A record 138 entries have been received for this Saturday's Baw Baw Classic. This has delighted race organisers, but the response has left many wondering: why on earth would you want to climb a hill like that?
Five-time winner of the Masters category, Ken Ford, is straight to the point: "It's all about the challenge. That final climb is one big challenge, alright." Indeed, as one of Australia's toughest one day road races, the Baw Baw Classic covers a distance of 94.5 kilometres, starting from Warragul in Gippsland before climbing through the Deli region, Noojee, Icy Creek and Tanjil Bren. The course then saves its best till last: the 6km surge up one of the steepest paved sections of road in the country.
Race director Chris Beales believes the late summer and fine weather in Victoria has also helped. "Most of the riders have come off a huge summer of racing and are fit and strong. Baw Baw provides the first real test for the winter. And of course, the success of the Commonwealth Games has also inspired many to get back out there and race," he said. Records have also been broken with the number of local riders entered, initially causing concern that there were few people left to volunteer as corner marshalls!
Nic Sanderson maintains the role of men's favourite after his return to Australia from Belgian team Davitamon-Lotto. 2004 winner Chris Fry should save his trademark climbing prowess for the final climb, while Canberra's Michael Tolhurst and mountain biker Murray Spink will also be riders to look out for.
Favourite for the women's race, Helen Kelly, is using the race as part of her final preparation for her 2006 European season. "I have never seen the final climb but the profile on the website definitely indicates that it is steep," she said. "I have talked to many people who have raced this event before and everyone has told me how tough it is." Kelly will face her stiffest competition from her home state, including her fellow VIS teammate Peta Mullens and junior Lisa Friend, as well as Mildura's Stephanie Frawley.
In the Masters 2/3 category, 2005 winner Tom Crebbin seems a sure bet, while in the Masters 4/5/6/7 category, Ken Ford remains the reluctant favourite to take out a sixth straight Masters crown. Does he believe he can hold off Ararat's Ian Blackie who has finished second to Ford over the past two years? "I am not really sure about that," said Ford. "Ian will be there again giving me a hard time and I just hope I can hold him off."
More information: www.bawbawclassic.com