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Down Under Digest #37: The final DUD

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 05.06.2024 Photography by
Stuart Crooks
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🇺🇸 Lachlan Morton wins Unbound 🇺🇸

For years now, Lachlan Morton has been doing his thing off-road, racing gravel events, ultra-endurance events, setting his own personal challenges. This past weekend, Morton achieved perhaps his biggest result since leaving road racing behind, winning the 320 km Unbound Gravel event in Kansas, USA.

An attack from Morton at around the halfway mark saw him get clear of the bunch with just two riders for company, but soon it was just the Aussie and one of those riders – Chad Haga, another former road pro – leading the race. The two would make it all the way back to Emporia together, where Morton won the sprint.

The win comes after third- and fourth-place finishes in the past for Morton, and as he wrote on Instagram afterwards, it also comes after some significant self-doubt about his ability to compete with the best in the biggest gravel races.

“I changed my approach in the month leading up to this and focused on enjoying the riding I was doing,” Morton wrote. “No getting caught up in what anyone else was doing and drawing a firm line before the fun stopped. My hope was that regardless of the result I could be content knowing I’d done it the way I wanted without compromising my simple enjoyment of heading out on the bike for a different mission everyday.

“I assumed that approach would impede, in some way, my ability to compete at the high level required. It’s so validating to know that wasn’t true.”

🤔 Robert Stannard given backdated ban 🤔

In less-uplifting news, former Aussie road pro Robert Stannard has been handed a backdated four-year suspension and a hefty fine following an anti-doping rule violation some six years ago.

In August last year the UCI announced that Stannard had “unexplained abnormalities in his Biological Passport in 2018 and 2019”. The UCI’s Anti-Doping Tribunal recently found that those abnormalities were caused by the “use of a prohibited substance or a prohibited method”.

The UCI didn’t elaborate on those details – and said it wouldn’t offer further comment – and Stannard proclaimed his innocence when the news of his provisional suspension came out last year (on the eve of the Road Worlds where he was due to represent Australia). The UCI has now handed Stannard a four-year suspension … backdated to August 2018, meaning Stannard is free to compete again should he wish to (he hasn’t raced since the initial finding was made public last year and has no contract for this year). Stannard was also fined 70% of his salary for the 2018 and 2019 seasons under the finding.

Of note from the UCI press release: “The decision is not final as it can be appealed before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) by the rider, his National Federation and National Anti-Doping Agency, the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) within one month. The decision will be published on the UCI website once final.”

Should the UCI’s penalties be enforced, Stannard will presumably be stripped of his overall title at the 2022 Tour de Wallonie.

🏆 Podium round-up 🏆

A quick look now at some of the Aussie and Kiwi riders snagging great results on the road in the past week.

After reaching the podium on four stages of the Giro d’Italia without a win, Aussie sprinter Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) has continued that trend at the Brussels Cycling Classic one-day race. The day was won by Uno-X Mobility’s Jonas Abrahamsen with a late solo move, with Groves finishing just behind Biniam Girmay (Intermarchè-Wanty) in the bunch sprint behind, the Queenslander taking third on the day. Groves is still looking for his first win of 2024.

Elsewhere in Belgium, at the Dwars door de Westhoek, Aussie Escape member Lauretta Hanson (Lidl-Trek) raced to her best result in Europe in nearly six years. Hanson got up the road with Kathrin Schweinberger (Ceratizit-WNT) and the pair rode to the finish nearly two minutes ahead of the group behind. Schweinberger took it in a sprint, but for Hanson – a much-loved and loyal domestique – it was her best individual finish in Europe since winning the ITT at the 2018 Tour de Feminin in the Czech Republic.

Over in Spain, at the women’s Vuelta Andalucia, Kiwi champ Ella Wyllie was part of a dominant performance from Aussie team Liv AlUla Jayco. The team went 1-2-3 on the opening stage, with Wyllie taking third, and then the young Kiwi went on to win stage 3 in what was her first European victory (and another Liv AlUla Jayco 1-2-3).

Wyllie finished the race in third overall, as part of a GC podium sweep with teammates Mavi Garcia and Silke Smulders. Wyllie’s success comes after a bunch of promising rides so far this year which speak of an exciting future for the 21-year-old climber.

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

✂️ Snippets ✂️

🍌 Big Things Down Under 🍌

For most of the DUD’s 37 editions, the feature image that started the newsletter came from the Escape community. An ode to Australia’s Big Things, these photos gave the DUD something of a visual identity and celebrated the many cult attractions (and other interesting pieces of art) around our great land.

We didn’t have an image every week, and in more recent editions we had more-newsworthy images lead the newsletter, but I’ll remember Big Things Down Under as one of my favourite parts of the DUD. Thanks to Escape’s very own Dave Rome for the initial idea, and to every single person who sent in an image for consideration.

That includes Stuart Crooks who sent in this week’s photo to close out the DUD in style. While perhaps not technically a Big Thing, the “Containbow” in Fremantle, Western Australia is exactly the sort of thing I’ve loved featuring in the DUD, and a perfect way to see out the newsletter.

Made from nine recycled shipping containers, the Containbow stands 9 metres high, it’s 19 m long, it weighs a hefty 66 tonnes, and was created by Perth artist Marcus Canning. Here’s a video of it being installed back in 2016. 

Thanks again, Stuart, for heading out to take those photos. And thanks again to everyone that contributed to this section of the newsletter over the last nine months.

❤️ And finally … ❤️

Last week we featured the trailer for a film about Jack Thompson’s record-breaking ultra-endurance ride along the length of the Munda Biddi trail in Western Australia. The full film is out now on YouTube and it’s well worth your time. Impressive and inspiring stuff.

And finally, in this final edition of the DUD, a big thank you to every one of you that has joined me at some point on this journey.

The DUD began in September 2023 as a way of providing more local content for our Australian (and New Zealand) readers all in one convenient place, and I’d like to think we succeeded in that. We’ve shared stories of great successes from our favourite riders, followed various storylines as they’ve played out over the span of months, and even broke the odd news story along the way. All in all it’s been a lot of fun, and I’m very grateful that so many of you have joined me along the way.

Sadly, it’s time to refocus our energy elsewhere now – to better serve more of our wonderful members – but you can be sure we’ll continue to provide Aussie- and Kiwi-themed content on Escape as it comes up. And if you haven’t already seen the range of other great newsletters we have on offer, be sure to check them out and sign up if you like what you see. We’ve got:

And with that, thanks so much for being part of the Down Under Digest. It’s been a privilege.

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