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Down Under Digest: Magpies, rhinos, and a historic Vuelta

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

Image: Shane Miller/GPLama on YouTube

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 21.09.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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G’day and welcome to the second edition of the Down Under Digest! 

“Wait,” I hear you say, “wasn’t this called something different last week?” You got me. The Down Under Weekly is now the Down Under Digest. Here’s what happened.

It was going to be called the Down Under Digest last week too … until we reached out to our wonderful Escape Collective members on Discord to get their thoughts. One response scared me off the idea enough that I decided to veer in a different direction at the 11th hour (thanks Paddy! ?)

But after a week of contemplation, we decided, you know what? Let’s lean into it. Down Under Digest. DUD by name, hopefully not by nature.

In other changes (and with thanks to reader hdb for the nudge last week), expect to see the odd piece of news about our Kiwi cousins in this and future editions too.

And just a quick reminder before we start: this digest is also sent out via newsletter each week so if you never want to miss an edition, please sign up using that giant button below.

Alright, let’s get stuck into this week’s edition, like a territorial magpie ripping into a cyclist’s earlobe …

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?️ ‘Bloody thing nearly had me eye’ ?️

If you’ve gone anywhere near a bike in the past few weeks you’ll know it’s magpie season here in Australia. Ride near a tree where our black and white friends are nesting and you’ll cop a whack to the helmet, a clip on the ear, or if you’re unlucky like Melbourne cyclist Christiaan Nyssen, a direct hit to the eye.

Nyssen’s run-in happened a couple years back but made news this week courtesy of a 7 News article that’s been doing the rounds. “This bird turned around and went straight for the eye, did a backflip and hit me right in the eye again,” Nyssen said.

Nyssen noted that he would have been fine had he been wearing sunnies, as he normally does while riding. Instead, he ended up with trauma to his iris, and ended up getting surgery to repair his retina and have his lens replaced. Gnarly.

Thankfully, it’s very rare that a magpie will inflict damage like this. Still, getting swooped can be a terrifying experience if you’re not expecting it. Which brings us to MagpieAlert.com, a valuable resource if you’re looking to avoid particularly nasty birds in your area. Just zoom into the map and you can see where others have been swooped (and in some cases, injured) so you can studiously avoid the area.

That’s a lot of swoopy bois.

And finally on the magpie front: check out this encounter Escape Collective head honcho Wade Wallace had with a bird this week. Impressive accuracy from the magpie there. Thankfully Wade’s AirPods stayed in.

(Oh, and if you’re in the market for some more magpie-related #content, please enjoy this blatantly self-serving link to a song I wrote about swooping magpies last year.)

?? Kaden Groves’s wonderful Vuelta ??

In Serious Racing News, Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) made history at the Vuelta a España this week, becoming the first Aussie to win the points classification at the Spanish Grand Tour.

Winning green would have been impressive enough, but the 24-year-old sprinter also won three stages throughout the race, including the final stage from a super-strong, late breakaway.

As I wrote for Escape after Groves’ first win a few weeks back, the Queenslander really has found a niche for himself. He’s not the fastest man on his team – Jasper Philipsen is the best sprinter in the world right now – but Groves excels in lumpy races with too much climbing for the pure sprinters. He now has seven wins for the year, six of them at WorldTour level. Solid.

Groves winning stage 5 of the Vuelta.

In other Vuelta news, Michael Storer (Groupama-FDJ) was Australia’s best finisher in the GC, finishing 45th after a couple of top-five finishes.

? Uluru and the Magical White Rhino ?

In Less Serious Racing News, the seventh edition of one of Australia’s most-loved ultra-endurance races, the Race to the Rock, has just wrapped up.

The man known to dot-watchers as The Magical White Rhino was the first to complete the full, 3,800 km course from Brisbane to Uluru, in a time of 12 days, 11 hours and 48 minutes. Just a lazy average of 300 km per day, unsupported, across all manner of filthy unsealed roads, in the super-remote Aussie outback, including one stretch of 500 km without anywhere to buy food or drink. Hard pass.

Foreground: The Magical White Rhino. Background: Uluru. Not pictured: many kilometres of deep sand and corrugations. (Image: Race to the Rock)

There was also an “entree course” version of this year’s Race to the Rock, covering 993 km from Brisbane to Rockhampton. That was won by Dr Stephen Lane, a sports scientist who has coached various elite riders over the years.

In other news from the Aussie ultra-endurance racing scene, the Terra Australis Bike Epic is currently underway, with riders making their way 6,000 km+ south down the length of Australia’s eastern seaboard, from Queensland’s Cape York down to Wilsons Promontory in Victoria.

? Aussie gran fondos are in strife ?

It’s been a rough year for the gran fondo scene here in Australia. No fewer than five of the big mass-participation rides have been cancelled for the upcoming spring/summer: the Tour Down Under Challenge Tour (SA), the Alpine Classic (VIC), Fitz’s Challenge (ACT), the Noosa Classic (QLD), and Spring Cycle (NSW). 

Why? As you might expect, money is a big part of it. Rising costs for event organisers, reduced government and sponsor support, and lower participation rates – it all adds up to a real bad time for people looking to put on these events, and for those keen to participate.

You can read more about this story in an article I wrote for Escape this week, featuring quotes from a handful of event organisers.

Could Around the Bay in a Day disappear soon too?

? Results of note ?

Aside from Kaden Groves’s terrific ride at the Vuelta, there were a few more Aussie performances to take note of this week.

✂️ Snippets ✂️

? Big Things Down Under ?

We’ve got some big things Down Under (link is SFW, I promise). The Big Banana, The Big Pineapple, the Big Sheep – several hundred of these bizarre, roadside sculptures are dotted all around this great wide land. Why? Tourism mainly, but they’ve also become something of a cult phenomenon.

What better accompaniment to a Down Under Digest than a rolling tribute to these lovable Aussie landmarks, all with a bit of a cycling twist. Spin Cycle has its reader-submitted laundrette photos; here at the DUD, we want photos of your bike propped up in front of your local Big Thing. Let’s see how many of these things we can tick off!

Let’s get started in the only place that really makes sense: the Big Bicycle. Parked up in western Sydney, the Big Bicycle is nine metres long and six metres high, and guards the entrance to the Chullora Waste Transfer Station. It was made from recycled materials in 1997. 

Over to you, folks! Please send me a pic of your bike near a Big Thing!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

?️ And finally … ?️

It’s that time of year – time for pro riders to enjoy some R&R after a hard year on the tools. The off-season is characterised by social media posts of riders lounging on beaches, catching up with friends, and trying sports they probably shouldn’t during the season.

Grace Brown’s been living it up in Sicily and hiking in Switzerland, Georgie Howe opted for more of a “wow what a year it’s been”-style vibe after her neo-pro year season, and Jay Vine can barely contain his disappointment at having to race the Tour of Turkey instead of starting his off-season immediately.

But the current clubhouse leaders when it comes to FOMO-inducing off-season vibes, are Alex Manly and Georgia Baker, aka “Golden & Cosmic” who post about “travel, adventure,  inspo, astrology, coffee and food”. I’m not sure if the pair are angling for a travel influencer gig in future, but Croatia does look nice.

And speaking of the silly season, what could be sillier than now-retired Rohan Dennis acting like a monster for his kids. Big fan of Silly Dad Dennis.

?? Until next time … ??

Thanks for reading! This Down Under Digest was made possible by our wonderful members here at the 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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