So what is the Melbourne to Warrnambool? Is it a Gran Fondo or professional bike Race?
Let’s not kid ourselves, it certainly is not a professional bike race. It’s a National Road Series (NRS) team race that also caters for B, C and D graders, along with the 25 women entries who all managed to compete in a historic edition for the first time.
So it’s not a Gran Fondo either, but it’s edging closer…and beyond that in my opinion is extinction.
So what needs to be done? There’s plenty and it’s easier said than done, but I’ve got an idea. In fact I had this idea six years ago and I attempted to float it with the stakeholders and people that matter for the event to survive.
Here is what happened.
It was around 2009-2010 and I was working on the Herald Sun Tour as a commentator, but also giving some support to course design etc…
I was excited to be on the other side of the fence and full of enthusiasm and ideas for some of Australia’s cycling events and what was needed for them to not just survive, but hopefully flourish In an already crammed sporting market.
Around the middle of the Tour I chatted with the event police who were managing road closures for the Herald Sun Tour. These were a team who also managed other major sporting events that needed road closures in Victoria.
I asked about starting the Melbourne to Warrnambool in Geelong (before you shoot me down Paris-Roubaix starts 80km out of Paris), run a 20km neutral zone (under control) to Torquay before the official race start, then along the Great Ocean Road past Lorne, Apollo Bay, up Lavers Hill and all the way to Warrnambool - give or take some 250km later.
“Is this possible or am I dreaming?” To my surprise they said it was very possible, in fact it was probably easier to have a rolling closure on the Great Ocean Road than it was for the current course.
Think about it. Ocean on one side and minimal side roads on the other. When you're talking moto scouts and the people power needed to shut down roads, manage intersections and minimize disruption, this was very doable. The event police even gave me an unofficial quote on what it might cost. I’m not going to tell you, but trust me it was very encouraging.
As I was working for TV at the Herald Sun Tour, I moved around the room, found our producer and talked live TV and highlights package for the race. What would it cost bare bones and a bells and whistles quote which would include helicopter shots etc. Are you seeing my vision yet (a live aerial shot of the peloton weaving it’s way along the great ocean road is surely more desirable to a sponsor)?
Yep I’m hearing you. It all costs money but that’s what I was doing. I was getting realistic quotes adding them up and by Tour end I had a realistic budget costing to run the Melbourne to Warrnambool.
Next I came up with an idea to give the cycling punters who under the new format (pro race with The best NRS teams) might not get to start this great race. Create a Gran Fondo (a real one) that starts in Torquay at kilometer zero, two maybe three hours prior to the race rolling out in Geelong. The challenge for the Gran Fondo riders? To beat the professionals to Warrnambool with a two to three hour plus 20km neutral head start.
The Santos Tour Down Under do it with their own People’s Challenge ride on the day of a stage. It starts super early and they get about six-thousand competitors.
This way you get more people down to Warrnambool for the professional race finish and more money spent in the local community. Create a festival and give them a reason to stay the night with a gala dinner, kids race/activities and fill the town hotels. More money spent in the local economy goes a long way to convincing local councils to support your event.
The other idea was to create a women’s race, make it NRS for women, aim to come inside or close to UCI regulations in terms of distance and general race rules. Maybe start it in Apollo Bay or nearby, that’s still 150km in length, and time it so they finish about an hour before the men, similar to what they do at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.
I’d like to think we would see more than 25 women on the start line. More like 50-100 women. Maybe one day it could become a World Cup event. Start small, but have a grand plan.
So with all my ideas I told a few people in the industry, including my wife who has a long events background in cycling. It's fair to say she wasn’t over the top with enthusiasm, but she didn’t shut me down completely.
So I thought I’d go for it. The next stop was to contact the Warrnambool citizens race committee, the owners or custodians of the event. When I made the call I was promptly informed that John Craven and his company Caribou Publications had just signed a new three-year deal to promote the event.
John had a done a great job in not only promoting the Melbourne to Warrnambool but also the Herald Sun Tour, the Tatts Cup series races and many others over the years. He had done a great job of promoting cycling when there weren’t too many other promoters around. So in many ways he had earned the right to have another three to promote the race.
In short the conversation didn’t go far and I never got the chance to share my ideas with the Warrnambool citizens race committee, and some six years later here we are with an iconic historical event bobbing up and down in the same spot.
So this is why I’ve decided to share my thoughts with you, all of you. The race is well overdue for a revamp.
The Melbourne to Warrnambool will not survive if it is run in the same format. It is dying a slow death. To the Warrnambool race committee I say this, think outside the square, think outside the box.
Look at what other events are doing and if you're not prepared to take on ideas outside of your committee then at the very least come up with some yourself, before it is too late. As custodians of an event you are not only responsible its success, but also its demise.