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CW Live: Chris Froome targets return to 'top level'; UCI tightens ITT rules; Strava responds to price hike criticism; Topless protesters arrested at TDU; Tributes paid to Lieuwe Westra; Scott recalls 'cracking' bikes; Toon Aerts the PE teacher

The latest news in the world of cycling

Chris Froome

(Image credit: Getty)

Good morning and welcome to today's live blog. Apparently it's Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year, so make sure you look out for yourself and do something you enjoy (*cough* ride your bike *cough*), if you can. 

I'll be here all day rounding up the latest cycling news, especially for you. If you'd like to have your say, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter. My handle is @t_davidson (opens in new tab)

Latest updates:

9:09 - Alex Manly sprints into the lead at Santos Tour Down Under 

9:43 - Topless climate protesters arrested at Tour Down Under

11:03 - Tributes paid to Lieuwe Westra, who died aged 40 on Saturday

11:24 - Strava offers price hike rationale

12:02 - Chris Froome targets 'top level', dismisses retirement

12:48 - The new cyclo-cross national champions

14:20 - Scott recall road and gravel models due to 'cracking' hazard

14:46 - Toon Aerts takes on part-time PE teacher role

15:05 - EF Education-EasyPost partners with junior cycling program

15:34 - Bradley Wiggins eyes future after punditry

16:31 - UCI issues update to individual time trial rules

17:01 - Chad Haga pens Sound of Music inspired song

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Alex Manly storms into Tour Down Under lead after stage two

In the early hours of this morning, when the Australian sun was shining, Jayco AlUla's Alex Manly sprinted to victory in stage two of the Santos Tour Down Under, claiming the race's orange leader's jersey. 

The 26-year-old Australian beat her compatriot Georgia Baker (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) to the line, where she took 12 bonus seconds to move into the overall lead. 

The race played out over a lumpy 90km course between Birdwood and Uraidla in the Adelaide hills. 

Baker currently trails Manly by eight seconds in the GC, with FDJ-Suez's Grace Brown also at eight seconds in third. 

A post shared by Alex Manly (@alexandramanly) (opens in new tab)

A photo posted by on

Climate protesters arrested after baring breasts at Tour Down Under

Three women, who uncovered their breasts to the passing peloton at the Women's Santos Tour Down Under, have been arrested in South Adelaide, Australia, charged with indecent exposure. 

The women, aged between 69 and 74, were allegedly part of a climate protest against the race's title sponsor, Santos, a leading oil and gas producer. 

"We are baring our ageing breasts and our wobbly bums in the hope of shocking," one protester said at the race. "We want people to see that this company is not benevolent. It is prepared to destroy future life on earth in order to make profits." 

Last week, Tour Down Under director Stuart O'Grady said he hoped environmental protesters would act peacefully, and not impede on the safety of the riders

"Everyone has got their right to their own opinion, to protest, do what they may, but I don’t think blocking the cycling tracks and getting on course would be very wise," he said. "And if that starts becoming a liability or a danger to the riders then that’s going to escalate it to a whole other level and that wouldn’t be good for anybody."

The three women have been released on bail and will appear at a later date before Christies Beach Magistrates court.

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Retired pro Lieuwe Westra dies, aged 40

Lieuwe Westra on the podium at the 2014 Tour de France

(Image credit: Getty)

Tributes have been paid to retired Dutch rider Lieuwe Westra, who died aged 40 on Saturday. 

The former Astana rider, who took 13 victories throughout his 11-year career, was found unresponsive at work in Zwaagdijk, Netherlands. His biographer, Thomas Sijtsma, later confirmed that he had passed away, despite CPR attempts to resuscitate him.

"The former cyclist fought with himself in recent years and lost," Sijtsma wrote on Twitter. "Rest in peace, beast."

Westra suffered with depression after finishing his career in 2017. "Lieuwe Westra had a very hard time in recent months," Sijtsma said. "But as far as is known, there is no suggestion of suicide." 

Westra's former team-mate Johnny Hoogerland, who he rode alongside at Vacansoleil, wrote: "Lieuwe my friend. What happened to you the last years? We are so terribly sad that your life ended already today. I'm very sorry that we could not help you more. Will never forget what you did for me when we were teammates. Find your rest above us."

His former team, Astana Qazaqstan, also tweeted: "We are shocked by the dreadful news about the untimely death of Lieuwe Westra... we express our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones…"

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Strava responds to price hike criticism

Exercise tracking app Strava has responded to criticism of its recent subscription price hikes, announced earlier this month. 

First reported by BikeRadar (opens in new tab), the company looks set to increase the price of its monthly subscription from £6.99 to £8.99 and its annual membership from £47.99 to £54.99.

In a statement shared last week, Strava said: "As we continue to invest in your experience, our prices may change to better reflect new features and market conditions. The decision to change our price was not taken lightly.

The company gave its rationale for the price hikes, citing new features, product updates and local market conditions. Price changes, it added, will vary depending on region and preferred platform.

The full statement can be accessed on Strava's website (opens in new tab)

Chris Froome sets sights on return to 'top level'

Chris Froome talking at the Tour Down Under 2023 press conference

(Image credit: Getty)

Four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome has said he's "looking to get to the top level" as he readies himself for his season debut at the Santos Tour Down Under

The Israel Premier Tech rider was was taken into intensive care in 2019 after crashing into a wall in a course recon at the Critérium du Dauphiné. He suffered fractures to his sternum, neck, femur, elbow and ribs, and also lost four pints of blood. He returned to WorldTour racing eight months later, but has since struggled to regain his form.

Speaking in a pre-race press conference on Sunday, Froome said: "I feel I've been given a second chance. I've been given an opportunity to come back to bike racing and the sport I love. Had the crash marked the end of my career, I'd have felt I still had more to give.

The 37-year-old added that he still gets a lot of pleasure from cycling and is enjoying his time at Israel-Premier Tech. "It's as if I've rewound 15 years," he said, "I'm looking to get to the top level. It's a fresh approach for me and hoping to do it for a few more years."

Froome also revealed that he will travel to Africa for next month's Tour de Rwanda, scheduled for 19-26 February.

The Tour Down Under will start tomorrow at 7:30 GMT (8:30 CET) with a 5.5km time trial prologue in Adelaide, Australia.  

Cyclo-cross national champions crowned

Zoe Backstedt

(Image credit: SW Pix)

In case you missed it, a number of country's held their national cyclo-cross championships over the weekend. Here's a list of the winners to look out for in the season's remaining races: 

UK 

Men's elite: Cameron Mason 

Women's elite: Zoe Bäckstedt

Cycling Weekly reporter Tom Thewlis spent the day in the mud in Cumbria on Sunday. You can catch his race report here.  

Netherlands 

Men's elite: Lars van der Haar

Women's elite: Puck Pieterse 

Belgium 

Men's elite: Michael Vanthourenhout

Women's elite: Sanne Cant

France

Men's elite: Clément Venturini 

Women's elite: Hélène Clauzel

Italy

Men's elite: Filippo Fontana

Women's elite: Silvia Persico

Spain

Men's elite: Felipe Orts

Women's elite: Lucía Gónzalez Blanco

Scott recalls road and gravel models due to 'cracking' hazard

Image shows Scott Speedster 40 road bike

(Image credit: Scott)

Scott bikes has issued a voluntary recall of certain models from its 2022 Speedster and Gravel line-up due to a potential issue with the forks.

In-house testing found that the steerer tube/fork bridge can break without warning, with the recall notice describing “cracking within the fork steerer”. Naturally, such a failure presents a serious crash hazard for users.

However, despite the recall, done in cooperation with national recall authorities, Scott has stated that there have been no cases or reports of fork failure or related accidents to date and as such the recall is a pre-emptive move.

For more information, check out the full story written by Cycling Weekly Tech reporter Luke Friend. 

Toon Aerts working as a PE teacher while he faces two-year ban 

Toon Aerts

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Suspended cyclo-cross racer Toon Aerts has reportedly taken up a new job as a PE teacher in his native Belgium. 

The 29-year-old returned a positive test result for the banned substance letrozole earlier this year and is currently facing a two-year ban from competition. 

Speaking to Het Nieuwsblad (opens in new tab) about his new role, Aerts said: “I was looking for a job and heard through the grapevine that they were looking for someone there.

"There were students who recognised me immediately, others didn’t know who I am at all. I assume that the first group will inform the second about my story. That will go around quickly. I didn’t get any comments about it and I think that’s good. I like to keep those things separate.”

The Belgian has not raced since February 2022 and denies all allegations of doping. He has said he will do everything to prove his innocence, arguing that letrozole must have entered his body through contamination. 

“I am convinced that I will take my place in cyclocross again," he said last month. "I have a lot of uncertainties, but one thing is certain: my second career will start on February 16, 2024 at the latest.”

EF Education-EasyPost partners with junior squad

WorldTour team EF Education-EasyPost has joined forces with ONTO, one of North America's most promising junior cycling programs. 

The partnership, which will see the junior squad compete as EF Education-ONTO, seeks to develop the next generation of cycling talent in the US, and prepare them for careers as professionals. 

In a press release shared this afternoon, EF team manager Jonathan Vaughters said: "I hope that this project shows that talented kid in Ohio, or Québec, or Los Angeles, who might have seen the Tour de France on Instagram and decided that they want to be a bike racer, that they can get there if they work hard and commit to it.

"We’re going to be keeping a close eye on North American junior races. Prove yourself there, and EF Education-ONTO could be your shot to learn what it takes to race as a pro and show what you can do against the best in the world.”

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Is Bradley Wiggins's punditry career coming to a close? 

Bradley Wiggins

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Former Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins has hinted that he might soon draw the curtain on his punditry career, adding that he is currently out of contract with Eurosport. 

In an interview with Mail on Sunday (opens in new tab), the Brit said there is "no longevity" in punditry.

"I’ve actually not extended my contract with Eurosport," he said, "so I don’t know if I’m going to be doing that this year.

"I really don’t want to be on Eurosport in 10 years’ time, doing cycling from the back of a motorbike. I’m just going with the flow at the moment."

Wiggins has been part of Eurosport's cycling team since 2019, and has his own podcast with the channel, which was last updated in July last year. Asked what he hopes to do in the future, the former cyclist said: "I do the punditry, but that all comes easy, and there's no longevity in it." 

He added that he would like to work with grass-roots social campaigns, such as the NSPCC's recently launched Listen Up, Speak Up (opens in new tab), which he is backing.

"The social worker idea was just the start of a process moving towards something completely different, something fulfilling," he said. 

UCI tightens time trial rules

Jonas Vingegaard Tour de France

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The UCI has today updated its rules surrounding individual time trials, writing that vehicles must now remain at least 25 metres behind the rider. 

The rule, which was previously updated from 10 metres to 15 metres in November last year, aims to prevent riders from gaining an unfair aerodynamic advantage. 

A study by the Eindhoven University of Technology found that a car driving 10 metres behind the athlete offers an advantage of 0.05 of a second per kilometre at 46.8km/h. This is equivalent to one second in a 20km time trial.  

At 15 metres, there is no advantage. 

The UCI said: "After consultation with the parties concerned, the decision was taken to increase the minimum distance between the rider and the following vehicle to 25 m. This distance, which is greater than the stated 15 m, ensures that the presence of vehicles does not have an effect on the performance of the cyclist.

"Furthermore, the 25 m distance aims to increase rider safety by providing the driver of the vehicle with longer reaction times in the case of an unexpected mishap or incident."

The rule does not apply to vehicles in the race convoy, which are allowed to go within closer proximity to the riders. Anyone who drives dangerously in the convoy may be suspended for up to seven days and dealt a fine.  

Chad Haga pens Sound of Music inspired song

Human Powered Health's Chad Haga has written a song to pass the time on his team training camp.

The lyrics, written to the tune of 'My Favourite Things' from The Sound of Music, are inspired by his ongoing struggle with patience in between training efforts. 

So here it goes. Warm up those vocal cords, dig out a karaoke version of the original song and sing along.

"Standing by roadsides
The time keeps on slippin'
We should get moving
But we just don't clip in 

We did our efforts
Now let's move along
This is my "can we please get moving" song"

Now we're heading into chorus...

"There's no reason
To just stand here
We've been here long enough 

I don't like this down time, there's still far to go
and standing around is slowwwww"

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That's all for today's live blog. If you want some entertaining evening reading, check out my colleague Adam Becket's exposé on Tadej Pogacar's hair tufts

Do they form naturally, or might the Slovenian be pulling them through his helmet deliberately?  

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