Down Under Digest #31: The race that starts at 5:45am

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

Image: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 17.04.2024 Photography by
Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
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Hello and thanks for joining me for another edition of the Down Under Digest, your weekly round-up of all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. In this week’s edition, we’ve got road, we’ve got MTB, we’ve got track – we’ve even got some magpie-related #content, which is always exciting.

Before we begin, a quick shout-out to all of our wonderful members here at Escape Collective. It’s through your support that this newsletter (and a whole lot more besides) is possible. If you haven’t already signed up as a member, but you think you’d like to, here’s all the info you need. Oh, and if you’d prefer to get the DUD sent directly to your email inbox, you can do that too – just mash that big ol’ button below.

Alright, let’s get into it.

🌈 Sam Gaze is back at it 🌈

The Cross-Country MTB World Cup season got underway in Brazil last weekend and for New Zealand’s short-track world champion, Sam Gaze, the series started in perfect fashion. In humid conditions, the Kiwi came to the fore roughly halfway through the 20-minute effort, and was on the front for most of the final lap. He led the field into the final sprint and came away with an impressive victory – his first World Cup win since becoming world champ again in August year.

Gaze went on to finish seventh in the Cross-Country Olympic event on Sunday.

In other news from the Mairiporã World Cup last weekend, Australia’s Bec Henderson took silver in the women’s XCC race on Saturday, finishing seven seconds behind winner Evie Richards after a spirited fight back from fifth place. She took 19th in the XCO race the following day.

👑 Oceania road champions crowned 👑

As far as continental championships go, the “Oceanias” aren’t the biggest deal in the world of road cycling. In truth, the Aussie and Kiwi road nationals get stronger startlists than the Oceania Road Champs, largely because of the timing (virtually all of the best riders are in Europe at the moment). Still, for those that attended the Oceania champs in Brisbane this past weekend – and particularly to those who won – the meet was still a big deal.

Here’s how the top events went:

Also worth noting from Oceanias: 18-year-old Lauren Bates (ARA-Skip Capital) winning the U19 women’s road race solo by over a minute. You might recall that she won the U19 time trial and road race at Aussie Road Nats in January and that she’s about to start a racing block with the Australian National Team. One to put on your radar, if you haven’t already!

If you’d like a full wrap-up of all the Aussie medal winners at the Oceania Road Champs, AusCycling has you covered. Cycling New Zealand also has a wrap-up at its website.

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

😴 The earliest road race in the world? 😴

The Oceania Road Champs weren’t the only cycling event in Brisbane this past weekend: as part of the Brisbane Cycling Festival, the National Road Series (NRS) was also in town to race the one-day Tour de Brisbane.

In the women’s race – which started at 5:50am(!) – solo individual rider Isla Carr upstaged her bigger-name rivals, winning the bunch sprint after what AusCycling’s Josh Davies described as “a chaotic technical finish to the 81.3-kilometre race”. Jumping on the back of the BridgeLane train, Western Australian track racer Carr found her way to the front then held off the powerhouse team (and their sprinter Gina Ricardo) to take her first NRS victory. Ricardo was second and Sophie Edwards (ARA-Skip Capital) rounded out the podium.

In the elite men’s race (5:45am start!) CCACHE x Par Küp turned a strong team performance into victory for their man Graeme Frislie. Several breakaways led the race for a time, but all were ultimately reeled in before the decisive bunch sprint. Frislie positioned himself well coming into the technical finale and bested BridgeLane duo Zac Marriage and Jack Ward in the sprint.

In case you missed the news, this is the final year of Australia’s NRS in its current form. The series will be replaced by the Gerry Ryan-backed ProVelo Super League in 2025. For now though, the NRS continues on April 27-28 with the Grafton to Inverell, the fourth of seven stops on this year’s circuit.

🍁 A quiet one in Canada 🍁

The third and final round of the UCI Track Nations Cup was held in Milton, Canada over the weekend in what was a final hit-out before the Paris Olympics later this year. Earlier in the week Escape’s Kit Nicholson put together a breakdown of the event (and the MTB World Cup in Brazil), but if you feel like you haven’t heard much about how Aussies and Kiwis went, well, that’s with good reason.

AusCycling opted not to send a team to Canada which, at first glance, seems to be a slightly odd decision with the Olympics looming. I reached out to the governing body for an explanation, and here’s what a spokesperson said:

“Only points from the best two Nations Cups performances count towards Olympic qualification and we did Adelaide and Hong Kong. Participating in Milton would neither positively nor negatively affect our Olympic qualification. The strategy was to do the first two and only do Milton in case of contingency. This contingency wasn’t needed and hence athletes stayed at home to continue training.”

To me, it would seem like there’s value in another big international hit-out pre-Olympics. I’ve been assured that was factored in but, reading between the lines, it seems like AusCycling decided the (considerable) expense of sending a team to Canada wasn’t worth whatever racing benefits might have been achieved.

New Zealand, meanwhile, did have riders in Milton and one of them, Ellesse Andrews, had a great few days. Coming back from a shoulder injury she suffered at the Track Nations Cup in Adelaide in February, the 24-year-old took silver in the sprint, before going one better in the keirin, winning in the rainbow bands of world champ.

The Kiwi team for the Paris Olympics is due to be named late next month, and we’d expect similar for the Aussie line-up.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

❤️ And finally … ❤️

A couple things for you to round out this week’s newsletter. First: this fun video from Aussie team CCACHE x Par Küp after Graeme Frislie took the overall lead in the men’s NRS with his win in Brisbane:

If this looks a little familiar that’ll be because Ineos Grenadiers did the same thing earlier in the week after Tom Pidcock won Amstel Gold Race. Or because it’s become something of a meme in the sports world, superimposing someone’s likeness onto a video of rapper Lil Yachty walking out on stage at the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash concert back in 2021. Here’s the ‘original’ video, in case you’re curious.

And finally, I promised you some magpie-related content right at the top, and here it is: a new videogame in development from one-man Aussie production studio Monster Shop Games. Called Pie in the Sky, the game allows to play as an Aussie magpie “stealing hot chippies, taking a shit on pedestrians, and … knocking the blocks off pesky cyclists.”

It looks … fun? Maybe? I’m not quite sure. I might need to have a play once it’s released and report back.

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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