Down Under Digest: Won’t somebody think of Jai?

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

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 11.10.2023 Photography by
Peter English
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It’s that time of the week already: time for the DUD! More and more pros are starting their off-season which means this newsletter will likely be a little slimmer in the coming weeks and months, but we’re not quite there yet. In fact we’ve got quite a bit of pro racing news to bring you this week.

Like poor Jai Hindley who’s now got some stiff competition for Grand Tour leadership, or the latest instalment in the intriguing saga of Caleb Ewan’s future. And be sure to stick around for a fascinating tale from the world of ultra-endurance racing.

As ever, if you’ve got a story you reckon people should know about, please do reach out. And 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.

Alright, let’s get started.

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? What about Jai?! ?

Primož Roglič signing with Bora-Hansgrohe is one of the biggest news stories of this year. While the move is a fascinating one, for those of us with an interest in Aussie cycling, it’s left us with one slightly panicked question: what about Jai Hindley?!

Reddit user Randelphi put it best with this banger in the pelotonmemes subreddit:

Let’s remind ourselves of Hindley’s Grand Tour achievements in recent years. A stage win and second overall at the 2020 Giro d’Italia; a stage win and the overall win at the 2022 Giro; a stage win, a day in yellow, and seventh overall at this year’s Tour de France (after getting sick during the race). If you’re Hindley, the prospect of Roglič coming in and taking over the leadership in whatever Grand Tours he feels like probably isn’t all that exciting.

And yet, publicly at least, Hindley is saying all the right things. In a chat with GCN’s Dan Benson Hindley said “I think [Roglič is] world-class and when a guy like this comes to a team everyone has to step up, so I think for the team it is a good thing.”

So what does Roglič’s arrival actually mean for Hindley? Well, the West Australian himself isn’t quite sure yet. “I’m not sure how we are going to do it,” he told GCN. “We have to wait for both the Giro and Tour course to be announced.”

If we had to hazard a guess though, it probably looks something like this. Roglič chooses which two of the three Grand Tours he wants to target and Hindley rides for him at one or maybe both. Then, maybe, Hindley gets a chance to lead Bora at the Grand Tour Roglič doesn’t want to race.

Either way, there are a lot of races on the calendar, and Hindley should have plenty of opportunities next season. Probably. We hope.

? Is Caleb Ewan going back to GreenEdge? ?

The Caleb Ewan saga rumbles on. The latest instalment: suggestions that the Aussie sprinter is leaving Lotto Dstny with a year left on his contract and heading back to the GreenEdge setup (Jayco-AlUla) where he turned pro and spent more than four seasons.

Ewan in his last season with Mitchelton-Scott back in 2018.

Italian La Gazetta journalist Ciro Scognamiglio was the first to report the transfer, with GCN jumping into the fray with sourcing of its own.

Escape can confirm that Ewan’s people have been chatting with Jayco-AlUla but at the time of writing, neither party – nor indeed Ewan – has confirmed the move. But let’s assume the reports are true, and Ewan will be back at WorldTour level with GreenEdge in 2024. A few things pop to mind.

First up: Dutch speedster Dylan Groenewegen will still be with Jayco-AlUla in 2024. Yes, there are a lot of races on the calendar for sprinters, meaning both would have their chances, but two big-name sprinters in the same team? Not ideal. Who gets the nod for the Tour de France, say? 

Speaking of Tour selection: you might recall that it was Ewan’s omission from Mitchelton-Scott’s Tour team in 2018 that precipitated his move to Lotto Soudal in the first place. Presumably it’s all water under the bridge – team management looks different than it did last time Ewan was there – but it’s something to keep in mind nonetheless.

(Update: In a case of impeccable timing, Jayco-AlUla confirmed Ewan’s signing right after this newsletter was sent out.)

? Only a 47-year-old could beat Seb Berwick ?

Seb Berwick (Israel-Premier Tech) has every reason to be delighted with his Tour of Hainan (UCI 2.Pro). On stage 2 of the five-stage Chinese race last week, the 23-year-old Queenslander took the biggest win of his career, beating the evergreen Óscar Sevilla in an uphill finish and claiming the overall lead.

His lead was short-lived – Berwick was third the next day, and with Sevilla taking second (and two more bonus seconds than Berwick), Sevilla took the overall lead. And that’s how the race would end – with 47-year-old(!) Sevilla beating Berwick on GC by a single second.

Smile, Seb. (Image: Tour of Hainan)

Now look, Sevilla’s clearly a great rider and has been for a long time. You can’t fluke your way into the top 10 at the Tour de France (2001) and the Vuelta a España (2001, 2002, and 2005). But if I’m Berwick, and I’ve finished one second away from my first 2.Pro stage-race win, and I’ve been beaten by a guy who turned pro the year before I was born, who is racing a decade after most would have retired, and who was both linked to Operation Puerto and tested positive to a banned substance a few years later … yeah, I’m feeling pretty frustrated.

But maybe that’s just me. Either way, the future looks great for Berwick who’s now living up to the great promise he showed by finishing second at the 2020 Jayco Herald Sun Tour behind one Jai Hindley.

? Another top 10 at Gravel Worlds for Tiff Cromwell ?

After two years of the Gravel World Championships, Aussie Tiff Cromwell now has two top-10s. You might remember that the South Australian recently became European gravel champ (kinda) and she brought that form into last weekend’s controversial World Champs.

Cromwell made it in the lead group when the race split after 40 km and held on for 10th as her Canyon-SRAM road teammate Kasia Niewiadoma soloed to a popular and long-awaited win.

Cromwell was sixth in last year’s inaugural Gravel Worlds Champs, making her the only rider to have gone top 10 in both editions so far. And speaking of Aussies at the Gravel World Champs …

?‍? Nathan Haas’ last-minute scramble ?‍?

Nathan Haas was supposed to be on a schmick new Colnago at Gravel Worlds but that’s not quite how it played out. When Haas’s bike got “lost somewhere in airports” and didn’t arrive in Italy, he reached out to Colnago to find a solution.

At that point, a Colnago staffer left the celebration for Tadej Pogačar’s Il Lombardia win and drove nearly 300 km to the company’s museum to retrieve the still-dirt-covered green-and-gold-painted bike that Haas rode in last year’s race.

A screengrab from one of Haas’ Instagram stories.

Haas’s name doesn’t appear on the final results sheet for Sunday’s race, suggesting he was a DNF. He had been battling the effects of long COVID.

? Jay Vine’s cursed season ?

No one could accuse Jay Vine of keeping his cards close to his chest. This year’s Tour Down Under winner often speaks with great candour on Instagram, particularly when things aren’t going great. Like on stage 3 of the Tour of Turkey, say.

A year after finishing second overall at the race, Vine came to the 2023 Tour of Turkey with an eye on stage 3’s brutal mountain-top finish (18.4 km at 10.3% anyone?!) The way Vine tells it, all was going well, until it wasn’t.

“I made the front group and I was feeling good, that is until my stomach very quickly managed to liquify everything…. ? All I could do was just crawl up the mountain, then try and get back to the team bus as quickly as possible. Safe to say that cable-car ride back down the mountain was not pleasant.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I’m feeling pretty embarrassed, annoyed, and just angry. If I knew that was going to happen I would have ridden for one of the boys.”

As Vine notes, he’s had his fair share of ill fortune this year. A bunch of illnesses, a really tough Giro, a spider bite, a time penalty in the Worlds ITT for drafting, crashing out of the Vuelta. It all seems to be getting to him, too.

“When is it socially acceptable to be walking around with a rabbit foot, a 4 leaf clover, and a horseshoe? ? Asking for a friend…” he wrote after stage 3 of the Tour of Turkey. “I’m so sick of this. Going to see how dinner goes, obviously just something isn’t sitting right, and take it from there. Sorry folks, this season is just cursed.”

Hang in there, Jay. Season’s almost over.

? Results of note ?

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Big Things Down Under ?

A big thank you to Escape member Peter English who sent in this week’s bike-against-a-Big-Thing picture. The Big Pineapple can be found in Woombye on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and is one of the country’s most recognisable Big Things. It was built in 1971 and stands an impressive 16 metres high. That’s a big pineapple.

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 … ?

We wrap things up today with an inspiring adventure story from ultra-endurance racer Emma Flukes. Flukes just became the first person to complete the ‘long course’ of the Karnu Rally, a small bikepacking event that takes riders ~1,200 km from Adelaide to Port Augusta, via the stunning Flinders Ranges and Mawson Trail.

Flukes told the story of her ride via a series of Instagram images and comments and what a story it is. In one section, Flukes detailed her encounter with the region’s infamous ‘peanut-butter mud’:

“Pretty much any dirt track without gravel mixed in can flick very quickly from fast-rolling hardpack to a totally impassible glue factory. I had a healthy respect for this mud, but I’d never before had the opportunity to experience it firsthand. The hype is real.

“You can’t ride your bike through it. You can’t push your bike through it. You can’t use adjacent vegetation as a glue buffer if there is none. Your tyres literally cannot touch the ground. The only way forward is carrying your bike on your back, which isn’t sustainable for any sort of significant distance. Death mud is real and I’ll never look at Tassie’s cute attempt at clay in the same way again.”

And then there’s Flukes’ description of racing for shelter as a massive storm bore down on her, before taking refuge overnight on the concrete floor of a long-drop toilet.

“It was one hell of a night. Imagine the noise of airborne tree limbs and a constant deluge of rain and hail nailing a tin-roofed skeleton shelter as you’re lying on a concrete toilet floor. I snuggled down deep into my gear with my head against the toilet and settled in for the long haul. Yeah, I know. It was drier this way. ?”

Yeah, nah.

Check out the full, incredible story via Flukes’s Instagram page.

? Until next time … ?

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