“The Warrny” as it is affectionately known by Australian cyclists. It is the second oldest one day cycling race in the world and one of the most highly prized in Australia with recent winners including Gerrans, Walker, Decker, Pearson and Goesinnen. Despite having never raced it before, there was something incredibly alluring about the 265km race, renowned for windswept roads, strong crosswinds and hard-fought victories. This race was number one on my goals list, set right back at the end of last year.
Budget Forklifts had assembled a strong team for the race, consisting of Jack Anderson, Michael Vink, Michael Cupitt, Jake Kauffmann, Jesse Kerrison and myself. After a solid performance in the National Capital Tour three weeks earlier, our team manager Cam made the decision to sit us out of the Tour of Tasmania to ensure the best possible lead up to the Warny.
I arrived in Melbourne the Thursday prior to the race with my girlfriend Anna for company on this trip. After a night spent in my favourite city and several good restaurant and cafe visits I headed out to Laverton on Friday to meet the team. A quick spin in the morning was a good chance to calm the nerves before an afternoon spent lying down and yarning to the boys. Everyone was excited for the next day and moral was high in the camp.
A 7:30am race start made for an incredibly early start to the day, however several cups of coffee had me awake and buzzing. It was a brisk morning temperature wise, but quickly warmed up as we set off from the start line and the sun came out. With 238 riders participating in this year’s event, it was a long and nervous neutral section leaving the start town of Weribee but as the racing proper got underway the peloton quickly sorted itself out. Conditions for the day were tough. The wind was strong and with the race course constantly changing direction we saw a mixture of hard crosswinds, headwinds and cross-tailwinds.
An incredibly strong initial breakaway established itself early into the race, with a large Genesys and Drapac presence that included Brenton Jones, Aaron Donnelly, Jack Haig, Will Walker, Robbie Hucker, Luke Davidson and Darren Lapthorne. Jack was present for our team in the move, sitting on the back to give a bit of disincentive for those present to work, although even then it wasn’t a great situation for our team. Several other teams had missed the move however and it was brought back 100km in to the race, with 156km still remaining.
My first ever Melbourne to Warrnambool was always going to be a tough learning curve. I went into the race with a clear strategy to conserve as much energy as possible however this strategy went terribly for me. In the first incident, coming back through the convoy after a nature break and while having a chat to Cam in the car, I found myself being backed off the peloton by the commissare car. A small group of B Grade riders had been dropped and the convoy was stuck behind them while the peloton zoomed off in the distance. It took a hard five minute effort for me to regain contact solo.
On the second occasion, I found myself held up after some sketchy riding and a crash through the first feed station while on the third incident I had to expend far too much energy after some bad bunch placement saw me in the third echelon on the road in a particularly hard crosswind section. Atthe halfway point of the race I was convinced it wasn’t going to be my day and conveyed this to Cam in the car, but his response was to relax and that I would ride through it.
As in previous years, the KOM climb through Camperdown did a lot of damage to the field, with a large portion of riders being dropped leaving less than twenty still in contention for the win. It was shortly after however, with around 225km covered and 40km remaining that the really dangerous move formed. It containing last year’s winner Goesinnen (Drapac,) Haig (Genesys) and Jason Spencer (Charter Mason.) It was a dangerous situation for our team however Vink was quick to react and he did a huge amount of work on the front to hold the trio at a gap of around a minute.
Haig was dropped from the front of the race with 30km remaining and suddenly Genesys were in the same situation on the road as our team and joined in the chase. As the gap to the front pair began to drop, the attacking started and soon there were several groups on the road. A selection including Jack and Jake from Budget, as well as Hucker, Robinson (Genesys) and Alex Ray (Target Trek) managed to make the junction with the front of the race while behind I was in the company of Lapthorne, Law, Donnelly, Tansley and several others.
In an incredible turnaround from earlier in the race, I was now starting to feel great, while all those around me were getting noticeably slower. As we turned onto the main road into Warrnambool around ten kilometres out, another round of attacks started and I managed to distance myself from the group I was in. With Jack Beckinsale (Genesys) for company, I rode across to the front of the race in a short period of time, passing another smaller group that included Jake and Goesinnen in the process.
The final four kilometres were an incredible blur. Beckinsale and I joined the front of the race on the outskirts of Warrnambool that by this stage was down to four other riders; Ray, Robinson, Hucker and my team mate Jack. In a combination of excitement of finally being at the front of the race and instinct on sensing a lull in the pace, I attacked almost immediately.
I quickly got a good gap of around a hundred meters and completely focussed on putting all of my remaining energy into getting to the line as quickly as possible. It is a tough run in to the finish line of the race along the main road of Warrnambool with a long gradual climb inside the final 2km being followed by a fast descent before the final five hundred meters, an uphill drag to the line.
Looking over my shoulder up the final climb, I was surprised to see Jack quickly closing the gap across to me. There was no time to relax when he reached me as young Alex Ray was close behind. A hard effort on the front from each of us on the descent was enough to ensure Ray didn’t close the final few meters across to us and as we climbed the final five hundred meters to the line we were finally able to relax.
In an amazingly selfless and gracious act, Jack allowed me the honour of crossing the line first, meanwhile close behind, Jake had found some last minute pace to also ride across to the front group from the second group on the road and take the sprint for third, A 1-2-3 for BUDGET FORKLIFTS!!!
Weeks after the event, it is still hard to describe just how stoked I was to win the race. The victory itself was incredibly meaningful, both due to the long history of the event and the amount of work I put into the build up for it. Most of all, I was just overjoyed to be a part of such an amazing team performance. As a team we are an incredibly close unit and together we have been constantly knocked, discredited and written off by others in the NRS all year. It was a true team performance on the road to Warrnambool and I am so incredibly proud of what we achieved together.
Until next time, it’s going to take a long time to come down off the buzz of this one!