Down Under Digest #35: End of the road?

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

Caleb Ewan waiting for the start of a rain-drenched stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia. Can relate to his mood.

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 22.05.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Hello and welcome back to the Down Under Digest. Thanks for joining me.

Sadly, it’s looking like this might be one of the final editions of this weekly round-up. In essence, reader numbers aren’t quite stacking up and I should be able to provide better value for our wonderful members by focusing my energies elsewhere.

I’ll have some more thoughts about this at the end of the newsletter but, for now, let’s get stuck into this week’s DUD. And after being away last week, there’s a bit for us to cover!

🇮🇹 In Pog’s shadow 🇮🇹

If you’ve been keeping even half an eye on the Giro d’Italia you’ll know Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is on his way to one of the most emphatic Grand Tour wins we’ve ever seen. A little further down the GC ladder though, in the land of mere mortals, a handful of Aussie riders have been giving us a bunch of reasons to keep tuning in late at night:

As for the Kiwis in the race, Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) has looked the most impressive, with a fourth and eighth in what is his debut Grand Tour.

💨 Grace Brown is on track for Paris 💨

Grace Brown‘s prep for the Tokyo Olympics appears to be going as planned with a stomping victory in the opening stage of the Bretagne Ladies Tour. In the 18.8 km individual time trial, the Aussie posted the best time by more than 50 seconds in what was a dominant start to the tour for her FDJ-Suez team. The French outfit took the top four spots on the stage – Brown, Amber Kraak, Marie Le Net, and Alessia Vigilia – with Coralie Demay’s seventh making it five in the top 7 for the team.

Brown now leads the three-stage French race by 53 seconds and, all going well, will be very hard to beat from here.

☝️ Sam proves a point ☝️

After a great start to the year in Australia, Sam Welsford (Bora-Hansgrohe) was expecting to be at the Giro d’Italia. But, after a less-than-successful lead in, the team opted to take Welsford’s lead-out man, Danny van Poppel, for the sprint finishes instead, with the Dutchman saying “maybe they just saw that I am currently better than my leaders”. Spicy.

Welsford went to the Tour de Hongrie instead where, on the very first stage, he showed the doubters that he is indeed able to win away from home, taking out a crash-marred bunch sprint.

Sure, the UCI 2.Pro Tour of Hungary is not the Giro – the field he came up against wasn’t nearly as strong as that in Italy – but still, you can only win races you start in. In the words of Welsford’s sports director Shane Archbold: “Obviously he’s had some fire in his belly with not having the race program he was dreaming of, but it’s great to see he turned it around and had a perfect sprint today.”

Hopefully Welsford’s win will give him some renewed confidence for whatever might come next.

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

🏆 Johnston and Barrow win on gravel 🏆

A couple weeks back Brendan ‘Trekky’ Johnston bounced back from a trying summer to win his sixth Aussie MTB Marathon title in inspiring fashion. And then, a week or so back, he took his good form over to Western Australia to win Seven, a UCI Gravel World Series race. Johnston made his mark in the final 30 km of the race, going on to win the elite men’s category solo by more than a minute. 

In the elite women’s field, meanwhile, Aussie gravel champ Justine Barrow overcame some slipping handlebars and a dropped chain to get into a group as the only elite female, winning her category by more than six minutes.

Barrow then headed over to the USA where she rode to another victory, this one in the 237 km Gravel Locos in Texas. Barrow was again the only elite female in her group after 25 km and “didn’t see the rest of the women’s field for the remainder of the race”. Barrow’s finishing time of just over 7 hour 30 minutes was 14 minutes faster than the runner-up in her category, Marisa Boaz.

While Barrow is not part of the Life Time Grand Prix circuit in 2024, Johnston is. He was fifth in the series opener, the Sea Otter Classic, and will return to action at the legendary, 320 km Unbound Gravel on June 1.

🌿 Kiwi Olympic reps named 🌿

Cycling New Zealand has this week announced the road and track riders that will represent the silver fern at the upcoming Paris Olympics, and there are some big hitters among them. Here’s the list:

It shouldn’t be long before AusCycling releases a similar list.

🤔 A name for the future 🤔

Interested in young riders to keep an eye on? You might want to take note of 17-year-old Kiwi Carter Guichard, who’s currently riding for the Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale U19 team over in France.

Guichard has been on the podium in the U19 men’s race at the Kiwi Road Nationals the past two years, and last week he rode to his best results yet. In the SPIE Internationale Juniorendriedaagse – a three-day U19 stage race in the Netherlands – Guichard was third in the race’s individual time trial on his way to second overall. They were his first podiums in a UCI-classified event. (Guichard’s teammate, Norwegian rider Marius Innhaug Dahl, won the race overall courtesy of three wins in four stages.)

⛏️ Construction finally about to start in Warby ⛏️

If you’re an Aussie MTBer – and particularly if you’re from Melbourne – you’re probably familiar with the saga of the Warburton MTB Park. In the works for more than a decade now, this project seeks to develop the town of Warburton into a MTB destination by building a bevy of trails in the nearby hills. The project has been through the bureaucratic wringer in recent years, requiring the “most comprehensive approvals process ever undertaken for a recreational project”.

Well now, finally, we have an idea of when trailbuilding will begin: next month. Stage 1 of the project, which will be built by renowned trailbuilders World Trail, will feature over 100 km of new and upgraded trails. The first trails are due to be open to the public in early 2025. “At long last, the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination is set to become a reality,” said Yarra Ranges Shire councillor Jim Child. 

For more information on the Warburton MTB Destination, head to the project’s website.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

❤️ And finally … ❤️

As usual, here’s a selection of interesting little bits and pieces from around the web, to round out today’s edition of the DUD.

Over on YouTube, DUD favourite Cyrus Monk (Q36.5) has posted the latest installment in his Train like a Monk series where he interviews fellow pro racers about their approach to training. In this edition: fellow Aussie Matt Dinham whom you might remember from his amazing seventh at the Road Worlds last year.

And then there’s this fun little number from the team at Jayco AlUla. Michael Hepburn is one of only two riders from the original 2012 GreenEdge squad still part of the organisation (pop quiz: who’s the other?), and in this video Hepburn models every single jersey the team has sported over the years, through its various incarnations. The video is fun, but the resulting composite image is what makes this project particularly striking.

And finally today, just a quick note about the future of the DUD. As noted in the intro, it’s likely we’ll be winding down this newsletter in the coming weeks. While there’s a bunch of you that read and enjoy the DUD each week – and I’m so grateful for every single one of you – the total number of readers and subscribers suggest there are other ways I can better spend my time serving more of our members (and helping to attract more members to the fold).

I’ve loved collating and writing this for you each week, and I’ve especially enjoyed the interactions with those of you that have commented on the site posts, or sent me emails with tip-offs, photos, and more. Thank you all.

I should add that while the DUD might not exist in this format any more, you can still expect Australian- and NZ-focused content here at Escape. I’m always open to suggestions so if you have a local story idea you think I should look into, please keep on reaching out!

Thanks so much for reading and I’ll join you again next week.

Until next time …

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