Chris Froome has announced he is going to line up at Saturday’s Melbourne to Warrnambool, with the Israel-Premier Tech embracing an opportunity to fit in more racing while in Australia with a last minute entry to the long-running 267 kilometre event.
The gruelling race, which started in 1895, kicks off the season for Australia’s National Road Series and while it may not be on the UCI calendar it has such deep roots in the nation’s cycling history that it carries a weight in the prestige stakes that transcends its ranking. The 11th hour addition of the four-time Tour de France winner to the start list of the race, affectionately known as the Warrny, will now amplify that even further.
“It’s going to be an epic day out on the bike. It’s a very historic event, one of the oldest cycling events that exists actually and it’s also one of the longest cycling events that exists,” said Froome in a video announcing his participation at the race.
“Part of my reason of being here out in Australia is to get a big workload in before I head back to the European racing season and take advantage of the good weather out here so it was a great opportunity for me to add this race in and get that racing in the legs before I head over to Europe.”
Froome had been in Australia racing the WorldTour Santos Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race with his Israel-Premier Tech teammates, with Simon Clarke stepping up to the podium at the Geelong one-day race. In the Melbourne to Warrnambool, Froome will be stepping into a field comprised of the top domestic racers, with former WorldTour professional Lachlan Morton (Trivelo - EF) also having thrown his hat into the ring as he continue to pursue his alternative program.
The Australian-based riders to watch include last year’s NRS winner Kane Richards and his ARA-Skip Capital teammates Blake Agnoletto and last year’s third placed rider Myles Stewart. Team Bridgelane also enters the fray with a number of strong options as for a start they have Nicholas White, who came fourth last year, and then Elliot Schultz who has been a consistent performer through January and Tristan Saunders who, along with ARA’s Richards, was one of the few riders in the top ten of the road race at the Australian National Championships not among the professional ranks. Then if Graeme Frislie (CCACHE x Par Küp) makes it to the end in a lead group he'll be heavily watched, having made his sprinting form clear at Bay Crits where he came second overall.
The course for the 267km race, with nearly four kilometres of race neutral added in, starts in Avalon over 50km away from central Melbourne – with the race name reflecting the history rather than the current reality. It then heads toward Geelong, goes largely inland to the west and goes south toward Port Campbell before shifting onto a cross-wind prone coastal stretch before heading north-west to Warrnambool for the finish on Raglan Parade.
Those racing the Melbourne to Warrnambool, always face a tough day of racing with so many kilometres ahead and the weather this year is likely to add another layer. It is still summer in Australia, so many riders in the run up may have been preparing for a hot edition. The absence of intense heat may be a bonus but the temperatures have dropped quite dramatically, so a few may be feeling the chill at the 8 a.m. start as a cold snap has blown through and the men’s race on Saturday will be facing an uncharacteristically low summer top temperature of 18°C plus potential for some showers. However, the biggest factor could well be the forecast west to southwesterly winds of 25 to 35 km/h.
That could mean crosswinds and headwinds with potential to create splits and lengthen an already long day out on the bike. Last year the winner, Cameron Scott – who has now shifted up the WorldTour with Bahrain Victorious – won in six hours and seven minutes but history has shown times can creep over seven hours depending on the conditions.
Either way, Froome will get plenty more time in the saddle and plenty more kilometres in the legs on Saturday before reaching the Warrnambool finish line.
The women's edition of the race, the 160km Warrnambool Women's Cycling Classic, will be beading out from Colac the next day. The field for Sunday includes Chloe Hosking (Roxsolt Liv-SRAM) – who saw her plans for 2023 destroyed with the collapse of the B&B Hotels team – and Matilda Raynolds (Lochard Energy) who has won the women’s category of the 267km long Melbourne to Warrnambool twice and then when it morphed into a distinct women’s race last year also found her way to the podium.
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