The name of Tim Decker is not just associated with coaching, but also from his riding achievements on the track (as a past winner and multiple podiums in the Bendigo International Madison, eight-time finalist in the Austral, and winner of many other Victorian wheelraces) and road (seven Herald Sun Tour appearances, stints of international racing in Belgium, France, Holland, Japan and China).
Decker also has a long association with the Melbourne to Warrnambool classic, and could rightly be regarded as one of the race’s favourite sons. He is certainly well qualified to talk about this great Australian road race – our oldest cycling classic.
Decker has an amazing record in the Warrnambool for his 20 starts between 1993-2017. He finally won it in 2007 after 14 attempts, and going close on numerous other occasions – finishing in the top-10 six times, including second (2000), twice finishing third (1999, 2009), fourth (2005), sixth (2006), and seventh (2003); plus a broken collarbone in 2004 and a below-par 15th and 16th in 2001/02 by his standards.
With the significant changes being delivered in the 2019 Melbourne to Warrnambool race (the February start date, completely new course), I wanted to get an expert view on these changes and how they might play out.
Here’s Tim Decker’s take on the new Melbourne to Warrnambool…
Craig Fry: What does the Warrnambool mean to you?
Tim Decker: The race is a bit of an institution, and it’s in my blood. In the back of mind, its always there. It has been a big part of my life.
I have so many good memories, and so many near misses that are memories of challenges I had, and things I executed well, and racing with people you love to race with…
Just the sheer challenge of preparing for the Warrny, and getting through the Warrny, there’s a lot in that. The Warrny is iconic. I don't care what anybody says, it has never lost its status as being iconic.
But the race itself has definitely changed, the way the riders race it. Racing in general has changed a lot over the years but there is still only one winner.
You mention the Warrny, and preparing for the Warrny, and wanting to ride it. It’s not just a matter of just getting on the bike and doing it. You’ve got to be mentally into it. You’ve got to want to do it. You’ve got to do the work.
It’s more than just a bike race.
CF: What do you think about changing the Warrnambool?
TD: I’m one of the longest standing Warrny riders still going around, so I have seen a lot of change…from starting in Fed square as a handicap, to racing through the Stony Rises (and that being a key part of the race where key moves were made), to climbing the hills going out and around Camperdown.
I guess the world always changes, and things always evolve. What I can say is it’s in my blood and I feel I should support it because it’s the Warrny.
I look at this course and think, this is part old style Warrny for the first half, and part Shipwreck Coast for the second half. For me it's a bit of a mix up of both. They’ve brought the two races together I think…it has a bit of everything.
But one of the things about the Warrnambool (aside from the challenge of it) that really drew me to it, was it was always a race that went to the people. The people knew the route, they lined the roads everywhere for 300kms in Geelong, Colac, Camperdown and Terang. And not only that, it was well known on the highways and roads…they just pulled over and watched from the side of the roads as well.
I do feel a bit of that may disappear now with the new course. Those country towns, once upon a time, they felt part of the Melbourne to Warrnambool. It was their chance to be a part of what the Warrnambool brought to the region.
CF: What would you do if you were the Warrnambool Race Director?
TD: They've changed the course, but is that the underlying issue for making the Warrny sustainable?
How are they going to get the Warrny out to the people? Are they thinking about how everybody stays in Melbourne the night before, so all that revenue is not going into the Warrnambool region? If you start at 7 o’clock and finish at 2 o’clock, people just leave Warrnambool after the race.
You've got to be starting at 9 o’clock, and finishing at 5 o’clock, and be having big presentations at 7 o’clock so more people support the Warrnambool region. Understanding there is potential that you could get a 40-degree day in Feb, does that mean with a hot weather policy the race could be cancelled?
Why not connect a Gran Fondo to it, an Australian or World long course Gran Fondo championship where people of all ages could do it?
What about the financial sustainability of the race? If it costs a hundred grand to run, where’s that coming from except from sponsors? Sponsors come and go.
CF: How will the new Melbourne to Warrnambool course be raced?
TD: The race early will be fast, and it might take a little bit longer for a break to form given the speed of that early part (Avalon down to Colac through the edge of Geelong) is pretty open and will be quite fast… at 45kph or faster.
It won’t just be the roll-away break either. There’ll be a bit of action before a break establishes itself. But it will be at high speed.
And then, I think the real racing won’t start until they get down past Colac, and down around Port Campbell. Potentially, there’ll be a break, and when they get onto those lumpy roads between Colac and Port Campbell they will have established their maximum lead by then.
It will be really up to the riders and whether they want to start racing by then. The road from Colac down to Port Campbell might bring a bit of hardness into the race, but only if they race it…get into it a bit. That will be the turning point either way once your out of Port Campbell.
Also, I know they’re coming into Warrnambool a little differently, which I believe has an impact too.
It’s the riders that have had the biggest impact on the Warrny. The way they race now has changed the outcomes, and that's why so many people are getting to the finish. People don't train how they used to, the way people prepare and approach races now is a lot different.
They look at a 262km race and think ‘I’ve got to save everything I can for 200km and make sure I’ve got more in the tank for the last 60’. And athletes today can hit much higher power than they could back in the day.
But back in the day, the way they trained was they could go for 300km and ride everyone into the ground. That's the way I used to like to ride the Warrny. You’d train to be able to handle 300km of just being on the edge of your seat, and just barely able to get food out of your back pocket to eat every now and then.
Nowadays, it can be a bit of a roll along, and a bit of a decision about who is going to chase or race.
I remember in the last Warrny I did (2017), I was asking them up the front “Are you going to chase? You’ve got no team members up there…are you willing just to sit up and let the Warrny ride away are you?”
The Warrny only comes around once every year, and there’s only going to be so many winners. People’s mentality (NRS teams) has changed in the way they are prepared to race, which for me is pretty sad actually. The teams have a bigger influence on the race than they think.
CF: What do you think the likelihood is of the pros riding the new race?
TD: Very slim, because it combines with other races, and its 262km. Even if they do want to do it, they won’t race full gas for 262km because it’s too early in the season. And its too warm.
You might get some of the Pro Conti or Conti teams, for example Zak Dempster’s academy team. But most people come and do the SunTour, and then they’re out of here.
The Committee wanted to try and piggyback off the Summer of Cycling, and be the last event on the Summer of Cycling calendar in Victoria. The vision for the future I think will be that nobody except the pro's will be able to race the Warrnambool.
It’s heading down a path where they will make it harder and harder. This year, it's two weeks after the Sun Tour. Next year will it be a week after the Sun Tour, and will they try and make it just a pro race?
So, will that kill it? It will certainly bring a whole new bunch of challenges if it goes that way. Will it still remain iconic, or will it just become another ‘Pro’ race that fades into the other 400 Pro races a year?
For the 2019 race at least, it is great to see they have still made the race available and open for all riders.
I see the Warrny as a part of Australia’s heritage, it should be available for Australian riders because no matter where the course goes it's the name, history and distance that’s iconic. Its racing up Raglan Parade, and (it used to be) coming in from the Speedway and the real tactics about how you come into town. It used to be the live radio feed from 30km to the finish.
All that stuff is iconic. That’s the Warrny. That's the stuff they’re forgetting.
And some people say, ‘Oh, that's what used to happen…things are different now…we want to get it on TV’, and all that sort of stuff.
But I think, lets get it sustainable before we start thinking about trying to get it on TV. There’s still so many things that are left unanswered. Course changes are inevitable, but there are other things they need to think about as well.
CF: Are you preparing for M2W19?
TD: Ha! I think about that every year!
The course doesn't scare me…the changes. It's the fact that I’m 45 years old. When you get older you don't have the ability to keep backing up as much as when you’re younger, when you can go and go again and again all day.
In the back of my mind there is a bit of a plan going on already…not just the Warrny, but the Revolve24hr race.
I’d be preparing for the Warrny, and then go on to ride the Revolve24. I’d be making sure I’ve got really good endurance, and work as best I can on my power to be able to handle being in a break, or jumping across to a break, or getting in attacks.
But I’d be trying to set my sights on potentially being in the early break away and experiencing the race that way. For the first 100km being in the best position to be in the early break away, and then hopefully I would have the endurance to get through.
I know I could get through the Warrny no matter what course they design. I could do it off memory, but I’d want to be really fit, mentally and physically
I’d be tapping out a few 300km rides too for sure. I work on the principle of wearing people down, and tactically reading the race in the last 30-40km.
You never know…I might see you on February 16. You only live once don't you!?
Craig Fry is a freelance cycling writer www.pushbikewriter.com based in Melbourne. @pushbikewriter on Twitter and Instagram.