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Down Under Digest #36: Got what he deserved

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 29.05.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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🇮🇹 Aussies at the Giro 🇮🇹

Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) had been aiming for the overall podium at the Giro d’Italia and while he ultimately fell just short of that goal – finishing fourth on GC – he still had plenty to be proud of. “I ended up where I deserved to finish,” he told Eurosport after the race finished in Rome on Sunday. “I can’t be disappointed because I gave my best and I think I actually did some really good performances throughout the race that I’m really proud of.”

O’Connor pointed specifically to the second ITT, where he was seventh, and the final mountain stage – stage 20 – where he finished eighth. But the West Aussie had a bunch of such performances over the three weeks, with four top 10s en route to fourth overall – his second such finish at a Grand Tour, after finishing fourth at the 2021 Tour de France. Not a bad effort given the 28-year-old was sick during the final week of the Giro.

A little further down the GC, O’Connor’s fellow West Australian, Michael Storer (Tudor), rode to what was easily his best overall result at a Grand Tour. Storer managed four top-10s for the race but ultimately, it was Storer’s ninth-place finish on the final mountain stage that saw him jump up two spots from 12th overall to land his first Grand Tour top 10.

Australia’s biggest-name sprinter, Caleb Ewan (Jayco AlUla) finished the Giro for the first time, but his race was pretty forgettable otherwise. He only hit the top 10 on three occasions, with sixth on stage 5 being his best result. Instead it was Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) who most impressed among the Aussie fastmen, taking two runner-up finishes, and two third-place finishes. Groves also ended up second in the points classification, behind three-time stage winner Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek).

Groves (centre) flanked by the Giro’s two best sprinters: Tim Merlier (left) and Jonathan Milan (right).

And so the men’s WorldTour rumbles on toward the Critérium du Dauphiné, the biggest Tour de France lead-up race, which kicks off this Sunday. Notable Aussies on the (provisional) startlist include Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) – who’ll be racing alongside Primož Roglič and Aleksandr Vlasov – Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), and Chris Harper (Jayco AlUla).

🇫🇷 An Aussie clean-sweep in Brittany 🇫🇷

Over in France, meanwhile, it was a great few days for the Aussie women at the Bretagne Ladies Tour. Defending champion Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) came out of the gates with a bang, winning the stage 1 ITT by almost a minute (over just 18.8 km), and leading an FDJ-Suez 1-2-3-4 on the day. That result gave Brown the overall lead, which she would ultimately carry through to the end of the three-stage race (down from five stages last year).

On stage 2, Sarah Roy (Cofidis) got into a five-rider breakaway that got clear with around 30 km to go, and ended up winning the sprint from that group. It was Roy’s first win since her Aussie road title in January 2021, and her first win in Europe since August 2019. It was a win that meant a lot to the 38-year-old after a tough few seasons.

And then it was Brown’s turn back in the spotlight on the final stage, the Victorian turning a solo attack with 9 km to go into a stage victory in the leader’s jersey. Brown left the tour with overall victory by more than a minute … ahead of three of her teammates in what was a dominant performance from FDJ-Suez.

While the Bretagne Ladies Tour is only a third-tier race (UCI 2.1 classification), those great few days will surely give Brown additional confidence as she builds towards her biggest target of the year: the Tokyo Olympics.

🏆 CX season kicks off 🏆

Back home to Australia now where the Cyclocross National Series has just begun. Rounds 1 and 2 were held in Zombie Park in Adelaide over the weekend – the series’ first return to the course in seven years.

In dusty conditions, the weekend belonged to Katherine Hosking and Tristan Nash, with both riders winning on Saturday and Sunday.

National champion Hosking led from the front on Saturday and was able to fend off a challenge from Miranda Griffiths to win by 15 seconds, while Nash was strongest in a battle with former national champion Chris Jongewaard. On Sunday, Hosking surged clear on the final lap to record two wins in two days while Nash hit the front early and built a lead that neared a minute by the finish line.

Hosking after taking her first of two wins.

The AusCycling CX National Series continues with rounds 3 and 4 in Brisbane on June 15-16. The series then concludes in Sydney with two rounds on July 20-21.

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✂️ Snippets ✂️

❤️ And finally … ❤️

In last week’s edition I wrote about how it was likely we’d be winding up the Down Under Digest in the weeks ahead. You can follow the link above to read more about why we’re doing that, but at this stage, it looks like next week’s DUD will be the final edition.

I want to say a big thanks to everyone that reached out with lovely comments after the announcement last week, either via email or in the comments – it really did mean a lot. I hope you’ll join me next week for one final edition.

In the meantime, though … you might remember Aussie ultra-endurance cyclist Jack Thompson and the record-breakingly epic ride he did last November on the Munda Biddi Trail, in Western Australia. In horribly hot conditions, Thompson covered 1,067 km in around 60 hours (with just 17 minutes of sleep!), shaving five hours off the fastest-known time for the trail.

Now, the film of that ride is just a few days away, due to come out June 2. Based on the trailer you can see below, this promises to be a fascinating and inspiring piece of video.

Until next time …

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