A Liv AlUla Jayco rider writes their name with sharpie on a big whileboard before an event.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: We’re still Down Under

A preview of the next stop on the WorldTour, and racing heats up in Europe too.

Amber Pate signing on before the first stage of the 2024 edition of TDU.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 23.01.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos and Gruber Images
More from Abby +

Good day, and thank you for stopping by this week’s episode of the Wheel Talk Newsletter. Mentally, and literally, we are still Down Under, only now we’ve moved our attention from South Australia to Victoria, specifically Geelong, the home base of the Deakin University Road Race, the women’s counterpart to Cadel Evans’ Great Ocean event.

Today we will break down the upcoming one-day, dive into some racing in Mallorca, and clear some space in our brains to commit the best thing on the internet to our memories for life. Before all that, here is a friendly reminder you can sign up to get this and Escape Collective‘s other great newsletters right to your inbox.

WorldTour racing hasn’t made its way to Europe yet but teams are finding ways to shake their legs out. Over the weekend AG Insurance-Soudal, UAE Team ADQ, Movistar, Ceratizit-WNT, Roland, and Uno-X Mobility lined up against a handful of Continental teams in Mallorca for Trofeo Felanitx-Colónia de Sant Jordi on Saturday and Trofeo Palma Femina on Sunday.

One of those Conti teams was the newly formed EF Education-Cannondale squad, rife with WorldTour talent but without the actual license due to the UCI’s WT guidelines. The American team wasted no time proving their intentions for the year: to join the WT. They won both one-days in two completely different styles with two of their younger riders. In doing so, they started the quest for UCI points strong.

Saturday’s race ended in a reduced bunch sprint, and although there were “stronger” sprinters in the field (multi-time Giro stage winner Chiara Consonni among them) it was obvious early on that EF Education-Cannondale was mostly invested in riding together. It was hard to miss the mob of pink taking up one side of the road, but when the sprint got closer they lost it a bit. Into the final kilometre, it was unclear if they were sprinting for Tour of Flanders winner Coryn Labecki or maybe Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift winner Alison Jackson until 22-year-old Noemi Rüegg hurtled through the front of the bunch. The rising Swiss star took the victory ahead of Movistar’s Arlenis Sierra with Consonni finishing third.

Rüegg can be seen following Sierra’s wheel before jumping on the wheel of Maria Giulia Confalonieri of Uno-X Mobility. Jackson is sliding backwards at the bottom of the shot.

UAE Team ADQ and Movistar both had more organized leadouts, and Rüegg could be seen surfing the wheels of the other sprinters. Jackson was also there, in her Canadian champs kit, but in the final kilometre, she lost the wheel of her teammate and slid back in the bunch. When the sprint started Rüegg and Sierra were the riders to act first, with the EF Education-Cannondale rider overpowering the Movistar rider in the false-flat rise to the finish.

Rüegg opens it up, beating Sierra to the line.

The next day all eyes were on the climbers, indeed even Liv AlUla Jayco’s Mavi Garcia (riding for Spain) lined up, as did climber-extraordinaire Ashleigh Moolman Pasio for AG Insurance-Soudal. But it was Canadian Mags Vallieres who took the first maple-powered bite with 37 km to go. For the next 37 km, she continued to take chunks out of the peloton until it was just three UAE Team ADQ riders and Garcia left.

The dynamic of how that break of five came to be was super interesting. From the moment they broke away Silvia Persico sat on Vallieres and yelled into her radio. The Italian surely knew if it came to the line she would outsprint the Canadian, but Persico’s two teammates caught on pretty quickly, dragging Garcia with them. Vallieres and Garcia were outnumbered, but things still went their way in the end.

Vallieres and Garcia didn’t need to work with the three UAE Team ADQ riders in the final 18 km but they did, rolling through to make sure they had a headstart on Moolman Pasio before the final climb.

Persico’s chances were taken when she crashed on a descent within the final 8 km, and at that point both her teammates had been dropped and Moolman Pasio had climbed into the leading group. Up against two of the best climbers in the peloton, Vallieres took her risks on the descent, where Garcia and Moolman Pasio could barely hold her wheel. She rode the corners like a rider with many more years of experience, gaining enough distance to hold her advantage to the line.

It was the first major win for the Canadian who is happy to ride for her teammates but hopes to take a crack at the Ardennes someday.

Vallieres didn’t look back until she was at the finish line, and the reaction from her teammates was everything. Both wins set the tone for the new team with a lot to prove, and even if the races weren’t WorldTour, success breads success, and it won’t be the last time we see pink riding across the line first this season.

Bonus content: EF Education-Cannondale published two very cool videos from the weekend, where they involved riders near and far in the celebrations. Gotta love seeing a bit of behind-the-scenes. It will be easy to root for these girls in 2024 and beyond.

?️ Wheel Talk Podcast ?️

This week Gracie and I were joined by the familiar voice of Matilda Raynolds, or Tils as she’s known to the Escape Collective Discord! Tils had all the insider info about Tour Down Under, plus some thoughts on the upcoming Deakin University Road Race coming up.

? Let’s discuss ?

Deakin University Road Race and stage races vs. one-days.

As Tils mentioned on the Wheel Talk Podcast this week it seemed at Tour Down Under riders were struggling with race fitness. Specifically, it was harder for riders to replicate a performance from one day to the next. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig was phenomenal on stage 2 but faded slightly on stage 3; the same went for Ally Wollaston from stages 1 to 2.

When looking ahead to Deakin we will be looking at a lot of the same players but this race tends to go to the lesser-knowns. As a one-day event, Uttrup and Wollaston will be recovered enough to be five-star favourites to take Cadel’s race, but this race is so special. Year after year the victory goes to a rider who wasn’t pinned to win the morning of the race.

The last three editions were won with a solo move: Arlenis Sierra in 2019, Liane Lippert in 2020, and after a two-year hold (COVID-19 related) Loes Adegeest narrowly outlasted Amanda Spratt to take her first WT win.

Part of what makes the race so different, so unpredictable, is that it’s early in the year. We don’t have a clear picture of who is riding well, even with TDU just two weeks ago. Form at this time can dip and spike more dramatically than in the season proper. Another reason is the difference between a stage race and a one-day event. Stage races are often more controlled. With multiple days of racing in a row, it’s so important to measure your effort. The racing is generally calmer, with a few exceptions (like the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift where there’s more on the line). One-day races there is nothing going on tomorrow. You have one shot to make a difference, one chance, so you might as well leave it all out there on the road.

It’s something that makes the spring Classics all the more magical. Once Paris-Roubaix is done it will be another year before anyone gets that victory again. There is no stage 2.

So for the Deakin race, when it comes to teams like Liv AlUla Jayco for example, it is a big day. The Australian team left TDU empty-handed, and Saturday is their last WT race on home soil for a year. If they go all-in for their new Aussie national champ Ruby Roseman-Gannon, that will change the dynamic of the race, it narrows down one team’s ambitions. FDJ-Suez, by contrast, might break their team in two by keeping their options open for two riders: Grace Brown and Uttrup. That strategy also has its perks, especially for a one-day when it’s an advantage to have two cards to play (or six if you’re SD Worx-Protime).

It all comes down to how well a team is equipped to either send it for one leader or hedge their bets on a few.

Then you have a team like Lidl-Trek. They have Spratt who is a great option, but you also have Lauretta Hanson who is riding incredibly well right now. In the final race on Australian soil for 2024, and knowing Spratt has bigger fish to fry later in the year, does the American team give their most trusted domestique a free pass to go for a big win? If it was going to happen, Deakin is the most likely playing ground for it. Brodie Chapman could also potentially have a good day, but long-time fans of Hanson will be crossing their fingers things go her way.

For Canyon-SRAM, Neve Bradbury has the Strava QOM on the race’s hardest climb, but the youngster would be a surprise winner for sure. She’s been up there in WT races, but it would be her biggest result to date. Personally, I’d like to see Canyon-SRAM hand leadership for this race to Soraya Paladin. A strong sprinter and an okay climber, she has the all-around form to win this thing, if she’s smart about it. (Note that Chloe Dygert is on the startlist but has not been confirmed to race. She was also on the early start list for TDU but didn’t compete.)

AG Insurance-Soudal’s Sarah Gigante will have a hard time making it two WT wins in three weeks in Geelong. The climber would have to get a big enough gap to stay away on the long stretch into the finish.

On the podcast it was predicted that the race would come down to a small bunch, resulting in a sprinter with climbing chops taking the win. Here are our official predictions:

Gracie Elvin: Ruby Roseman-Gannon

Abby Mickey: Lauretta Hanson

Matt de Neef: Brodie Chapman

Matilda ‘Tils’ Raynolds (guest star): Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

The race itself is 143 km of rolling road, where the wind might play a major role in the first half of the race depending on the weather. The coast road has been known to drum up some crosswinds for the ladies, to spice things up. It wears on you, and by the time the riders hit the final climbs in Geelong the final 33 km will see the peloton shredded to pieces.

Callambra Crescent specifically is where we’ve seen races won and lost in the past. And the women will get two runs at it for good measure.

The final is flat, even slightly downhill, but before they can get there the peloton has to navigate city streets that twist and turn.

As for live coverage, Eurosport is the place to go for those who have access to it. In Australia, the race will be on 7mate and 7plus from noon local Melbourne time. As of writing, there is no information about viewing in North America, FloBikes has a Cadel Evans time slot but it looks like the men’s race on the Sunday, not the women’s event. Check the comments for updates.

? The joys of social media ?

The internet hit peak awesome thanks to Leigh who shared this absolutely brilliant work of art:

Leigh was also the artist who gave us Marlen Reusser in the grass after the Glasgow World ITT.

And because the internet is going to the internet, after Leigh shared her art on Reddit a fellow Redditor by the handle Seabhac7 commented with this absolute gem:

Our Lorena, whose watts go to higher than eleven,
Hallowed be thy train.
Thy win be Dutch,
By one bike length, or maybe seven.

Fill us this day with SDW dread,
And forgive us our indifference, as we forgive those whose lead-outs you rinse.
And lead us not into vexation,
But transfer somewhere like AG Insurance-Soudal.


?️ A picture worth a couple words ?️

Speaking of teamwork and Paris-Roubaix Femmes, how great is this moment between Grace Brown and Marie Le Net captured by the Grubers? Brown finished 13th, in the third group on the road, while Le Net finished nearly five minutes down in 41st. But it’s not just about the results. Every race has the potential to bring a team closer together (or drive them farther apart). Paris-Roubaix is one of those races that end and everyone has a story. Looks like these two may have had some good ones to tell.

Grace Brown and Marie Le Net smile at each other near the side of the Velodrome after the finish of Paris-Rouabix femmes.

? Taylor Swift trivia ?

evermore, Taylor Swift’s second surprise COVID-19 lockdown album is an incredibly underappreciated album. Like folklore, its sister album, evermore is a bit more on the indie side, not Swift’s usual pop.

On the album, she experimented with telling made-up stories, rather than writing about her own experience. A concept that has led some to believe that Swift penned the recently released novel Argylle, but that’s another story.

evermore is such a good album. With heartbreaking songs like coney island (feat. The National) and tolerate it, catchy songs like gold rush and dorothea and even a murder mystery with the HAIM sisters called no body, no crime.

It’s an album that proves Swift’s ability with words to be something unique, and for people who aren’t fans of Swift’s music, it’s nothing like what you’ve heard her do on the radio.

? Until next time! ?

Thanks so much for stopping by, I’ll be back next week. And as always, if you have specific requests or topics to highlight, drop them in the comments or on the Wheel Talk channel of Escape Collective‘s Discord.

What did you think of this story?