Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Festival set for very even, exciting races

The 107th edition of the Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool will be run over 267 kilometres, with the 170-strong peloton setting off from Avalon Airport in the mist of the morning and beginning their trek to the finish on Raglan Parade.

With a storied history stretching back to 1895, the race distance isn’t just imposing. It is aspirational –  with the legacy of the race one of the most important in Australian cycling history it’s a must-do for any serious cyclist.

How to watch

The racing over the weekend will see the peloton traverse the route from Avalon Airport to Warrnambool, with plenty of spots along the way good to watch the riders from the roadside as the race develops. The race finish in Warrnambool on Raglan Parade will be a hub of activity, with a big screen showing the live stream and Mike Tomalaris and Pat Shaw hosting the event live.

From afar, you can watch the Melbourne to Warrnambool on SBS On Demand and the SBS Cycling Central Facebook page, with the live stream hosted by Matt Keenan, Dave McKenzie and Gracie Elvin beginning at 11.30am AEDT on Saturday. The Women’s Warrnambool Cycling Classic will start streaming on the same platforms at 10.30am AEDT on Sunday.

Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool Course

The wind always plays 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 conditions, with a 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 for the rest of the race. The early breakaway is crucial to determining how the rest of the race plays out, which teams have to chase and expend valuable resources. The early move can also go all the way to the finish, though it has been a while since a move formed in the early kilometres made it all the way to the line, Nathan Elliott’s 2016 win the most recent example.

110 kilometres in, when most races would be finishing, the terrain gets tough as the riders enter Colac, with some tough climbs and consistent undulations as the route heads onwards to Timboon. This has been the scene of a new wave of attacks in the past, Brendan Johnston made his move here in 2020 that would turn out to be the winning one.

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 that proved to be the spark for a late attack in the 2021 race, ultimately successful with Jensen Plowright taking the victory on the dragging uphill sprint to the line.

The Contenders

James Whelan (Team Bridgelane) is the best rider 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 nationals and then hit bad luck when 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 clean swept the tour for stage wins, with Kane Richards taking out the overall and Angus Lyons again showing that he’s one of the best local riders going around. Richards in particular looks to be in the form of his life at present, his climbing performances have caught the eye despite being one of the larger riders in the peloton.

Scott will be central to their plans, the track and road star seems to just get stronger at the end of hard 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 swords with Scott in the sprint, and the experienced hard man of the sport has plenty of experience 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.

CCS Cycling’s Ben Hill has been really close on a number of occasions to taking out the win on Raglan Parade, but every time there has been a rider up the road or a couple stronger in the sprint. An attacking all-rounder, Hill has been in strong form recently and is building up to the e-sports world championships.

Oliver’s Real Food Racing have cards to play, with Liam White and Brendon Davids their strongest in this style of race. White, in particular, has been very active recently without any massive results, he could fly under the radar a bit and then win a reduced bunch sprint, though many will remember his third place in the race last year.

Nero will take the same squad as contested the Tour of Gippsland to Warrny, the only exception being Chris Miller out with lingering concussion effects. Myles Stewart has shown that he can sprint with a hard day’s racing under his belt and there’s plenty of versatility within the rest of the team, with Aidan Buttigieg a fixture in early breakaways in recent years.

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. While shorter, it will be 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 comes 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 after the initial reduction in the peloton 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 drags near the finish a potential chance for the riders with any energy left in their legs to leave the faster sprinters behind.

The Contenders

The 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.

Dual women’s Melbourne to Warrnambool 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, as she’s used to doing an extra 100 kilometres in the open event. Teammate Amber Pate will be many people’s favourite for the race, the versatile athlete showing that she can sprint, climb and time trial with equal aptitude.

Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic on May 1, 2021 Victoria, Australia (Photo by Con Chronis)

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, with the 19-year-old impressing with attacking rides across the summer. As one of the younger riders, the question is whether she will be ok at the distance, but Polites showed few signs of fatigue over the nationals course when riding to the Under-23 win and third overall.

Together with Gippsland stage winner Josie Talbot, who will be one to watch in a sprint, and former WorldTour rider Jessica Pratt, the Sydney Uni-Staminade team will be fighting for the win.

The exuberant Sarah Gigante (Movistar) was set to ride the race, but has pulled out due to concerns around not wanting to rush back after contracting COVID.

It’s set to be a brilliant weekend of racing, with the Royal Bikes Port Campbell to Warrnambool handicap on Saturday and the Warrnambool KFC Criterium for the elite men on Sunday set to support the marquee events!

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