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Down Under Digest: A horrible few days at Masters Nationals

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 27.09.2023 Photography by
Jean-Pierre Ronco (Image Writer Photography)
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G’day and welcome back to the Down Under Digest, your weekly wrap-up of all things Aussie (and Kiwi!) cycling. With the pro racing season winding to a close you’d think there’d be a shortage of news and other goodies to share, but no – we’ve got another bumper edition for you today. Heads up though – today’s edition starts with some tough reading that’s a bit of a departure from the light-hearted tone we normally go for.

As always, if you’ve got a story that you think people should know about, please do get in touch. And if you want to share a photo of your bike against a Big Thing (more on that below), I’d love to hear from you as well.

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Without further ado, let’s get started.

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? A horrible few days at Masters Nationals ?

We begin with some sobering news from the Australian Junior and Masters Road Nationals, held in Shepparton, Victoria last week. While there was plenty of joy to be had for those who won gold medals, the meet was sadly marred by a couple of horrible incidents.

In Thursday’s individual time trial, Masters 2 racer Rhianon Norton (Shepparton Cycling Club) was involved in a collision with a truck that had turned onto the closed course. Norton was airlifted to hospital in Melbourne in a serious condition with multiple significant injuries. Norton’s family, club, and AusCycling have all declined to comment on the specifics of her condition.

In a statement to Escape, Victoria Police said the truck driver “stopped at the scene”, that “the exact circumstances surrounding the crash are yet to be determined”, and that “investigations are ongoing”.

AusCycling’s general manager of sport, Kipp Kaufmann, told Escape that “the course was fully traffic managed with a qualified traffic controller on all intersections including the one where the incident occurred. Our understanding is that the driver disobeyed the traffic controller.”

AusCycling has been told that charges have been laid against the truck driver. However, Victoria Police tells Escape that the truck driver has not been charged.

Norton’s horrible crash comes after recovering from a handful of other, serious incidents in recent years: a crash in 2018 that required several of her vertebrae to be fused; and another crash in 2020 that left her with another spinal fracture and broken femur. 

Thursday’s incident prompted AusCycling to change the following day’s road race courses, with a loop-based course traded in for laps of an 18 km out-and-back route. Sadly, another serious incident occurred that day too.

An image from the sprint finish, showing riders heading towards the setting sun. (Image: Image Writer Photography)

In the women’s Masters road race, multiple categories came together ahead of a sprint finish, which happened at around 6pm, in a westerly direction, towards the setting sun, affecting riders’ visibility.

A crash ensued, with Emma Andrews (Hawthorn Cycling Club) among those to fall. Andrews was airlifted to hospital with several serious injuries: multiple facial fractures, a fractured skull, a collapsed lung, a fractured collarbone, and of greatest concern, a brain bleed.

The news from Andrews’ camp today is that she’s now out of a coma and breathing on her own. However, it will take some time to learn the severity of her brain injury and what the future might hold for her.

Andrews just recently recovered from a long bout of COVID-induced myocarditis (inflammation of the heart). The Hawthorn Cycling Club has set up a fundraiser to help her and her family cover the costs of what is likely to be a lengthy recovery.

Escape is hoping for all the very best for both Andrews and Norton, plus their friends and family, at this very difficult time.

For a full list of the new Masters and junior national champions, head to the results portal at the AusCycling website.

? A rough road to the Olympics ?

Last Sunday was a big day for aspiring Olympic MTBers with a test event held on the Paris 2024 MTB course. Among those racing was Aussie cross-country champion Sam Fox who gave Escape Collective the lowdown on the course after the race:

“The features on course are a great mix – there’s some challenging rock/log gardens with A,B and C lines, flow/jump sections, and even just loose, off-camber corners. It’s an easy course to ride slow, but super challenging to ride at the limit without mistakes. I think we could see flat tyres or mistakes decide some racing. 

“The climbs are short but frequent so it makes for tight, full-gas racing. Spectators should be in for a treat. It really feels like you are sprinting every climb.”

Sadly for Fox, he’s only got a slim chance of making it to the Olympics. For him to get a spot, Australia needs to be in the top 19 in the national rankings by May 2024, and we’re currently 28th. And with Fox being the only Aussie male rider really chasing UCI points this year, it’s not looking great. “In short,” Fox says, “I need a stellar season over the next 6 months. ?”

Australia will almost certainly be represented in the women’s XCO race, though, thanks to Bec Henderson’s efforts during the qualification period. Australia is 11th in the women’s rankings, already enough to earn one spot. If we can move up to eighth, Australia will get a second spot in Paris.

Meanwhile, our Kiwi friends are currently ninth in the men’s ranking (earning one spot, but moving up by one would earn a second), and 15th in the women’s (one spot). And speaking of Kiwis, Anton Cooper took second in Sunday’s test event, behind local hero Victor Koretzky. France also won the women’s race courtesy of Loane Lecomte.

? Harry Sweeny signs with EF, Reddit rejoices ?

Twenty-five-year-old Aussie road pro Harry Sweeny is headed for a fresh start at EF Education-EasyPost after three seasons with Lotto Dstny. He’ll join the American team for at least the 2024 season.

There’s a nice story on the EF website with lots of quotes from Sweeny himself, but just as entertaining is the Reddit thread about Sweeny’s move. You see, Sweeny has become something of a cult hero in the Peloton subreddit, thanks in part to his YouTube channel, but mainly because he actually engages directly with redditors about his life as a pro – a true rarity.


? Ruby speaks up for The Voice ?

Here in Oz we’re a couple weeks away from deciding whether we’ll (finally) recognise our First Peoples in our constitution, via the creation of a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. What’s this got to do with cycling, you ask?

Not much, except that pro racer Ruby Roseman-Gannon this week threw her support behind the referendum’s ‘yes’ vote, writing in an Instagram Story: “The voice to parliament is the bare minimum that Aborginal Australians deserve … especially when you consider that most other countries provide a much greater platform for their indigenous peoples than the proposed Voice. #voteyes”

In our experience, pro riders tend to be very wary of speaking up on big issues like this – they’re often worried about upsetting their team, or their fans, or would just prefer to stick to riding their bikes. So it’s always refreshing when someone does speak up for the things they believe in.

Chapeau, Ruby.

? Results of note ?

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Big Things Down Under ?

A big thank you to reader Hugo Young who answered our call last week for photos of bikes parked near Australia’s Big Things! After all of our discussion last week about magpies, Hugo’s photo from the ‘Big Swoop’ statue in Garema Place, Canberra is very timely indeed. Nice one, Hugo!

Got one of Australia’s Big Things close to you? Or travelling past one? We’d love to see a photo of your bike parked up against it. Bonus points if you can snap it in landscape mode – perfect for the feature image up top of this newsletter!

? And finally … ?

If you enjoyed all the magpie-related goodness last week, you’ll enjoy the latest video from Aussie YouTuber Shane Miller (aka GPLama) in which he tests the so-called PieProof helmet.

Miller’s been creating great magpie-themed content for years now (amongst plenty of other cool stuff, mainly tech), and his YouTube channel is well worth a subscribe.

? Speaking of subscribing … ?

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