This years Melbourne to Warrnambool turned out to be another tough bike race, made difficult by the usual head / side wind that the race is famous for. A huge thank you to our sponsors; Lexus of Brighton for supplying our Lexus SUV support vehicle and plenty of bidons for the long day and Champion System for the musettes.
Coming into the race Brendan and I had put in a very solid motorpace lead-up over the last two months, getting stretched to breaking point and beyond by Stu on the moto, and with regulars Search to Retains Charles Howett & Sole Devotions Nick Bensley sharing the moto experience, it was a good solid training group to prepare with.
This year I didnt have many race days through the winter due to house moving and renovations, so the motopace was invaluable in getting that 4 hours of high end intensity each week.
Race day arrived with rain falling on the drive out to the start, thankfully it cleared as we started, and was intermittent over the next 7 and half hours of the race. Being a multi- grade mass start event, the opening kilometres are always nervous as the field sorts itself out, and this is where an initial break can be successful (eg 2009).
With the experience of around 16 Warrnies, Brendan is attentive near the front of the bunch, and gets into the first main split as we head into a cross wind section. This looks good too, because most of the Genesys guys are there is this the deciding move? But no, a few kms down the road, the main field behind is scrambling to get on terms, and the Genesys guys sit up, and it comes back together.
The next series of turns put us alternately into a head wind, then a cross wind, so its a matter of staying near the front in case a split happens again. We hear later that Peter May has a case of very bad luck around here, with the fighting for wheels in the gutter, his front wheel was taken out and he crashed heavily on his shoulder which results in a visit to Geelong Hospital. No broken bones, but damage to his shoulder AC joint.
The first feed goes OK, my wife Melissa and the kids are there to catch empty water bottles, and hold out full Champion System musettes.
A small break of about 4 select riders get off the front, and establishes itself. Thats going to be a long day out in the wind for them, and they soon get out to about 4 mins from the time checks I hear. The main field is content to ride tempo, with some full speed sections every now and then, so Brendan, Harry & I stay fairly close to the front, keep eating, keep drinking.
Talking with Harry and Brendan, we know that after the 2nd feed the road turns south to Camperdown for some 40kms of serious cross winds, and we know that is where the real contenders will blow the race apart. So we fuel up and get ready for it to happen. 2nd feed at 150kms, and I get caught on the wrong side of a rider, and miss Melissa (first feed weve ever missed!) I think about stopping as she runs to catch up, but decide Id rather miss this feed than get caught down the back as the hammer goes down. Luckily I have enough food, and Harry has a spare bottle so its all good.
And then we turn left and the race is finally on. Im covering every attack as they happen, and trying to stay out of that damn cross wind when the pace eases. But there are so many attacks and its lined out in the left gutter for a long time, a gap opens just 5 or so bike riders in front of Brendan and we miss the final deciding one. We dont panic and move right and form a second echelon quickly to minimise the gap. Nothing has stuck so far so we should be good.
Harry sees that this is the turning point of the race and decides to try and go across down the left hand gutter all or nothing. Flat out into the head/cross wind, and we watch him gain on the tail of the front group. Well almost! Some 20m off the back hes so close, but so far. He comes back to us way faster than he left us, as he put everything into that move, and we dont see him again.
Our second group settles down to reel in the front group, working well but not cooking it too much. They are just a couple hundred metres ahead, but its too far to bridge alone in this wind. Now here it becomes a game of tactics we cant work too hard to get across, as the Camperdown hills are next up, and it will be full gas over them at what we anticipate will be 400watts for 5 minutes after 200k in the legs. At the same time we have to stay within striking distance of this split or its all over. All 20 of us in this second group know it too. The cross winds have everyone desperate to hold that wheel in front, I dont look behind but know there will be a trail of destruction – riders blown off in ones and twos.
We enter Camperdown with that same 200m or so gap, so close we could nearly touch them, our group has worked well over the last ten or so kms to hold the gap constant, not ideal but no panic just yet. I move up as we round the corner and the hill starts with Brendan on my wheel. As expected the pace is really fast, the hill makes the front group seem closer and I glue myself onto two Genesys riders wheels. Half way up the hill and a gap opens as the riders in front of me blow Damn! theres a gap to four riders which includes Tom Leaper. I jump out solo to close the gap, but Ive been climbing at threshold, and while Im closing to them, the top of the hill is coming too. The surge has sent Brendan and 3 others off the back of our chase group and into trouble. I cant wait now so I big ring it across the top but still cant close the gap. On the descent I pedal as hard as I can into the head wind but the group of 4 is getting away. We hit the second hill, and the gap to the four in front is constant and they look like they will join the front group. I catch Aaron Salisbury who has been popped from the front, and he latches on. We crest the top but the gap is too big now. I keep the pressure on down the descent in case they ease up on the flat, but its a numbers game now 24 riders into a headwind versus 2, and as we turn back onto the Princes Hwy with 60kms to race its back to the second group we go.
Dammit I did have a few options there, and I made my choices, but by the smallest of margins it didnt work out. Well thats bike racing sometimes. Things have worked out well in previous years so I cant complain.
So I finished in the second group, 29th at 5min 49sec down on a well deserved win by Joel Pearson. Brendan was picked up after the second climb by a third group and rolled in 48th at 12 min 55sec.
And that is another Warrny over. Its a race that takes a huge amount of training and preparation. Will we be back next year for another crack? Sure we will as it says on the medallion: By these we flourish.