Melbourne to Ballarat – Crosswinds and Number Crunching

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Once thing I love about racing here in Australia is the history behind some of these events.  Some of these races have been going on for a hundred years!  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Melbourne to Ballarat Classic Handicap, it’s a race that started in 1908.  I wish I could find out more about it but the internet was young back then and Google doesn’t index pages from the days of horse & carriage and Malvern Star.  Hopefully one of our respected cycling elders can shed some light on this in the comments section.

The Melbourne to Ballarat isn’t an overly long race, but the fact that it’s a handicap, the distance of the gradual climb, and the treacherous crosswinds make it extremely tough.  To give you an appreciation on how tough this race is, we have local young gun Jono Lovelock who placed 4th this year give us a breakdown of his SRM stats.  For those of you who don’t know Jono, he’s one of Australia’s up and coming stars and has given me an ass-whooping on more than one occasion.  He’s also a switched on young man and is a great example of a guy who gives back to cycling while achieving his own ambitions.  Follow Jono’s adventures at (you can quit plugging yourself in the comments now Jono  ;-))

Feel free to ask Jono any questions in the comments section.  It’s raining cats and dogs today so I’m sure he’ll be standing by attentively.


CT laying down the smack on Jono. Can’t tell if that’s his tongue hanging out or road rash on his chin.  We won’t talk about the pounding I received afterwards…

Let me set the scene…

by Jono Lovelock

The Melbourne to Ballarat is a 96 kilometer race that runs up the left hand side of a double carriageway highway and is notorious for it’s crosswinds. This year was no exception. “So what” you say, “I ride in the wind too, who cares”?

Well, I have some great data from my SRM from this year’s race and it shows just how hard the surviving scratch riders worked. It highlights that in races where the wind really kicks up; there is no respite to be found.  We see it year after year, a main TDF contender looses time after being caught out in the cross winds in the early stages of the race.  The couch commentators condemn that rider and beg the question, why can’t he stay at the front like Lance always does?

Two things;

One: Lance is tactically very smart and well positioned.

Two: Crosswinds are one of the most merciless, ruthless and unforgiving aspects of cycling. You remember don’t you? Grovelling in the gutter, out of breath and willing yourself onto that wheel only 6 inches in front, but you can’t do it, you can’t get there. You are getting dizzy, you feel sick, this is really, really hurting! You can smell what type of chamois cream the guy is using but you cannot close the gap. Sound familiar? I thought so.

With my emotions still running wild and visions of the finish playing over and over in my mind I scribed this report here some time ago. To save you all some time the succinct review is that the scratch bunch went out hard, we split up the first incline and from there proceeded to catch and drop every group on the road. Coming into the finish I attacked and was away only to be pipped by Brett Tivers, James Mowatt and Leigh Howard (now on Columbia -HTC) within 50 metres or so of the finish.

Enough of that, let’s look at the good stuff, the numbers to be crunched, let’s delve into the data! So here is the summary of the entire race and for your info I weigh 67.5kg and for those of you versed in the language of a power geek, yes, IF of .93 is up there. Ouch.

Duration: 2:20:34
Work: 2687 kJ
TSS: 200 (intensity factor 0.929)
Norm Power: 339 watts
VI: 1.05

Power: 828 (max)  322 (average) watts
Heart Rate: 240 (max)  153  (average)  bpm
Cadence: 141 (max)  98 (average) rpm
Speed: 75 (max)  40.1 (average) kph


So here is the screen view from my Training Peaks Software. First off, speed is blue, power is yellow, heart rate is red and cadence is green.

Let’s break it down.  The first thing to note is how hard we started. I nearly got dropped in the very first 500 metres. Warning, when the group is too large to accommodate everyone within a comfortable echelon, people will get shelled in the gutter. So don’t be lazy like me and start at the back!


I averaged 500 watts for the first minute (highlighted section at beginning) just to get into the echelon! From there you can see the spikes in power as I come through, regularly putting in little 5-10 second efforts around 500 watts. The first five minutes was at 365 watts (5.4 watts per kilo), so for me, around threshold, but with a minute at 500 to start you can guarantee I was far from comfortable!


The proverbial hit the fan when the bunch reached the climb up Pentland Hills. If you look at the cycling profiles map this is at point 4. My peak 20 minute power was from point 4 to point 6. Leigh gave me the heads up and we went straight into the gutter. The result, 20 minutes (the highlighted section) at 375w (5.6 w/kg) average and 385w normalised.

As we crested the hill and the wind increased and David Pell joined the party and really started to pile on the pain. It was a veritable orgy of suffering. Sweat, snot, salt and fruit cake all crusted various parts of my face, I continued pulling as many faces as possible to see if the bloody wind would change, no luck.

My peak hour of power started at the bottom of the climb to Pentland hills and continued for the next 40 or so kilometres, I put out 341 watts with a normalized power of 357 (5.3 w/kg). This is indicative of a couple of things; the wind was strong and the pace was tough but with some vicious surges too (the surges explain why the normalized power is 16 watts above the average). Not very often in a flat race with a large bunch would I ever average 340 watts for an hour. Most races comprise lots of short hard efforts but this resembles a team time trial, and that’s because in essence, it was. The only way to survive was to fight to stay in the leading group, to stay sheltered you had to work hard, and when Howard or Pellie threw it down the gutter you had to work even harder!


You can see here my attack in the final 3 minutes of racing; I went with everything I had which turned out to be ~400 watts to the line. You can see I paced my final effort fairly well and I can guarantee you there was nothing left!

So there you go, the numbers verify what we were all thinking. That race was brutal. The final note is that the rider who averages the highest power doesn’t necessarily win. Brett Tivers who won may have dosed his efforts more accordingly than myself (the results would suggest so!). Smart racing is more about conserving and then using your power at the right time. Truth be told though, I enjoy a good ol’ balls out suffer fest, and the Melbourne to Ballarat has fed my addiction for a while to come.

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