The Australian spring is in full swing and the Queen of the Classics is only three days away – the Melbourne to Warrnambool. Over 200 riders will be starting the Warny on Saturday and with the favorable weather and wind forecast it looks like it’s gonna be a fast one.
Melbourne to Warrnambool Tips from the pros
A couple weeks ago Alan from Next Level Nutrition gave some excellent nutrition tips for long races like the Grafton or Warny. I also thought it would be cool to speak with some of the past winners of the Melbourne to Warrnambool to get their advice on how to win the race. Here’s what Dave McKenzie, Zak Dempster, Will Walker, and Simon Gerrans had to offer:
Preparation: In the week leading up to the race, what preparation would you do on the bike?
David McKenzie: Generally I would aim to do a long endurance ride of say 5-6hrs on the Tuesday or Wednesday before the race. This could also be a motorpace session, which is good for sharpening up the legs. After this it would be purely recovery rides of 2hrs until race day.
Zak Dempster: It really depends on your build up before this. If you’ve done a big winter with a lot of racing k’s then I would be doing 6-7 hour ride with a week to go, then I would be tapering off to recover from that for 2-3 days. I’d have a hit out of 3-4 hours with some intervals and perhaps motor pacing if possible 3 days out, in order to ensure your systems are switched on. Then a couple of hours each day, really easy. To many guys focus on smashing themselves in training and then racing to recover – your training focus during the last week should be on feeling good; you should feel from every session you do – that you have improved or it’s brought you closer to success from that session.
If your in a rush, haven’t trained much and decided you’ll do the race a month out. Then it’s worth accepting you’ll have to deal without the kilometres and focus on being good during the hard parts of the race which means rather than doing 2-3 day blocks, just do one day hard; perhaps an ergo and a couple of hours riding, then really easy the next day, then another day hard, and repeat. I’d back it right off two days out, but if your preparation hasn’t been very good; then what have you got to loose anyway? This was the approach I went with when I won the Warny. I just enjoyed the experience and was desperate to get as far into the race at the front as possible. I knew if I got to 100km to go, then it would be more about being smart and wanting to win.
Will Walker: There are two different trains of thought when it comes to your last long ride. Some like to do there last long ride(5-6hrs30) with 3 days to go. Whereas other trainer’s have their rider’s do their last long ride with 3 days to go. For a competitor of this years race, it might mean taking a day of work on the Tuesday or Wednesday prior to the big race. Including 1 hour of E1, and 1 hour of E2, 30 mins of AT while finishing with 1 hour of motor pacing. Assuming you complete this training on the Tuesday, you would:
• Tuesday-5-6:30 hrs total: 1 hour of E1, and 1 hour of E2, 30 mins of AT while finishing with 1 hour of motor pacing
• Wednesday easy (1hr30)
• Thursday 2hrs20-3hrs- including 2*10 min E2, 1 hr motor pacing easy
• Friday easy (1hr 30)
• Saturday RACE
With this training you would prepare yourself with the distance, however similar distance training would also be needed in the previous weeks. With three easier days before the race, you would also find yourself tapering well for the Saturday.
Simon Gerrans: If you’re in good shape and you’ve done all the training, you’ll want to do your last long ride on Wednesday so that you give yourself a couple days to freshen up. If you’re not in as good of shape and you need a little more recovery, do your last long ride on Tuesday and take Wednesday easy. Then use Thursday for a short and hard hitout and Friday take an easy ride. You need to be fresh for Saturday while still keeping the legs ticking over. The real key for a long race like the Warny is your nutrition.
Nutrition: What do you eat before and during a long race like the Warny?
David McKenzie: Advice for nutrition is simple, don’t change much of what you’ve been doing throughout the year. Don’t overdo it on the gels, save them for the final 2hrs, plus a can of coke.
Zak Dempster: I read your last article, I agree on the carbohydrate intake in theory. However, personally I think most of your loading should be done before the race and your body should be quite good at burning fat anyway so it’s not as though you can rely on carbs for the thousands of calories you’ll be burning that day. For me, one gel an hour, a bar and a treat every two hours is enough. Electrolyte’s are also really, really, really, important. You should be having a dioralyte, SIS Hydralyte, carbo shot’s tabs or some form of solution that doesn’t involve sugar, everyday for at least a week. Hydration isn’t about drinking loads of water, that can have an adverse effect and cause you to cramp even worse. I’d be only drinking mineral water and supplementing it with one of the above products.
Try and include something in every feed bag that you’ll mentally look forward to throughout the race. There’s a bakery in Castlemaine which is about 50km from home that I always stop at, especially if I’m in trouble for a Jam Doughnut or a piece of cake, everyone will have a similar shop or place, a snicker’s bar in Frankston, something like that. So in the last feed bag, Dad and I put some apple strudel and I think we had a doughnut in another feed. Try and find something feasible that will give you that mental re-set that you can look forward to and then be ready to hit the next section 100%. Who is to say it couldn’t even be a Mcdonald’s cheeseburger or something like that!
The year I won, I got the first feed, I think at around 80km? Missed the 150km feed, missed the next feed at 200 or whatever it was, then got the last one – I’ve never been so thirsty. I think I wen’t like 150km on a litre of sports drink (2 biddons). It was bloody awful and I don’t think that my nutrition during the race could’ve been much worse.
Will Walker: It’s important to eat well before and during the Warrnambool, Pasta is certainly ideal beforehand and if you can handle it, also as breakfast it is ideal.
Hydration is equally important for the Warrnambool, so having a bottle before the start is ideal, Try having at least every second bottle as a sports drink.
In your feed bag, anything with energy. Your body can absorb more energy than you think if you combine different types of sugar.
Energy bars, fruit cake, and even honey and banana in bread for the start. Coca Cola and gels for the finish.
Try to pedal in a light gear and save your legs as well as possible. And stay out of the wind!!
Simon Gerrans: The real key for a long race like the Warny is your nutrition. You see some of the strongest and best bike riders in the world run out of fuel and they become useless. It happens to the best of them.
The key is to not eat anything out of the norm. Don’t eat anything you’re not used to. It’ll upset your stomach. Try to eat things that are more easily digestable as the race goes on. So at the first part of the race eat some fairly solid stuff (bars, cakes, etc), and then towards the end of the race you go towards the gels. Again, never ever try something new on race day – especially for a big day like the Warrnambool. Even something as simple as a Coke. If you’re not used to it, it can really upset your stomach.
Tactics: Is there an ideal place in the Warny that is good to get away in a move and make it stick?
David McKenzie: It’s very hard to pick a spot in the Warrny to breakaway. It’s a race with selections all day, so you really have to be on your toes. The year I won I went away in a break after 18km, then I attacked my breakaway companions with about 1.8km to go on the final hill of the day. It was all in the timing!
Zak Dempster: It’s really hard to say. There’s a couple of climbs now at Camperdown, but if you’re 10 minutes behind the breakaway then that theory isn’t going to work. Like all Australian racing, it can be difficult to read, but if you stay near the front, never count yourself out even if a move is gone; always look for the next one going across. It can be difficult to keep everyone working as some guys are there to finish, I was wanting to win. Use every group for what it’s worth, be nice to people – if you tell someone they’re a dick, then they’re less likely to work than if you say, c’mon mate, let’s get this group working to the finish!
The year I won, I tried to always focus on staying ahead of the race if that makes sense. I tried to be in the early move but it didn’t work out so after 150km I attacked alone and rode for about 10-15km solo, then a group came across and that was it until Camperdown when we started racing for the finish and it split up.
Will Walker: Every race is different, but as late as possible is always better. For many years, large groups have gone away early in the race(sometimes 20 or more rider’s) so it’s important to be part of that group. If the level is too fast for you, you will find comfort in the fact that there is still a large group behind! If you have the legs in the final, it’s important to watch how your competitors are feeling. If you are feeling like you are the strongest but you can’t sprint, there is a perfect springboard at 7 km’s remaining in the race to attack.
Simon Gerrans: The year I won the Warny we had some rough conditions and there were lots of crosswinds. There was a natural selection throughout the day and in those kind of conditions you just gotta keep putting yourself at the front. Slowly but surely the felid gets eliminated out the back. That’s how it played out in the year I won it and
How the race was won: Who did you have to beat and how did you do it?
David McKenzie: Corey Sweet who was riding for Big Mat at the time, he had a French teammate in the break also. There was a Russian Eugene Wacker, as well as Peter Milostic a local Domestic rider. Milostic finished second after also finishing second to me in the Grafton to Inverell a couple of months earlier. As said above, I hit them at 1.8km to go on the final hill and it stuck!
Zak Dempster: I think there was about 6-8 guys that got away early. A group of 15-20 of us got across after 150km. Slowly guys were getting shelled from about 100km to go. In the big group were the Clarke brothers, David Pell, Richie Porte, Casey Munro and a few others. In the last group was Hilton, Pelly, Me, Casey and a couple of others. I actually put in two really good attacks in the last 5km that I thought could’ve won the race but Hilton was onto me pretty quickly.
All I remember thinking was, “you’ve ridden 290km, this isn’t going to be the time you almost won the Warnambool, win this today.” At about 1km to go it was clear it’d come to a sprint, someone hit off at about 500m, no one really chased but they’d been getting dropped so I knew they’d fade, Hilton and Pelly were in front of me and they started first, Pelly went left and Hilton turned left into him and I went straight up the right with everything past both of them. Hilton beat Pelly by turning left on him but I was already past him with my arms up by the time he could’ve turned right…
Will Walker: We formed a large group of about 30 rider’s halfway through the race, I can’t remember if this was due to high speeds or not. With about 80km’s to go and after a few attacks we formed a winning break of about 10 rider’s, where luckily there wasn’t David Mckenzie who was certainly the most well regarded rider in the race. We worked well together and managed to distance ourselves from that group. Actually just before that final climb, I launched an attack where only Jonny Clarke could follow. We worked together nicely, I went early in the sprint and opened up a nice gap on him and took the victory! It was an amazing feeling to win the race in my first attempt at only 18. Something that would have been hard to believe at the start of the day!
Simon Gerrans: I attacked a group of about 6 or 7 guys coming to the finish. I hit them from about 7km as you go over the little rollers coming into Warrnambool. I was the first one to make a move and was able to make it stick. I probably caught everyone off-guard. The group I was in I was the least well-known of all the riders there. With me was Jamie Drew (who already won it a couple times and just came back from a season in Europe), Matt Wilson who had just been racing on FdJ, there was an American guy, and some other quality riders. Back then the Warny was a week before the Sun Tour so a lot of teams would come out in preparation for the Sun Tour. I was a bit of an unknown. It was a super important win to me at the time. The week before I won at Baw Baw, then the Warny, and then after that I took the jersey at the beginning of the Sun Tour. The Warny was a real highlight in that period of time for me.