Down Under Digest #34: ‘Dumbest guy in the race’

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

Ben O’Connor tries to follow Tadej Pogačar.

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 08.05.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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G’day and welcome back to the Down Under Digest, your weekly guide to all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling. The Giro d’Italia is well underway now, so it’s the Italian Grand Tour that leads our coverage this week. But there’s plenty more to share as well, not least some strong performances at the Vuelta Femenina, some other noteworthy performances closer to home, plus a young rider with a hidden talent.

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Okie dokie – on with the show.

🧠 Dumbest guy in the race? 🧠

Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) can always be relied upon for an interesting quote, and this one after stage 2 of the Giro d’Italia (courtesy of GCN) is a beauty:

“I was brave. I always wanted to try and follow Pog, but I was probably the dumbest guy in the race. I followed for too long, then I just exploded. It’s a shame because I definitely feel like I was the second strongest guy, but probably the least intelligent.”

O’Connor is of course referring to his effort with around 4.5 km to go on that second stage where he was the only rider willing or able to follow Tadej Pogačar’s sizzling attack. As the West Aussie notes, he soon imploded, dropped back to be part of a chase group, was dropped out the back of that, and ended the stage a minute down on the rampaging Slovenian.

In a race where he was aiming for the overall podium it wasn’t the ideal first GC day for the 28-year-old and he was very hard on himself afterwards. As reported by GCN’s Patrick Fletcher, who was at O’Connor’s team bus when O’Connor arrived, “We won’t repeat his exact words here; suffice to say they echoed through the car park.”

O’Connor had further frustration ahead of him: a crash on stage 4 that thankfully didn’t leave him with any major injuries or any more lost time. At the time of writing (after stage 4) O’Connor is in 11th overall, 1:26 behind Pogačar’s overall lead. But the Giro is still young and O’Connor’s still only 40 seconds off second place …

🇮🇹 More from Italy 🇮🇹

While stage 2 of the Giro wasn’t a great day for Ben O’Connor, his fellow West Australian climber, Michael Storer (Tudor), was having a sneaky-good ride. Storer snuck in for sixth on the day, 30 seconds behind Pogačar and just a few seconds back on the guys who seem most likely to join Pogačar on the final podium in Rome – guys like Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), and Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe).

Storer shipped a bit of time on the opening day into Torino, otherwise he’d be up in sixth overall now too. Instead he’s back in 12th, just behind O’Connor.

Away from the world of climbers, Aussie Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) has also shown promising signs, taking second in the bunch sprint behind Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek) on stage 4. If, like me, you’re particularly tickled by the fact Groves started the Giro with negative UCI points for the year (courtesy of a littering infraction at Paris-Nice), you’ll be pleased to learn that our guy is now back in the black, courtesy of the 130 UCI points he got for his second place.

And in other news from the Aussie sprint contingent, Caleb Ewan (Jayco AlUla) has had a tough time of it in the two bunch gallops so far, taking 13th and 12th. His frustration came out in some comments at the end of stage 4 where he said things like “I think we’re not really dialled as a team” and “the more you have to do on your own, the harder it is.” Check it out on X (Twitter) courtesy of SBS Sport.

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

🇪🇸 An entertaining Vuelta 🇪🇸

Over in Spain, the first ‘Grand Tour’ on the women’s calendar is now over having delivered plenty of interesting storylines over eight days of racing. From a specifically Australian and Kiwi perspective, there were a few notable performances worth shouting out too:

Keen to follow the next chapter for the women’s peloton? You’ll want to check out Abby Mickey’s great Wheel Talk newsletter, if you haven’t already.

💪 Trekky’s sixth title 💪

Back home to Australia now with news from the MTB Marathon National Championships, held last weekend in Wagga Wagga, NSW.

In the elite men’s race, Brendan ‘Trekky’ Johnston took out his sixth MTB Marathon national title in a sprint finish ahead of fellow hitters Scott Bowden and Dan McConnell. Johnston spoke after the 89 km / 3 hour 40 minute race about how it’s been “a tumultuous summer”, about how the course didn’t really suit him, and about how he was proud of fighting the way he did.

In the elite women’s race, meanwhile, Courtney Sherwell soloed to her first-ever national title. The Victorian got away on the first lap with Isabella Flint with the pair riding well together until the final lap where Sherwell managed to open a winning gap.

“It feels pretty amazing. I’ve just gotten back from the US, and I’ve got a bit of a head cold this week,” she said, after winning in just over 4 hours and 16 minutes. “I’m so, so stoked. This is my first national jersey so I’m really proud.”

For more from the MTB Marathon Nationals, check out this report at the AusCycling website and the full results.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

A very sharp national champ’s kit for Browning.

🌴 A DUD-free week 🌴

A quick heads up that I’ll be away on leave next Wednesday so I won’t have a DUD for you next week. That is unless I can convince Iain Treloar to step in for a week which, given his penchant for the weird and wonderful, would make for quite the fascinating DUD I think. I’m sure if enough of you lobbed into the comments asking him to step in, he’d have to consider it, right?

❤️ And finally … ❤️

Maybe it’s the musician in me, or the fact I’m someone who has more hobbies than I have time for, but I’ve always had a particular fascination with pro cyclists who engage in creative pursuits when not on the bike. Cyrus Monk’s musical stylings and Grace Brown’s drawings are just two of many examples that spring to mind.

So it was a lovely treat to discover that Aussie neo-pro Felicity Wilson-Haffenden (Lidl-Trek) is quite the accomplished artist as well, judging by an Instagram post from earlier this week.

I’m curious: are there other creative types in the pro peloton you’ve been impressed with? I’d love to see some links in the comments below!

Until next time …

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