The Melbourne to Warrnambool is Australia's oldest race, an event that has spanned the different eras of competitive cycling with uncountable stories and experiences making up its long history. A group of Melbourne to Warrnambool stars and devotees will be riding over some of the classic routes of 'the Warrny' to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the great race and raise funds for junior cycling in Victoria.
The first 'Warrnambool' happened on Sunday 6 October 1895, when 24 riders attempted the 165-mile journey to Melbourne. Only 7 would cross the finish line at the Haymarket roundabout in Elizabeth Street, North Melbourne.
The new race certainly captured the imagination of Warrnambool locals, who quickly raised a 50 pounds prize purse and organised another race ten or so weeks later – this time from Melbourne to Warrnambool.
On December 14, 1895, 13 riders set out from Melbourne at 4:30am, with the winner William Nicol arriving in Warrnambool just over 13 hours later. That start spawned the legend of the race in an era when cars were a novelty and the 'race' was more about endurance than speed.
Ride organiser, Craig Fry, has a family connection to the race that spans four generations of fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, cousins, grandsons, and great-grandsons (and all the women, children, family, and friends around them supporting the efforts). The group of invited riders has more than 90 Warrnambool starts between them and includes a past winner, podium finishers, Olympic champions, a National champion, ex-NRS and SunTour riders, club journeymen, and deep family connections – all united by a common love for the race and a desire to see it and Australian cycling continue to prosper. Simon Gerrans has also joined the ride as a late addition.
Apart from honouring the 125th year anniversary of the Warrnambool, the riders are also raising funds via a Gofundme page to support junior cycling in the southwest region of Victoria, as Fry explained.
“We want to make a positive contribution to getting more kids interested and involved in cycling,” said Fry.
“We all feel pretty strongly about promoting road cycling as a key part of the cycling experience – from kids riding to school and with friends on the weekend, everyday participation and recreation, to bike racing at the club, state, national, and world level.”
The ride route will cover more than 300km, and a mix of the old and new race routes to represent different race eras (pre 1996, pre 2018, 2019-20).
Drew Ginn, triple Olympic gold-medal winner and member of the Oarsome Foursome is a regular rider of the Warrny, and has threatened to win in his two appearances.
“It's like one of the great grumpy old teachers," said Ginn. Inspiring, expecting the best of you. Demanding you to strive, to prepare and show respect.
"It a history lesson, physics lesson, religious lesson, and art lesson all wrapped into one. The Warrny teaches you before, during and after the event and when it's a bit grumpy it's the longest day in your life but as much as you want to get out of there, you are compelled to stay, to hang in there and get to the end. I love it.”
The ride has set up a fundraising page to raise money for junior cycling programs in Victoria. You can find out more details and donate here.