupama-FDJ] executed that. I just, yeah, I let the team down today.”

Many champion athletes are hard on themselves – that’s one of the ways they motivate themselves to improve – but in Pithie’s case, I hope he’s able to take a step back and realise how impressive he’s been so far this year. He’ll be at the Giro next month and even though it’s his first Grand Tour, it’s hard to imagine him not featuring in some way …

😅 Last man in 😅

At the other end of the men’s Roubaix was DUD favourite, Cyrus Monk (Q36.5) who was the last rider into the Roubaix Velodrome. He finished outside the time cut (48 minutes behind winner Mathieu van der Poel) but at Roubaix, even just getting to the finish is an admirable effort, particularly when you’ve had such a rough day.

As you’d expect, Monk gave some great quotes after finishing, too:

You can read all about Monk’s day in a story at the Q36.5 team website.

😔 Jay’s long road to recovery 😔

In other news, Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) seems to be making good but slow progress after being caught up in last week’s horrible crash on stage 4 of Itzulia Basque Country. The Aussie was one of several big names who left the race with serious injuries; in his case, three spinal fractures.

An initial post from Vine’s wife Bre painted a pretty grim picture of Jay’s condition, but since then the news has been better. Jay doesn’t need surgery on any of his spinal fractures, and on Tuesday he was even able to get up and start walking around for the first time.

We wish Jay all the very best as he recovers from this latest setback.

📅 Next up: Oceania Road Champs 📅

A little closer to home, the Oceania Road Championships are about to kick off, with the elite road races happening in Brisbane this Friday. Follow the links to learn about the courses and find the startlists. Here are some of the bigger names set to line up in the road races:

The Oceanias time trials will be held on Saturday and then on Sunday it’s time for the Tour de Brisbane, a one-day race that forms part of the National Road Series.

Check out next week’s DUD for results from all of these events.

🦋 A new team for Peta Mullens 🦋

You might remember from last week’s DUD that long-running Aussie women’s team Roxsolt Liv SRAM has now wrapped up. Well, the team’s biggest-name rider, multiple-time national champ Peta Mullens, has just revealed that she’s part of a new team sponsored by beauty brand Brazilian Butterfly and bike company Liv (both of whom were sponsors of Roxsolt Liv SRAM).

It’s not clear from the announcement post what the team is called – possibly just Brazilian Butterfly-Liv – but we do know that four women will be part of the outfit, and that they will “compete both domestically here in Australia and internationally around the globe, in all disciplines from road, to gravel and off the beaten track out on the mountain bike.”

Mullens has just arrived in the US where she’s about to race in the Life Time Grand Prix gravel and MTB series. That series starts with the Sea Otter Classic on Friday April 19, but Mullens will do her first race in her new colours this coming Saturday, at Levi’s Gran Fondo.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

🍌 Big Things Down Under 🍌

No Big Thing photo this week, per se, but we do have something with a similar vibe. This photo comes from member Peter Gugger and shows an installation on the Geelong Foreshore in Victoria, called ‘North’. Created by artist-sculptor Mark Stoner, this sculpture was installed in 2000 and features seven individual pieces, right near where the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race finishes.

Are they sails? Are they shark fins? It’s not clear. Even Stoner’s website doesn’t really say. Choose your own adventure, I guess? Either way, thanks for the photo, Pete!

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 … ❤️

Here’s something interesting: Aussie road racer Georgie Howe recently contributed to a research project led by exercise physiologist José L Areta. Entitled “Case Study: Energetics of a world tour female road cyclist during a multi-stage race (Tour de France Femmes)”, the paper has been accepted for publication and will be available soon.

In Areta’s words:

I’ll take a closer look at the paper when it’s available.

And finally, here’s something from Aussie comedian / keen bike rider, Hamish Blake that brought a smile to my face. Blake recently appeared in Stellar Mag “talking all things silliness and fun” and as part of the photo shoot, Blake tried doing a wheelie on a bike. It maybe didn’t go quite as planned. 

Until next time …

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