Down Under Digest: Up to the big leagues

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 01.11.2023 Photography by
Michael Hardy
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G’day friends, and welcome to another edition of the DUD: the Down Under Digest. Things are starting to slow down a little now that we’re deep into the off-season (and there aren’t exactly a bunch of Aussies or Kiwis ripping up the cyclocross scene in Europe). But, there’s still a bunch of stuff to report on … as you’ll see if you continue reading.

As per usual, if you’ve got a story about Aussie or Kiwi cycling you reckon people should hear about, please do reach out. And if you want to make sure you never miss an edition of the DUD, hit the big ol’ button below and get it sent straight to your inbox each week. While you’re there, why not sign up for our other great newsletters too!

Alright, let’s get started.

? Fliss’s big step up ?

Stepping up to the pro ranks is a big deal if you’re a young road racer from Australia or New Zealand (or the US, or anywhere outside Europe, really). Exciting, sure, but moving your life to Europe, away from friends and family, when you’re still really young – that’s massive.

Felicity Wilson-Haffenden is about to take that leap.

At just 18, the Tasmanian rider won the junior Worlds time trial in August and promptly signed with Lidl-Trek for three years. I spoke with Fliss the other day to find out how she’s feeling about it all and what she’s expecting from her first season pro. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’m in a nice position where [Lidl-Trek is] not expecting too much from me really. Which is get involved with everything, try everything. I mean, I have to progress; I have to show improvement from the start of the year to the end of the year, but that’s normal when you’re young and on a development pathway. But there’s no real pressure, which is nice.”

She also had a great line about rooming with one of the biggest stars in the sport, Elisa Longo Borghini, on the team camp in the US. You can read that and more in the full Q&A at Escape Collective.

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?‍? A lifeline for Black Spoke’s biggest stars ?‍?

Ever since the DUD began we’ve been following the story of Kiwi ProTeam Bolton Equities Black Spoke and its demotion at year’s end. While a bunch of riders have been left looking for rides next year, the team’s two biggest stars – Aaron Gate and George Jackson – have not.

Both riders have been snagged by Spanish ProTeam Burgos-BH, with Gate signing for 2024 and Jackson on contract through 2025.

As a reminder, Gate (32) is a world champion (2013 Omnium) and Commonwealth Games gold medallist (team pursuit, individual pursuit, and points race in 2022) on the track. Jackson (23), meanwhile, shot to fame by taking the first five pro wins of his career between September 15 and October 5 this year.

Just as importantly, both riders have also been known to sport a mullet which we’ll try not to hold against them.

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

⛰️ Ben Dyball’s still got it ⛰️

Ben Dyball’s something of a cult figure in the Aussie cycling landscape. A prodigiously talented climber, the 34-year-old has been a force in the Asian racing scene for years, and his results in 2019 even earned him a season in the WorldTour with NTT. He now races with the Japanese Continental team Victoire Hiroshima.

Dyball’s latest achievement is a doozy. He didn’t just win the notoriously difficult Taiwan KOM Challenge last week (anyone fancy racing almost 90 km uphill, from sea level to 3,275 metres?) – Dyball also set a new course record along the way.

Dyball’s time of 3:16:09 was almost four minutes quicker than the previous record-holder, some Italian bloke by the name of *checks notes* Vincenzo Nibali. I’m told that Nibali used to be a pretty handy bike rider.

Dyball’s time was also enough to win the event by more than four minutes ahead of WorldTour pro Jesús David Peña (Jayco AlUla), which got some people speculating whether Dyball should get another shot at the highest level. 

If I had to guess, I’d say that’s probably unlikely at this stage, but it’s a shame he never really got to show what he was capable of in the COVID-affected 2020 season – his one and only year in the WorldTour.

?? The fourth Grand Tour is underway ??

Most road racing might be done for the year but tell that to the fine folks of Invercargill, New Zealand. As you read this, the Tour of Southland is currently underway – a race some people call “the Fourth Grand Tour”.

First created in 1956, this now-nine-stage race mightn’t have UCI classification, but it’s still contested by a bunch of great riders from New Zealand, Australia, and beyond.

At the time of writing, five of the nine stages are now complete:

?? EOI for TDU ??

Here’s something to keep an eye on: expressions of interest are now open for the Aussie national team at TDU. As AusCycling says at the link above, most of the spots in the men’s team will be given to the top-ranked National Road Series (NRS) team (so, BridgeLane, by a lot), but there’s provision for pro riders and other NRS riders to throw their hat in the ring. Like Jimmy Whelan has, for example.

For the women’s team, “A high priority will be placed on riders who are currently competing in UCI-registered teams, and the team composition will draw on a combination of experienced and emerging professionals.” Chloe Hosking is among those who’s keen to be part of the squad.

Expressions of interest close on November 17. It’ll be interesting to see how the teams look after that.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Up next ?

When the next edition of the DUD drops, the Tour of Tasmania will be underway. It’s the final round of Australia’s NRS for 2023 and certainly the most prestigious stage race on that calendar.

The men’s race features a prologue and four road stages from November 8-12 while the women’s race features three road stages, from November 10-12.

? Big Things Down Under ?

Today’s submission comes from a name you’ll recognise if you’ve followed the Australian cycling media scene for any length of time. Rob Arnold is the man behind Ride Media whose magazines have been a mainstay of Aussie newsagencies for many years. Nowadays Rob is writing less than he once did, but he is creating plenty of great video content over at YouTube.

Rob got in touch with not just a photo of the Big Potato in Robertson, NSW, but also a video. 

This massive spud was built in 1977 and is around 10 metres long and four metres wide. According to the Visit NSW website, the Big Potato is also hollow and you can walk around inside. What does the inside of a giant spud look like? “It has been painted to look like a mashed potato.” Seems about right.

Thanks, Rob, for your submission! If you, dear reader, are anywhere near a Big Thing and you’d love to be featured in this newsletter, please do send over a pic with your bike next to that Big Thing.

?‍♀️ Introducing: The DUD Hitter-of-the-Week ??‍♂️

Every group ride has that one rider. You know the one, they’re always pulling the biggest turns or sniping the most Q/KOMs. They’re never too pro to wave hello, they point out road hazards, and they never skip their shout at the café.

We want to give these local hitters the spotlight they deserve, but we need your help. Nominate a mate (or maybe they’re a frenemy) by completing the form in the link below — we just might feature them in an upcoming DUD!

? And finally … ?

A few fun things to round out this week’s edition. First up, this insane, upside-down bike that “eightyxproof” posted to Instagram with the caption “How the rest of world thinks Australian bikes ride”. Get it? Because the bike is upside down? And Australia’s on the other side of the world to everywhere that matters? GET IT?!

Love the creativity here. Don’t love the prospect of slipping off the pedals and obliterating one’s undercarriage on the chainring. Pass.

Next up: a shout-out to the MitoQ-NZ Cycling Project crew for their great Tour of Southland get-up. As Benji Naesen notes on Twitter, the team has made a habit of rocking up in animal-themed kit and this year is no different.

And finally, a big happy birthday to two-time Aussie road champ, Wheel Talk co-host, TV commentator extraordinaire, and all-round legend, Gracie Elvin, who turned 35 yesterday. Happy birthday, G!

? Until next time … ?

Thanks for reading! This and every Down Under Digest was made possible by our wonderful members here at Escape Collective. If you’ve already signed up to become an Escape member, thank you. If you haven’t yet, but you’d like to, please do so! Just click the link in the top right of the page to get started.

If you’d like to receive this round-up via email each week, you can sign up via the button below. And if you’ve got a story (or Big Thing photo) you think I should include in the next edition, please reach out.

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