Bike Bug Report – Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic – By Ben Johnson

Last Saturday six of the Pallets boys lined up for the iconic Melbourne to Warrnambool. The team consisted of me, Murchie, James, Woolsey, Az, James and AT.  With twenty Melbourne to Warrnambool’s between Az and Murchie alone, the team had a good combination of youth and experience.With forecasted 35kph north westerlies, 257 kilometres of cross wind delight threatened to confront a 240 strong peloton of riders.  It was clear and relatively calm skies at Werribee for the start of the race, however, it wasn’t long after the 9km of neutral for the winds and the speed of the race started to pick up.The neutral section is often the most dangerous and this race was no exception. Traffic islands, roundabouts, pot holes and gutters all needed to be negotiated by a bunch where 241 riders were fighting to get to the front before the flag dropped.The first 30 kms were ridden at an extremely rapid pace. By rapid I mean 50kmh in the cross wind and 65kmh in some of the limited tailwind sections. Even at these speeds attacks were still flying! There is obvious rivalry at the moment between the bigger teams of Budget Forklifts, Drapac and Huon – Genesys.  With those boys marking each other the pace was very high and moves were not sticking.  Murchie had a brief go off the front early on with some strong riders and I also went, albeit very briefly to see if anything could go away. A hard and fast 50 minutes saw us hit the first climb of the day which was very exposed to cross wind.  It was here when a group of 15-20 riders skipped off the front.  Represented were 5 Drapac, 5 Huon Genesys riders and a number of other very strong boys.  However, with no Budget Forklifts in the group and a lot of fresh legs they never really got out to over a minute or two. Through the first feed, the group splintered a little. Murch was feeling a little crooked on the bike and Az worked to help him bridge across the split.  Meanwhile AT’s long season had got the better of him and was out of the race.  Woolsey, James and I were going ok and managing to hold reasonable position. After about 70-75 km it was clear that no ‘big name’ riders were going to be permitted to roll off the front in attempt to bridge to the leaders.  However, I saw an opportunity when strong man Steve Fairless and I got a small gap.  We decided to put our heads down and ride, we were soon joined by Steve’s teammate Trent Stevenson and a Euride rider. We were caught in a bit of no mans land for a little while, in between the break and the peloton.  But the move off the front was quite a good one for me as I avoided the carnage that occurred on a steep climb just before we hit a long open stretch of cross wind.  The four of us were soon joined by a very strong 10 riders that included a couple of Budget riders, Floris G. from Drapac, Pat Shaw from Huon-Genesys, Geelong strong man Tom Patton and a number of others. Murchie got to within 15 metres of making the split but ran out of gas. Luckily however he managed to pick up Dave Woolsey, give him shelter for a second and have him jump on a small group coming past which saw Dave eventually make it to the lead split. For the next 50 or so km I rode a handicap style race chasing the front group, trying to stay away from the peloton.  With all my teammates behind I was trying to find a balance of sitting on and also rolling through to keep cover.  There were times where actually coming through for a turn was easier that sitting on the exposed rear end of the bunch. Eventually I got motorpaced back to the bunch which had now swelled to 70 odd riders as the teams were getting ready to re-load for the next section of cross wind after Lismore.  I was happy to see Woolsey in this bunch but again there was another set back. This time my own fault when I lost concentration, crossed wheels and had a bit of a crash.  Not too much damage done here except for a bit of skin and dented pride.Following Lismore we turned left into a strong cross tail wind. I was bracing for some immediate hard racing but surprisingly there was a bit of reticence by the bunch until the Drapac guys decided try and split the race.Woolsey was in a good spot riding up near the front and I wasn’t too far behind him.  The Drapac guys meant business here and were committed to doing some damage.  Very soon there were a number echelons of 15-20 guys spread across the road.  I was in the third echelon but only one hundred or so meters from the front.  Woolsey was starting to suffer and was not able to stay in contact with my group. We had some horsepower in my bunch with a couple Budget Forklifts guys, some GPM-Data 3 riders, Shannon Johnson from Charter Mason and Sam Witmitz from UK based Raliegh.  Unfortunately we were not as strong as the front group and they soon started riding away from us. At Camperdown, the180km point in the race a selection is normally made over the climbs, but not today.  My group had called ‘groupetto’ and all of us were pretty cooked.  For the next 70 km we essentially rode at a steady tempo, picking up riders who had been shelled from the front with the aim of just getting to the end.  The road temperature had picked up to near 30 degrees and there was a very dehydrating and strong north westerly blowing. Eventually I rode in 41st place, pretty much cooked from a hard 7 hours in the saddle.  Woolsey was in the bunch behind and Az was in the bunch following Woolsey.  Budget Forklifts went 1st, 2nd and 3rd.  A super impressive ride by the team. Anecdotally I feel that this was the hardest Warny that I have done.  Typically the race follows a familiar pattern. The first 30kms are hard until the break goes, and the bunch is quite controlled until about 150-160 km.  There is hard racing for 30 or so km and then it is again quite controlled to the end.  This year the bunch race pretty much full gas for 170 of the first 180km. It was really a day of last man standing! A big thanks must go to all they people who supported us, not just on the day but throughout the season.  Bikebug, Aussie Pallets, Forza Capital, Tri Cycling Performance Products and Dineamic look after us very well.  There is a lot of commitment from riders to prepare for the Warny, and equally a lot of commitment from family to put up with our hours out of the house training. It is now time for some r + r, some reflection on the season and also some fun and fast crits.
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