What to know about the 2024 Melbourne to Warrnambool
The international peloton may have left our shores, but the Aussie summer of cycling rolls on with the start of the domestic season – and it begins with a doozy.
This weekend, the 108th Melbourne to Warrnambool will kickstart the AusCycling National Road Series, with all the prestige that comes with our oldest and longest one-day race.
On Saturday, the NRS men will take on the 267-kilometre Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic, a race steeped in history.
Then, for the third year, on Sunday the NRS women will tackle the Lochard Energy Warrnambool Women’s Classic.
Here’s what you should know about both races.
Unchanged from last year, the men’s Warrny remains the 267-kilometre behemoth in all its glory.
Starting from Avalon Airport outside Geelong, the race winds its way inland through Colac before reaching the coast at Port Campbell after 195km.
That’s often a turning point in the race: the peloton swings onto the exposed Great Ocean Road, and a combination of wind, small hills and sheer fatigue splits the field until they reach the uphill drag to the finish on Raglan Parade.
How will the race be won? On this parcours, almost every kind of scenario can play out – the Melbourne to Warrnambool boasts a rich history of solo winners, mass sprints and small bunch finishes. Anything’s possible.
The women’s race starts in Colac and, from there, follows the same route as the men’s. Those 160 kilometres to Warrnambool include 1,520m of vertical gain, meaning it has almost as much climbing as the men’s race.
The distance makes it among the longest women’s races anywhere in the world – 160km is the upper limit defined by the UCI regulations. As such, nutrition and fatigue play as much a crucial role as they do in the men’s event.
In the two editions so far, the race has been decided among a small group of favourites (in 2022) and in a bunch sprint (2023).
Both races are expected to be dry, sunny and warm, with maximum temperatures in the high 20s.
As always, riders and sports directors will be keeping a close eye on the wind forecasts. Wind is not expected to be a major factor in the men’s race. In the women’s race, it’s looking like a slight headwind, though not as strong as last year.
Here’s a non-exhaustive rundown of some big names to watch.
Defending champion Tristan Saunders returns on a heavy-hitting Team BridgeLane. They’ve had an incredible summer, with Zac Marriage and Jackson Medway bossing the breakaway at Cadel’s Great Ocean Road Race, while Luke Burns (representing the ARA Australian Cycling Team) won the KOM jersey at the Tour Down Under. With these big guns on sensational form, they’ll be the team to beat. Don’t forget Sam Jenner, who was indispensable in Saunders’ 2023 win.
Former BridgeLane rider Alastair Christie-Johnston heads up a CCACHE x Par Küp team that’s had good success at the Warrny without cracking the top step. Their line-up includes Liam White and Ryan Schilt (third and fourth in 2021). Bentley Niquet-Olden was strong last year, too.
It’s a young team for ARA Skip Capital, who bring the same seven riders from Cadel’s race with a focus on development. All but one are only 18 or 19 years old. Their most senior rider, Declan Trezise (at a mere 21 years), was the team’s top finisher last year and representstheir best option again.
Ben Hill (Blackshaw Racing) always does well in the Warrny. He finished second in 2021 and last year attacked out of the peloton with Chris Froome to finish in the top 10.
Among other former podiumgetters, last year’s runner-up Brendon Green (Cycling Development Foundation) also returns. There’s also Mark O’Brien (third in 2020) and Nicholas White (DUDA), winner of the 2019 edition.
We love to see national gravel champion Connor Sens riding on the road for St George Continental. His teammates Ben Carman and Lachlan Harrigan are also good shouts for a high result.
We’re keen to see how under-23 national road champion Fergus Browing (Trinity Racing) performs in his first race since that sensational victory in Ballarat, one day after being hit by a car.
Finally, watch out for South Africa’s Brendan Davids (Villawood), who was fourth last year.
There’s massive star power in this women’s race. The biggest name across the weekend – male or female – is Grace Brown (FDJ-SUEZ). The four-time national ITT champion throws her hat in the NRS ring for the first time since turning pro. Brown is no stranger to success in Warrnambool, having won the 140-kilometre Dirty Warrny gravel race last year.
However, as a solo rider, Brown will be up against the might of ARA Skip Capital led by defending champion Sophie Edwards. With Lucie Fityus also joining the team, plus Lucie Stewart (fourth last year), surely they will try to set up a sprint for one of their fast finishers.
Team BridgeLane may be even stronger on paper than ARA, having added two-time Warrny winner Matilda Raynolds to their roster with her fast finish. It’s a well-rounded team full of horsepower, notably Gina Ricardo, Katelyn Nicholson and Amanda Poulson, all of whom can attack from range.
Over on Raynold’s former team, Sharni Morely (Team Hydraplay Femme – Empowered by the Mental Wheels Foundation) finished ninth last year and should target another top result.
We’ll also be keeping an eye on Stephanie Hibburt (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) despite her being a lone rider this weekend. As part of the national team, Hibburt animated the women’s race at Cadel’s – she’s clearly got good legs this summer.
How to watch
Both races will be live streamed on SBS on Demand.
Saturday, February 3
Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic
LIVE via SBS On Demand
Sunday, February 4
Lochard Energy Warrnambool Women’s Classic
LIVE via SBS On Demand
Lastly, here’s an interesting aside: on Saturday, after the men’s race, the first Warrnambool local to win the race will be recognised at a ‘legends’ dinner.
In 1986, when the race was still being run as a handicap, Michael Lynch rode through the field from scratch to win in 6 hours 36 minutes.
Lynch starting his career with the Warrnambool Cycling Club and rode for Australia on multiple occasions, winning silver at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in the road team time trial and competing at the 1984 Olympics and 1987 World Championships.
Lynch was the first rider to win both the Warrny and the Grafton to Inverell. He received the Oppy Medal as Australian Cyclist of the Year in 1986.
Feature photo: Con Chronis