Matilda Raynolds (Specialized Women’s Racing) became the first woman to successfully defend her Melbourne to Warrnambool crown, winning the 2021 edition of the Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool after her 2020 triumph.
Raynolds pumped her fist as she crossed the line ahead of Justine Barrow (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) and Nicole Frain (Sydney Uni-Staminade) in a smaller group behind the rapid finish to the men’s race. Unlike most women’s cycling events, the women start mixed in with the men’s field and have to battle their way through the tactics of the men’s teams and strength of some of the top riders in Australia to finish the race and contend for the win.
“It wasn’t until the last few kilometres that I was thinking about the win and really wanting it,” said Raynolds. “We were with a group of guys as well, I found the right wheel, I’m used to racing the guys, and I got out a bit ahead of the pack and crossed the line.”
“I’m really happy to come away with the win. I was really impressed with the girls I had with me there, Nicole Frain and Justine Barrow were incredible, great positioning all day. I have a lot of love for this event, no one’s done it back-to-back before and I just wanted to tick that box, I’m thrilled to do that today.”
The 267-kilometre course showed again why the race is renowned as one of the hardest events in Australia, a true test of endurance and racing ability that took the three podium finshers six hours and 21 minutes to complete.
“I’m absolutely exhausted,” said Raynolds. “It’s weird, it’s such a long race but it almost goes past quite quickly. You chop it up so much and it’s so intense the entire time, it does actually go quite quick.
“I’m relieved to get through as I felt horrific today, the bonus is that you have 270 kilometres to come good. It probably took until 150 to start feeling a bit better. While I feel like last year’s race was probably harder, this year’s I felt worse, so they’re on par.
“As much as I’d love to promote the event – it’s a great event and everyone should do it – I don’t want to have to do it again next year because it is so hard.”
That degree of difficulty is the selling point of the race, a race so hard that it means that different types of riders get a chance to win where others might otherwise be better credentialled. Raynolds gets plenty of wins otherwise, but the harder races do seem to suit her especially.
The hard sprinter revealed the importance of just finishing the race after what had been a tough season with missed opportunity and injury.
“I really needed to get through today for my own self-esteem and to get back on track,” said Raynolds. “Getting the win was a bonus, making it was huge.”
“I didn’t tick all the green boxes in TrainingPeaks, and I’ve also had a very busy work period with opportunities that have been going on outside of cycling. It has been a distracting and an exhausting few weeks, I haven’t slept too much. Maybe it was a good thing that it didn’t give me time to overthink the situation.
The national championships were a big goal for the Victorian, but a crash during the criterium not only ruined her chances for that event, but also for the road race, where she made the crucial break but couldn’t show her full abilities as she was hampered by a separated AC joint sustained from the fall and then suffered a supraventricular tachycardia towards the end of the race, . Melbourne to Warrnambool comes a reward for perseverance, one that Raynolds will savour.
“That’s one thing for everyone to remember, when you do have disappointments they will move through it. Even when in the moment they feel horrific, you don’t feel like you’ll get over it, you feel like handing in your pro card and giving it all up… those moments pass. Good times will come again.
“I am going to stop and enjoy this. I haven’t finished a race this year because of crashes and some unfortunate luck. To finish here and get the win, I’m going to enjoy it.”
Jensen Plowright (Team Bridgelane) won the men’s race with a late attack that saw him claim the Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool on his debut at just 20 years of age.
Full results: https://results.auscycling.org.au/Road/2021/m2w/2021_m2w_result.html