The 107th edition of the Melbourne to Warrnambool is on this Saturday, the 267 km men’s race and 160km women’s featuring some of the nation’s top domestic riders.
With a storied history stretching back to 1895, it’s not just the race distance that is imposing but the fact that it’s one of the most important races on the calendar.
The Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool Course
The wind is always a major factor in the race. A headwind discourages early breakaway attempts and can add an hour to the race, crosswinds offer opportunities to split the race and a tailwind is a boon for attackers. This year’s edition has breezy winds forecast with a likely cross-tailwind, which are often the conditions that promote the hardest rides, with the constant threat of echelons and attacks, while a consistent high tempo offers little chance for recovery sitting in the peloton.
The early portion of the race out of Avalon Airport is where the scene is set. The early breakaway is crucial to determining how the race plays out and which teams have to chase and expend valuable resources. The early move can also go all the way to the finish, though the last one to jump early and make it all the way to the line was Nathan Elliott in 2016.
110 kilometres in, when most races would be finishing, the terrain gets involved as the riders enter Colac, with some tough climbs and consistent undulations en route heads to Timboon. This has been the scene of a new attacks in the past, Brendan Johnston made his move here in 2020 that turned him into a champion.
The race then turns towards the Great Ocean Road, with the wide open vistas of the Southern Ocean making for great TV shots, but opening up the peloton to the wind. The roads to Warrnambool from there are largely flat, but there is a climb with less than five kilometres to the finish. This elevation proved to be the spark for a late attack in the 2021 race with Jensen Plowright taking the victory on the dragging uphill sprint to the line.
James Whelan (Team Bridgelane) is the best talent in the race, few would argue that after the former WorldTour rider has impressed mightily over the Australian summer since being very unlucky not to get a professional contract for 2022. He won the Festival of Cycling in South Australia, was second to a rampant Luke Plapp at the Road Nationals and then hit bad luck with a fourth overall at the recent Mitchelton Tour of Gippsland.
The Australian classics have a way of balancing things out with the strongest riders so that it’s hard for them to win, they are always the ones looked to when work is required, but Whelan’s Team Bridgelane squad is one of the strongest and they will put him in a good position. The team also boasts former Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool winner Nick White, who tuned up for the race with a long, solo effort in Gippsland.
Cameron Scott (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) is the other rider on everyone’s mind at present after two stage wins in Gippsland just a few days ago. His team took a clean-sweep of the tour for stage wins, with Kane Richards winning overall and Angus Lyons again showing that he’s one of the best local riders going around.
Scott will be central to their plans – the track and road star seems to get stronger at the end of ardous races, and he’ll be very hard to beat if he comes to the finish line in a group of any size.
Brenton Jones (Inform TMX Make) may be the only rider with the speed required to match Scott in the sprint, and the experienced hard man of the sport has plenty of insight from tackling the ‘Warrny’ in the past. He’ll be ably backed by stalwarts of the local scene in Mark O’Brien and Raphael Freienstein, no one in the peloton will discount their chances if they slip into a move during the race.
The Lochard Energy Warrnambool Women’s Cycling Classic course
The women will travel the same course as the Melbourne to Warrnambool, albeit a shorter route that will start in Colac. It is still the longest one-day road race in the world for women in 2022 at 160 kilometres and is set to become an instant classic on the women’s National Road Series calendar.
The Colac start will be interesting, as the hardest terrain of the race arrives immediately, and rather than a break forming, it seems more likely that it will be a whittling down of the peloton in an attritional style in those early kilometres.
The run towards the coast may be the time for the teams with numbers left to make their move and it should be an aggressive race as the riders hit the Great Ocean Road.
The flat run into Warrnambool will be the last chance for riders to get themselves back in contention for the finish, with the final uphill near the finish a potential chance for the riders with any energy left in their legs to leave the faster sprinters behind.
The exuberant Sarah Gigante (Movistar) has to head any list of contenders. The 21-year-old may be one of the best Australian riders ever if she can continue her development, and she’ll make her return from a long layoff with heart condition myopericarditis.
That return was scheduled for the Tour of Gippsland, but a COVID positive test kept her out of the event and delayed her 2022 debut for a week. She is healthy and nearly over isolation, and if anything, that should increase the hunger and makes her the rider to watch.
In recent years, Gigante has been near unbeatable at NRS level, dominating at the National Tour in the Tweed and last year’s Festival of Cycling. She’ll be riding as an individual and a look at recent Strava and Zwift activity indicates that she’s putting in a lot of training at present, and you get a sense that she’s not going to be shy about attacking.
Outside Gigante, the Mitchelton Tour of Gippsland showed that the teams are very even in terms of ability and depth, it was only a superb attack by Georgie Howe (Knights of Suburbia) that broke the deadlock in the fight for results.
Howe will be a key part of the race again, her solo win on Stage 2 in Gippsland could scarcely have been better preparation for the first Lochard Energy Women’s Warrnambool Cycling Classic. She’ll be backed by the experience of Kate Perry and the power of Lisa Jacob, both good alternative options over the longer race distance.
Australian national road race champion Nicole Frain (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) will be looking to top off what has been a very successful summer in the green and gold at the Warrny – she’s looking for a professional deal overseas, and the more results that she can rack up will make that an inevitability. Her late attack at nationals belies the fact that she’s also got a very good sprint, watch out for her from a small group.
Matilda Goes For Trifecta
Dual women’s Melbourne to Warrnambool (when women raced in the men’s event) winner Matilda Raynolds (Inform TMX MAKE) will be looking to make it three times in a row atop the podium on Raglan Parade. One thing is for certain, she won’t fade as it gets further in the race, she’s used to doing an extra 100 kilometres. Teammate Amber Pate will be many people’s favourite for the event, the versatile athlete showing that she can sprint, climb and time trial with equal aptitude.
ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast have had a very good summer and they’ll be again hard to deny in Warrnambool. They have the best domestic sprinter in Maeve Plouffe, but Dani De Francesco and Anya Louw will be just as feared, both have experience over the harder races, with De Francesco the winner of the Tour de Brisbane.
Sydney Uni-Staminade bring young gun Alyssa Polites, one of the brightest prospects in the local peloton, the 19-year-old impressing with attacking rides across the summer. Together with Gippsland stage winner Josie Talbot and former WorldTour rider Jessica Pratt, the Sydney Uni-Staminade team will be fighting for the win.