The Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool has a long and rich history, and is a race not for the faint hearted.
At 262 kilometres in length, the women who raced the 2019 event all had very different races and have kindly shared their raw and real experiences with us.
I had an amazing experience in the 2019 Melbourne to Warrnambool and would say it’s one of my favourite races on the CV/CA calendar.
I really like the fact that it’s a rare opportunity to race with the men. This makes for faster, more aggressive racing and a chance to ride in a big peloton which women don’t usually get. It also makes it a really tough race to finish which is something that makes it stand out on the calendar as one of my favourites.
I liked that there was no special consideration given to the women’s race, and that I was in the main race, with the opportunity to hold my own with everyone else. If I was good enough I would survive and if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t. This to me is a better definition of having equal racing opportunities than other events where there’s a separate women’s category and there are expectations about the racing being a certain way.
I think the level of difficulty in finishing in the women’s is part of racing and I don’t think larger field sizes necessarily represent a better/more successful race. I feel that the calibre of the riders who finished in the main bunch reflects a high quality, challenging race of attrition which doesn’t exist elsewhere on the women’s calendar.
My biggest piece of advice is practicing riding in that kind of bunch.
Local criteriums are a perfect opportunity to race with the men in B grade, and many of them offer big bunches to practice in. Being able to ride comfortably in the bunch and stay near the front was something I found to be really useful, so that would be my number one tip.
Thanks again and I look forward to racing the event in 2020!
Sarah Gigante, 19, VIC
I wrote a blog on the race which explains in detail what the race was like for me. I got dropped very early on, but managed to work together with a few guys to make it to the finish within the time cut! It was a hard, long but very fun day!
During the summer leading up to the Warrny, try to race some open club criteriums with the men, in a grade one higher than the one that you’d comfortably put yourself in – the first hour or so of the Warrny is very fast, and I think by doing some extra hard racing with the men, you would get used to a bigger bunch and prolonged intensity. This would be really useful for the start (which involved racing quickly along the highway, in a peloton of 200 riders!)
I would prioritise this high intensity training over long base kilometres.
My longest ever ride before the Warrny was only 132km, but the hardest part about the race for me wasn’t the extra 130km tacked on, it was just the very fast start.
- Look carefully at the course profile and map. I didn’t really do this, but I wish I did. Take note of where the hills start, and maybe where the first few corners are, because lots of badly-positioned riders get dropped in the first half an hour, so it is crucial to be as close to the front as possible. You don’t want to be constantly trying to go around people who are dropping wheels, especially in the wind! This is even more important if you think you might struggle with the pace on the early hills. If you start these hard sections at the front, then you will automatically have a buffer – you can drop wheels and finish at the back of the peloton, rather than off the back!
- Practise your food situation. You have to be comfortable with grabbing loaded musettes at 45kmph, but you should also practise training with some of the food you will use in the race. I made rice cakes for the first ever time the day before the Warrny, and while they tasted very nice, I really struggled with the packaging during the race. They kept exploding in my hands, so I would end up eating a mixture of aluminium foil and rice cake! Also make sure you vary up your food and take some savoury food, because 6.5+ hours is a long time. Eat and drink more than you think you need!
I am happy to share what was an eye-opening experience for me.
The first section was basically a men’s NRS/A-Grade crit race, where everyone is hanging on for dear life.
I looked down and saw I was doing 64kmph at the 5km mark.
I was dropped at around 25km. It was totally humiliating. But I can see that you must be an exceptional rider to be able to hold on for that first hour of men’s racing – until whenever the break is made and the bunch eases up.
So my race was over at 25km. I didn’t have riders around me who wanted to group-up and keep going. What a waste of training.
I picked up a lift to the first aid station and got permission to ride the rest of the course. Figured it was better than wasting the whole day! Riding solo, I averaged 33kmph for the 190km that I did and I know I can sit in a bunch at a much higher pace than that. But I can’t ride at 50kmph++ for the first hour to be able to make it to the rest of the race.
Personally, I would not recommend this race to any women except elites. I also would not recommend it to any men who aren’t very strong B-Grade riders either. The format does not support anyone not of this calibre.
Guys I ride and race with at this level (men’s B and some Cs) also got dropped. Some pulled out and others totally smashed themselves in a small group to finish.
My perspective is that have any hope of finishing, you must be in a team who stick together and/or be an elite rider.
Thanks for the opportunity and best of luck to everyone who goes again next year.
I want to add that Peta’s ride was spectacular and all the girls that finished were bloody sensational. Sarah’s ride in particular was so gutsy and an incredible achievement.
Peta Mullens, 31, VIC
My story was pretty public on my blog and my thoughts haven’t changed.
I loved the race and for the most part found it quite easy. The first 2hrs were solid and the crosswinds toward the final caught a lot of people out, but as 6hr races go, it was much easier than the MTB races I’ve done!
I was well looked after by the male competitors in the race (they gave me bottles, food and even a sit in the crosswinds) and found that
All the women were very encouraging of each other out on the road.
We had a follow car with food and bottles but I didn’t even once have to call on it. I did have to call on the race doctor after a nasty cut to my hand in a near crash.
But I agree with Diane Edwards in terms of the initial race speed; the first two hours were quick until after the first long climb. Most notably that the new start, all-be-it safer for the NRS race, would probably intimidate a lot of riders with the speed along the highway (but personally I love that).
I would recommend the event to all women who race A grade, and from my experience in Melbourne there are a lot of them. Beyond that, yes, the race is less participation focussed than it used to be but I still believe that an easy 50-100 women (depending on the year and conditions) could finish it Australia wide.