Down Under Digest #32: Altitude training at home

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

Hello and welcome back to the Down Under Digest, your weekly round-up of all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. It’s April 25 which of course means that it’s ANZAC Day, a day where those of us Down Under pause to reflect on those who lost their lives while serving their country. My thoughts are with those of you observing this sombre day of remembrance, particularly those who have lost a family member during military service.

🤜🤛 Aussies and Kiwis in Liège 🤜🤛

There was a moment late in Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes where four of the nine riders in the lead group were all from Down Under. Kiwi Mikayla Harvey (UAE Team ADQ) was there, as was her compatriot Kim Cadzow (EF Education-Cannondale) on her way to sixth place – one of the best rides of her young career.

Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal) was up the road too, having led solo for around 60 km (!) before being caught by the chase group. In an Instagram post about her race, Gigante revealed just how hard her day out front was: “4.5 W/kg normalised power for 4.5 hours … 328 TSS”. For anyone who’s trained or raced with a power meter before, you’ll know how eye-watering those numbers are.

And of course, the other Aussie in that lead group was none other than Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) who, despite nearly crashing with just under 7 km to go, ended up winning the race with a wonderfully timed sprint. She’s the first Aussie woman to win a Monument.

As I wrote for Escape earlier this week, the win was a significant one for Brown. Not just because it salvaged an otherwise-tough spring, but because she’d come so close to winning it twice before. Brown can now head into ‘tours season’ (and towards the Paris Olympics) with the confidence that only victory can provide.

And just finally on Liège, there was a part of Gigante’s post-race Instagram post that really stood out to me. You’ll often see rivals within the women’s peloton supporting one another on Instagram (check out the love Brown got on her post), but Gigante’s praise for Brown’s win was particularly heartwarming:

“I am so stoked to see Aussie Grace Brown take such a big win! She’s such a lovely person (she was really nice in the breakaway too 🇦🇺 🤗 – well, til she dropped me haha) and this win has been coming for such a long time!! Hats off!!”

Stay posted to the Escape website for a Q&A with Grace Brown about her Liége win, coming in the next few days. 

⛰️ Mixed fortunes in the Alps ⛰️

Over to Italy now where a handful of Aussie men were at the fore in the Tour of the Alps. I mentioned last week that Chris Harper (Jayco-AlUla) snagged second on the opening stage, but after that promising start, his race would end in rather dramatic fashion.

On a technical descent with around 25 km to go on stage 4, Harper hit a bump in the road, veered into a kerb, then came off at high speed, coming to a stop only when his head hit a light post. The footage is quite unsettling, but while Harper left the race, he did “only” suffer a mild concussion and “superficial wounds”. He seemed to be doing pretty well the next day.

The same day Harper crashed, as Simon Carr (EF Education-EasyPost) was riding away to win stage 4 solo by more than a minute, Aussies Michael Storer (Tudor) and Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) were riding to second and third respectively. As you can see in the video above, O’Connor actually crashed in the same spot as Harper, but was able to get up and carry on towards a great stage result.

O’Connor finished the Tour of the Alps in second overall, another great sign ahead of the Giro d’Italia early next month. As a reminder, here’s every race O’Connor’s done so far in 2024:

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GC Jai

Speaking of Aussie GC contenders, you might have seen that my interview with Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) went up on Escape last week. It was a wide-ranging and (I think) interesting interview where we chatted about everything including GC leadership, the stress of being a pro cyclist, the joys of altitude training, and even the fact Aussie Road Nationals are heading to Perth. Here’s a snippet from our chat, about racing against superstars like Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar:

“I think the level in general has gotten higher and higher over the years and then you have these guys who are just head and shoulders above everyone else, and then everyone is sort of just playing catch up a bit. I also did pretty good numbers in Tirreno[-Adriatico] and was getting smoked every day, so it’s not so fun, you know, but what can you do?” *laughing*

Later he added:

But I think in general, for the sport, I think we’re really in like a golden era of cycling when you look at these guys. I don’t know if people appreciate it so much; just the level of the Tour when these guys come together at races. I was watching the highlights of the Tour last year, after the stage – it was just unbelievable, you know? So I think we’re really in a golden era and there’s some real class riders.

Check out the full interview with Jai Hindley at the link. Oh, and in other news about the West Australian: he’s just extended his contract with Bora-Hansgrohe although it’s not clear how long that’s for.

💎 G2I and the Sapphire Tour 💎

Australia’s National Road Series (NRS) rattles on this weekend with one of the most prestigious events on the calendar: the Grafton to Inverell. Well, technically, it’s the Grafton to Inverell for the men, and the newly created Sapphire Tour for the women.

The men’s race is a very hilly 228 km one-day event, featuring the infamous Gibraltar Range climb partway through. The Sapphire Tour is a two-day event featuring a 109 km stage race on Saturday (effectively the second half of the Grafton to Inverell route, without the Gibraltar Range climb), and then a 42 km circuit race on the Sunday.

Ryan Miu has a detailed preview over at AusCycling but in short, the men’s teams to watch are CCACHE x Par Küp (including Alastair Christie-Johnston and Bentley Niquet-Olden), Cobra9 Leigh Surveying (featuring Carter Bettles), and of course BridgeLane (Luke Burns and Ben Metcalfe among them).

On the women’s side, all eyes will be on BridgeLane, including the likes of Keely Bennett, Katelyn Nicholson, and Amanda Poulsen.

Come back to the DUD next week for a wrap-up of what happened.

🪖 Trouble ahead in the helmets space 🪖

Remember the news a few weeks back that Australia is getting new rules for bike helmets, allowing suppliers to sell helmets in Oz so long as they meet an approved international standard? I flagged at the time that Bicycle Industries Australia had concerns about this development – that while the helmets can now be be imported, actually using them is still illegal.

Well, now AusCycling’s executive general manager of government strategy, Nick Hannan, has weighed in, reiterating the same concerns:

“Australian cyclists should have more choice, but they should also have the confidence that a helmet bought in an Australian shop is legal to wear on any Australian public road. There is a real risk that states and territories react to the ACCC decision differently and recognise different helmet standards in their road rules.

“We could be facing a situation where a helmet that is legal to buy and legal to wear in one state could be illegal to wear in another.”

Messy stuff. It seems like we could be years away from a resolution, too.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

Image: Info Bijeljina

❤️ And finally … ❤️

Aussie road racer and YouTuber Harry Sweeny (EF Education-EasyPost) is back with another vlog that takes us behind the scenes of his life as a pro bike racer. Altitude training is becoming increasingly important in the peloton these days and in this video, Sweeny shows us the lengths he’s going to to get the most out of it. Namely: battling to set up an altitude tent in his bedroom to get in a bit of thin-air adaptation before he heads off to a team altitude camp in the lead-up to the Dauphinè.

As with all of Sweeny’s vlogs, this video provides an intriguing peek behind the curtain … which in this case is a plastic screen surrounding his bed, and holding in air with the same sort of oxygen concentration you’d (apparently) experience at around 3,400 metres.

Until next time …

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