By Rod Morris
At 110 years old, the Melbourne to Warrnambool cycling race is one of Australia's oldest and most prestigious. And at 299 km, it is ranked as the longest UCI one day race in the world. The 2005 version is now just days away - October 22 in fact - and at the close of entries earlier this week, a total of 143 riders were primed to take on the grueling event.
Headlining the race field will be current Swedish National Champion, Jonas Ljungblad, winner of the 2004 Herald Sun Tour and Tour of Queensland multi-stage events. Ljungblad raced in the 2004 Melbourne to Warrnambool where he finished 10th, a result he expressed disappointment in and vowed to do better this year.
Race promoter, John Craven has also announced that Bianchi Bicycles had assumed the mantle of major sponsor. The Melbourne to Warrnambool will start outside the Kooringal Golf Club at Altona at 7.30 a.m. and is expected to finish at around 3 p.m.
Whilst Ljungblad has been afforded the status of pre-race favourite and the No. 1 saddlecloth, there will be no shortage of genuine quality opponents. Leading the Australian charge will be Victorian David McKenzie. The popular Ballarat rider won the event in 2001 and is the only former champion in the huge field.
Other Australians to watch for will be 1992 Barcelona Olympian, Robert McLachlan, South Australia's Russell Van Hout, NSW's Trent Wilson, in-form VIS rider Bradley Norton and winner of the recent Tour of the Murray River, Simon Clarke. The field also includes a list of high profile internationals from Finland, Lithuania, Italy, Poland, England, Scotland and Ireland.
Dean Downing, Kristian House, Ben Greenwood and Shaun Snodden are all members of Britain's Commonwealth Games squad and will be using the Melbourne to Warrnambool event as a valuable guide to their form for next year's Melbourne Games. Poland's Artur Krzeszowiec is no stranger to Australian cycling and only this week, scored a podium placing in the 54th Herald Sun Tour.
Another name to watch with interest will be Shaun Higgerson of NSW. Higgerson (21) won this year's revamped Tour of Tasmania, which formed the second of three legs of the Tattersall's Cup series. All Australian States will be represented in the event, which will pass through Werribee, Lara, Corio, Geelong, Beeac, Camperdown and Allansford, before reaching Warrnambool mid-afternoon.
NSW female riders Olivia Gollan and Laura Bortolozzi will face the odds against the men and will be hoping to complete the course in less than nine hours.
This will be the biggest field of riders since the event became a massed start event in 1996 and will carry $17,000 in total prizemoney. There will also be a Sprint and King of the Mountain Championship within the race. The following day, Warrnambool will play host to the inaugural Grand Prix Criterium, an $8000 race for a 30 lap event.