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Down Under Digest: The most Aussie thing we can think of

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 08.11.2023 Photography by
Michael Hardy
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G’day friends, and thanks for checking out this week’s edition of the Down Under Digest, your weekly wrap-up of all things Aussie and Kiwi cycling.

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Alright, let’s get on with the show!

? Plappy’s ‘coming home’ ?

What could be more Australian than kangaroos, the Great Barrier Reef, and Vegemite? How about a shirtless Luke Plapp, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and short-shorts somewhere in the Aussie wilderness, splitting firewood, and then smashing down a can of VB?

Let’s just say Jayco AlUla had some fun announcing it has signed the 22-year-old for the next four years.

Plapp was contracted with Ineos Grenadiers through 2024 but, as GCN reports, that contract was broken through mutual agreement, leaving the Melburnian free to join Australia’s only WorldTour team.

Plapp joined Ineos in 2022 and has shown glimpses of brilliance, with back-to-back Aussie road race titles (2022-23), third overall at the 2022 Tour of Norway, and perhaps most impressively, second overall at this year’s UAE Tour. From the outside, though, Plapp appears to have been rather under-utilised at Ineos and it would seem that one or both parties weren’t thrilled with how things were going.

Rather like the beer he struggled to get out of his pocket, Plapp is frothing to join his new team.

“It honestly does feel like I’m coming home,” he said in a press release. “I’m such a proud Australian and to now be able to ride for the Australian team, it’s a real honour. I just can’t wait to get started; the next four years are going to be amazing on this team.”

The team say they want to help Plapp develop as a GC rider in those four years, but they aren’t fooling us. We all know the real reason they wanted Plapp in the team: so GreenEdge actually has a chance of winning Aussie Road Nats again.

? Black Spoke is done ?

After a tumultuous few months, Kiwi team Bolton Equities Black Spoke has confirmed that, not only will it not run a ProTeam-level squad in 2024 as planned, it actually won’t run a team at all.

“All good things must eventually end, and regrettably, Black Spoke is no exception,” the team said via social media. “We are saddened to announce that we have been unable to secure the sponsors required for the 2024 season, and Black Spoke will conclude at the end of this year.”

Black Spoke spent just one year at ProTeam level before announcing in late September that it would be dropping back down to Continental level in 2024 (due to title sponsor Bolton Equities not renewing its support). That was if sponsors could be found. At the time, the team told Escape that continuing at Conti level was likely next year, but unfortunately that plan hasn’t come to fruition. Sad times for Kiwi cycling.

?? The American dream, or something like that ??

There aren’t many Aussie riders as versatile as Brendan “Trekky” Johnston. Multiple-time MTB national champ, gravel national champ, National Road Series (NRS) winner – the bloke can do it all. This year he raced in the Life Time Grand Prix gravel and MTB series in the US and by the time it wrapped up, he was right up at the pointy end. But it wasn’t always like that.

A side-on shot of Brendan Johnston riding along a gravel road with a hydration pack on his back.

I caught up with Trekky this week and he spoke about how there were moments during the year where he felt like going home because he was struggling so much. He’d spent months away from family, was living on his own, and it was all just too hard. And then he turned things around.

Here’s a snippet from our chat:

“I ended up taking two weeks off in the middle of the season because it was kind of like panic stations. I started training again with the same coach, but even a couple of weeks into it, he was still flogging me. One day, I think I did like a seven-hour day or something and the next day he prescribed some intervals … I was like ‘Hang on, I just did seven hours at altitude the day before. I’m tired.’

“That afternoon, I was just like ‘You know what, I think we’re done. I think I need to listen to my body and I need to listen to myself.’ I’ve been doing it a while and I know what gets me going. I do struggle with resting and knowing when to rest but at this point, I was just like, ‘I’m pretty sure I need to rest’ and just knock it back a bit to salvage what I could [from the season].”

Trekky’s heading back to the US in 2024 to do it all again, having learnt plenty this year. Take a read of our full chat over at Escape.

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

?? The Fourth Grand Tour is over ??

Last time we spoke, New Zealand’s Tour of Southland was partway through, and Eliot Crowther had just won stage 4 at The Remarkables, landing Kane Richards in the overall lead. Well, the race has now wrapped up, and here’s how the last four stages went:

If you wanna see highlights from each stage, the Tour of Southland’s YouTube channel is the place to go.

? The Tour of Tassie gets underway ?

Speaking of bike races in beautiful parts of the world, the Tour of Tasmania is now underway. This is the final event in the 2023 Aussie NRS and it’s the most prestigious stage race on that calendar. There’s equal prize money on offer for the men’s and women’s races, but unfortunately, that parity doesn’t extend to tour length: the men’s race is five days and the women’s is three.

By the time you read this, the men’s uphill prologue time trial (550 m at 11.9%) will have been completed and the first leader will have been crowned. The race’s Instagram page is a good place to stay up to date, and the AusCycling YouTube channel is due to have daily highlights. The women’s race kicks off on Friday.

If you want to read an in-depth preview of the race, Josh Davies over at AusCycling has you covered. In short though: BridgeLane has both of the defending champions – Rhys Robotham and Emily Watts – and will be very hard to beat for the overall in both races. 

We’ll have a recap of the race this time next week.

? Results of note ?

✂️ Snippets ✂️

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? Hitter of the Week ?

Last week we started asking you for nominations for Hitter of the Week, a new segment in which we shout out some of the legends of the local cycling scene. They might be a crazy-strong rider, they might be the ultimate clubmate, or maybe they’re the person that’s always doing extra turns on the morning bunchie. In short, we want to help celebrate the people that make a difference!

Let’s kick things off this week with a nomination from none other than WorldTour pro Georgie Howe who wanted to shout out her coach, Nick Owen. Here’s what Georgie had to say:

“Not only is Nick Owen my coach, but he is a known town-sign hunter on every group ride. Has been known to attack the likes of Jay Vine, Remco & Lotte with great success. Legend says he attacked Remco wearing sneakers on a borrowed bike in the streets of Glasgow before Worlds …

“When he is not hunting down WorldTour pros, he is coaching and racing them along the roads of Melbourne. He is a regular on the Knights of Suburbia ‘Back to Black’ ride on Saturdays, where he has won the Black Rock sprint many times and caused tears by tearing the bunch to shreds up Olivers Hill. 

“In all seriousness, Nick is a well loved feature of the Melbourne cycling community. I would not be where I am without him. We literally bumped into each other as he was returning from North Road Ride on Beach Rd one Wednesday morning in 2021. He is extremely generous with his time and knowledge. He is quite literally a magician. Let’s not forget he is also a French chef …”

Thanks, Georgie! Have you, dear reader, got a Hitter of the Week you want the world to know about? Hit the big ol’ button below and fill in the form to let us know!

? Big Things Down Under ?

For this week’s journey into the weird and wonderful world of Australia’s Big Things, we join reader Tim Lemon in Euroa in north-east Victoria. Where most ‘Big Things’ are decades old, this sculpture is a freshy – it only opened in August. The local council wrote breathlessly at the time that “the long-awaited installation of the magpie sculpture was certainly cause for celebration.” It needed a name though.

Well, that name was unveiled just a couple weeks back and the 3.5 metre-high sculpture is now known as “Swoop the Big Barrwarrang”. “Barrwarrang” means “magpie” in the local Taungurung language, which seems like a fitting choice. Plus, calling it just ‘Swoop’, might have earned the folks at the Strathbogie Shire Council an irate phone call from their counterparts up in the nation’s capital

Thanks for sending in your photo, Tim!

Have you 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! Hit us up here.

❤️ And finally … ❤️

As is my wont to do, I’ll end today with a couple of bits and pieces from the world of adventure cycling. The first is a piece I wrote earlier this week about a local rider, Jim Crumpler, who’s doing some pretty inspiring stuff, just two years after a heart attack that nearly cost him his life. Jim’s just back from a month-long solo ride through Europe which definitely has me thinking about my next cycling adventure.

Jim Crumpler and his fully loaded bike stand next to a sign indicating the St Gotthard Pass.

And then there’s marine scientist Annie Ford who’s riding 4,000 km from Tasmania to Queensland to raise awareness about seismic blasting and the harm it can do to “ecologically significant ecosystems” in our oceans. You can learn more at her Instagram page.

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