The Melbourne to Warrnambool – A Dying Classic

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The Melbourne to Warrnambool is my absolute favorite race in Australia. It has an tremendous history dating back to 1895. It’s Australia’s oldest one day race and the world’s second oldest, after Liège–Bastogne–Liège. If there was one race I could win in Australia, without question it would be the Warny.

The honor roll includes an phenomenal list of champions such as Sir Hubert OppermanDon Allan Dave Allan, Peter “Bulldog” Besanko, Dean Woods, Jamie DrewDavid McKenzieSimon GerransWilliam WalkerRobert McLachlan, Zak Dempster and many others.

Everyone whispers it, but few have said it out loud. The Warny is dying. It’s become nothing more than a Gran Fondo that 80% of the field just want to finish. There’s even a group of triathletes training up for the Warny this year. Triathletes for god sake! (okay, I only say it like that because they put me in the hurt-box on yesterday morning’s ride).

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to finish. The race allows anyone to enter and it’s a massive achievement to cross the finish line on Raglan Parade. I commend everyone who does this and urge you to do it while you can. It’s an incredible feeling.

However, I see the race attracting fewer high profile riders and the field getting more and more shallow. Eventually winning the Warny will become meaningless. A triathlete might even win it one day. Oppy would be turning over in his grave.

New South Wales’ one day classic, the Grafton to Inverell looks like they’re doing it right. They offer a graded race (including a solid women’s category) as well as a cyclo sportif option for the people who want to simply ride and finish the course. This is a race high up on my bucket list.

The Warny needs to do something to keep its prestige. It needs to attract a high quality A-grade field to make it a prize worth winning. Perhaps it needs some unsealed road sections thrown in to make it interesting. Maybe it needs to be held a week before the Sun Tour again to attract the big name riders. If there is no other option but to hold the race with a feild of 200 riders ranging between A-D grade, then make it a handicap again. Make it hard. Give the D graders a legitimate way of winning and give the A graders a prize worth winning.

This year the organiser legalised betting for the race, but much more needs to be done. The organiser can’t keep relying on the race’s history to attract high profile riders. They’re not coming anymore.

I mean no disrespect for any of the recent Warny winners. Every last one has been worthy champion, but if the race continues down this path the honor roll will no longer mean anything.

The Warny has such a rich history that I don’t even feel worthy of commenting on it. But I care very much about this race and someone needs to reflect the sentiment on the road. I want to see it continue to be one of the most coveted prizes in Australian cycling, not just a finishers race. I admit that I’m being elitist by saying this, but this is an elite race for an elite field.

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