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A woman leans against a car which has two bikes mounted on the roof. In the background is the Big Lobster, a giant statue of a red lobster.

Down Under Digest: When the European champ is an Aussie

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 04.10.2023 Photography by
Maurice Bando
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G’day and welcome back to your weekly dose of cycling goodness from the great nations of Australia and New Zealand. In this week’s DUD we’ve got a whole stack of impressive results from Aussie and Kiwi riders, some sad news about one of the biggest teams in the region, and we look ahead to the 2024 racing season here in Oz.

As always, if you’ve got a story you reckon people should know about, please get in touch. And just a quick reminder that this digest is also sent out via newsletter each week so if you never want to miss an edition, please sign up using the giant button below and we’ll be sure you get it.

Let’s get into it.

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? Black Spoke drops back down ?

There’s been plenty of good news to share about Kiwi team Bolton Equities Black Spoke in recent weeks. The only ProTeam in Oceania had a super September, winning two stages and the overall at the Tour of Taihu Lake (UCI 2.Pro) in China, a stage at the Tour de Langkawi (UCI 2.Pro) in Malaysia, and more (read on).

Which is why it was a surprise when the team dropped some bad news this past week: after just one season as a ProTeam squad, the Kiwi outfit is dropping back to Continental level in 2024. The main reason: the team’s title sponsor, Bolton Equities, has unexpectedly pulled its funding due to challenges in the current financial climate. 

Assuming the team does go ahead next year – and it’s looking like it will – Bolton Equities will still be involved, but not as a title sponsor. I chatted with Black Spoke’s marketing and media manager Jason Ghijs, to learn more about what’s been going on.

“We are now talking to smaller sponsors to make one big team,” he told Escape. “This is our current plan. We have some interest from New Zealand business people that want to help. But time will tell.”

Riders are justifiably disappointed and frustrated about the step down, with some speaking to other teams about the possibility of jumping ship. Interestingly, Black Spoke doesn’t seem all that desperate to get back to ProTeam level.

“If the budget increases again, I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t go back to this level,” Ghijs said. “It’s just at this stage, for us, there’s a lot of costs related to the UCI ProTeam licence. And of course, Murray [Bolton] is eager to support his fellow Kiwis but he’s not eager to support the UCI, let’s say, because they are the ones taking all the money.”

If you’re keen to learn more, head on through to read my full chat with Jason Ghijs. And if you happen to be interested in supporting the team for next year, you can reach out directly via email.

? Tiff Cromwell, European gravel champion ?

Tiff Cromwell doesn’t win too many races on the road these days– she’s an invaluable road captain for Canyon-SRAM – but when it comes to gravel racing, well, she’s been doing plenty of winning.

As of this week, the 35-year-old South Australian has now won three rounds of the 2023 Gravel World Series. Back in May she won the Seven gravel race on home soil, before heading to the UK and winning The Gralloch just a week later. And this past weekend, Cromwell won the European Gravel Championships. Well, sort of.

Of course, being an Aussie, Cromwell can’t be the European gravel champ, but she did win the World Series race near Leuven, Belgium this past weekend, which combined the Euro championships, the Belgian championships, and a World Series event.

Cromwell got away in a group of four in the final lap with none other than sprint queen Lorena Wiebes, CX world champ Fem van Empel, and veteran pro Elena Cecchini. Cromwell got clear on the last climb to win ahead of Wiebes, the latter becoming the new Euro champ.

Cromwell has timed her run perfectly. She’ll line up for Australia in the Gravel Worlds in Italy this coming weekend where she’ll start as one of the favourites.

? The Caleb Ewan saga rumbles on ?

It’s no secret that things are a little … tense between Caleb Ewan and management at his Lotto Dstny team. The Aussie speedster is contracted for another year but has said publicly the team wants him gone. This week, though, there seems to have been a slight thawing in tensions courtesy of an interview team CEO Stéphane Heulot gave to Belgium’s Het Laatste Nieuws.

When the reporter suggested Heulot had been harsh in criticising Ewan’s early departure from the Tour de France – “I don’t know how to handle this kind of character”, Heulot had said – Heulot expressed some measure of regret.

“Was I wrong? Am I not allowed to say those things?” he began, before adding: “I said things about Caleb that I meant. But maybe it would’ve been better to say them internally than in the media. I therefore regret that it turned out that way.”

Heulot says he has no issue with Ewan exactly, but that “this situation is about his behaviour and the impact on our team spirit. We are now looking at what is best for him and the team. If those two are not compatible, we have to look for another solution.”

So yeah, things still aren’t great. Who knows how this whole thing will play out.

? The 2024 Aussie road racing calendar just dropped ?

AusCycling has this week revealed its National Road Series (NRS) calendar for the 2024 season. Here’s how it looks, noting that all events have a men’s and women’s race:

It’s worth noting that the Battle on the Border has not returned to the calendar after being cancelled this year. Tour of the Tropics, which was also cancelled this year, is set to return in 2024. Cycle Sunshine Coast has been dropped from the calendar.

The other top-level road races happening in Australia in 2024 are as follows (with men and women contesting all of these too):

? Don’t forget MTB and CX! ?

It’s not just the 2024 road calendar that AusCycling dropped this week – the governing body has also revealed what MTB and cyclocross races we can expect next year:

MTB

Cross-country, downhill and pump track national titles will be decided at the Awaba MTB Park on the NSW Central Coast on March 12-17, in what is the event’s first visit to the region. MTB marathon nationals will be held in Wagga Wagga, NSW on May 4-5.

As for the MTB National Series, here’s how it looks for 2024:

CX

Here’s how the 2024 Aussie CX calendar looks, including the six rounds of the Cyclocross National Series:

Australia’s 2024 Gravel Nationals have also been confirmed, for June 22-23, and will again be held concurrently with the Devil’s Cardigan race in Derby, Tasmania.

? Results of note ?

Even without Tiff Cromwell’s win in Belgium, it was a pretty great week for Aussie and Kiwi riders. Here are the results you should know about:

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Big Things Down Under ?

Much love to Escape Collective member Maurice Bando who sent in this week’s bike-against-a-Big-Thing picture, which sits at the top of this newsletter. In it you can see the Big Lobster in Kingston SE, South Australia, and while it looks big there, the thing is actually enormous. Unveiled in December 1979, ‘Larry the Lobster’ stands a full 17 metres tall, 15 metres long, and nearly 14 metres wide. This shot gives you a better sense of the scale:

A person stands in front of a giant sculpture of a red lobster which towers over the person.
Image: riana_dzasta/Wikimedia Commons

Thanks again to Maurice for sending that through. No thanks for the lobster-related nightmares I’ll now be having for the next week.

Have you got one of Australia’s Big Things close to you? Or are you 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 … ?

Let’s wrap up this week’s DUD with a shout-out to a couple of Aussies and their inspiring bike adventure over in the UK.

Escape member Peter Gugger and his mate Adrian Smith recently set out to ride the length of Great Britain, from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, partly because it’s something they’d long wanted to do, and partly to raise money for charity. As you can see from their video, the pair’s adventure took them on mostly quiet backroads from north to south and featured some stunning scenery. Sadly it wasn’t a trip without its challenges …

Peter and Adrian ended up raising $35,000 for Muscular Dystrophy Tasmania, helping to purchase a mobility vehicle for someone back home. Chapeau, lads!

? Until next time … ?

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

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