The Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic 2015

Event History


The race was first held in 1895. 50 riders entered, 24 started, and only 7 finished.

The first race was won by Andrew Calder who received 2 hours’ start on the scratchmen. He took 11 hours, 44 minutes, 30 seconds for the 165-mile trip, and was reported to have “got through on eggs, milk, and beef extract".

95 years later, Olympic gold medallist Dean Woods clocked a stunningly-fast 5 hours, 12 minutes, 26 seconds to set the course record.

The late Sir Hubert Opperman recorded the fastest time on 3 occasions - in 1924, ‘26 and ‘29.

Only five overseas riders have won the event - the New Zealanders J Arnst (1903) and P Hill (1922), Switzerland’s Daniel Schnider in 1997, Bart Heirewegh, of Belgium in ‘98, and Sweden’s Jonas Ljungblad in 2005.

The late and great Russell Mockridge, double gold medallist at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, clocked fastest time in 1956 and ‘57. (He rode 5 hours, 47 minutes, 5 seconds in ‘56.)

The race has been held 90 times. Extensive recesses were taken during the war years.

It has been run in the reverse direction, from Warrnambool to Melbourne, 32 times.

Only two Warrnambool riders, Olympian Michael Lynch (1986) and Jamie Drew (1999 & 2002) have won the Classic.

The first woman to finish the race was England’s 7-time world champion, Beryl Burton in 1980. Beryl, 43, clocked 7 hours, 11 minutes, 12 seconds.

In 1901, Nullawil’s Albert Nioa pedalled 200 miles to get to the start of the race. He then defied atrocious conditions to win it in 9 hours, 20 minutes, 40 seconds.

In 1909, Coburg rider Snowy Munro, 21, embarrassed the Victorian Railways Commissioners by clocking 7 hours, 12 minutes, 51 seconds - 5 minutes faster than the best train time from Warrnambool to Melbourne.

The “Warrnambool” was held as a massed start event for the first time in 1996. The surprise winner was Bendigo’s Chris White in 6 hours, 44mins, 16secs. Germany’s Ralf Grabsch won the newly-introduced sprint championship.

Another history-maker - the “Warrnambool” was listed on the UCI calendar in 1997, with 126 rating points.

1997 - The closest finish in the race’s history. Switzerland’s Daniel Schnider defeated Dennis Rasmussen, of Denmark, by a centimetre - after 265kms.

In 1999, the course was extended by 10kms, and a king of the mountains classification was introduced.

2004: The ‘Warrnambool’, at 299 kms, becomes the world’s longest one-day bike race and is the world’s second oldest bike race (behind Liege-Bastogne-Liege).

2008: The event is named the grand final race in the National Teams Series by the Australian Cycling Federation.

Race History: The First Race

One hundred years ago, Don Charlston conceived the first Warrnambool to Melbourne bike race. Charleston rode his boneshaker type of bike from Melbourne to Warrnambool and intended to catch the ship home, but he aborted his plan after seeing the rough seas at the Warrnambool pier. So he decided to ride home on his own, unpaced. The Warrnambool Postmaster Mr Green dispatched Charlston at 6am and 12 hours later arrived in Melbourne. It is part of racing history that two Warrnambool bike races were run in the same year 10 weeks apart.

A. Calder won the first Warrnambool to Melbourne. He had 2 hours start and clocked 11 hours 44 minutes for the 165 mile trip. He lost 20 minutes with a puncture near Geelong and won by 31 minutes! Scratchman Jim Carpenter took the fastest time of 10 hours 52 minutes, in 4th placing ‘ he rode a 70 fixed gear and used imported Dunlop tyres which cost 9 pounds each!

50 riders entered, 24 started and 7 finished.

The Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic - Part I

Entrants in the first Warrnambool to Melbourne were assured October 5th was the right time for such a gruelling race, partly because there would be a full moon. Such were the considerations 100 years ago. Victoria was still a colony and though the riders were told the roads would be in excellent condition, by today’s standards they were little more than tracks.

The bikes were heavy too, and there was no such things as gears to help ease the workload during the 160 mile trip. It was not expected the journey would be completed in less than 10 hours. Twelve hours was considered a more realistic time, meaning the riders would leave Warrnambool well before dawn in order to arrive in Melbourne before dusk.

Plans for the first Warrnambool to Melbourne road race were announced in ‘The Australian Cyclist’, the race promoter. On May 9, 1895, ‘The Australian Cyclist’ reported that the race announcement ‘has caused quite a flutter amongst road racing men’. ‘We are assured that cyclists from almost every town in the colony will be represented,’ the journal said. The concept is thought to have been conceived following a time trial ridden by Don Charleston, a Melbourne shop proprietor.

As the event approached ‘The Australian Cyclist’s’ Warrnambool correspondent said the planned race was causing a great deal of interest among the locals. ‘It is the talk of the whole Western District.’ the correspondent wrote. ‘In every town it is freely discussed, and 40 riders from this district alone intend to take part.’

The impending road race wasn’t going to be a ‘battle royale’, predicted on scribe. ‘It calls for not only speed, but endurance; not cunning, but judgement. And it is more than likely that this last discretionary quality, if possessed by a rider with only a fair proportion of pace and stamina, would prove the greatest factor towards success.’

A description of the route, for which riders were a given a map, also made interesting reading. Portions of the track were said to include some of Australia’s best roadway. ‘The first 30 miles is of an undulating character, and leads through some magnificent country. On nearing Allansford (6 miles) the road is very rough and broken, with plenty of dust. The worst is covered in three miles. It improves on approaching Panmure and when Garvoc is reached there is little cause for complaint, thence through Terang and Camperdown to Colac is truly magnificent’ (with portions of the road surface like a billiard table.’ In contrast, the section from Geelong to Melbourne ‘is a miserable ride.’

The race, ‘the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere’ attracted a sponsor and so was promoted as the Scott-Morton Road Race. Riders were split into three classes with the first class leaving Warrnambool at 3am, the second class at 4am and the third at 5am. Four prizes were offered: a model B Raleigh bicycle for the winner and a marble clock, a punch bowl and a tea and coffee service for the class winners.

The Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic - Part II

The Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic is the oldest cycling race in Australia and the second longest running one-day cycling event in the world.

The Classic was first held in 1895 as a result of a bet, which prompted a group of 24 pioneer cyclists to pedal the then horror road, now known as the Princess Highway. The concept of a bicycle race battling the elements of the southern Victorian coast has always been a source of admiration for those who participated, in particular those winning the race or completing it in the fastest time. World champions have embarked upon this challenge and to this day it remains as the hallmark of any bike rider to complete the course within the allotted time.

The great improvement in the course surface and in cycling equipment, plus the scientific approach to training and fitness has seen the turn of the century completion times more than halved to the current day record time of 5 hours 12 minutes 26 seconds. From 1895 to 1995 the race was a handicap event with riders leaving Melbourne at different intervals.

The Classic then underwent a number of changes to ensure its future as a blue ribbon event for Victoria. ‘The Warrnambool’ is now conducted as a scratch race with a mass start and caters for up to 250 riders. The race is conducted over the 275 km. course and caters for cyclists of all abilities with riders being categorized into A, B, C, and D grades. Sprints are held in towns on route and the sprint champion and overall winners are recognised in each of the grades at the race’s conclusion. The recently introduced King of the Mountains Championship has provided further challenge to this endurance event.

In the years 1996 to 1998 the race began in the Bourke St Mall, Melbourne and travelled along the Princess Highway to Warrnambool.

To ensure the safety of the riders and to provide the best amenities for riders, organisers, handlers and patrons the race in 2002 started at the Kooringal Golf Club in Altona and avoided the Princess Highway until Mt. Moriac.

Throughout the years, many people have contributed to the organisation of the Classic. Over the race’s 107 year history, hundreds of volunteer committee members, race day volunteers, local businesses and service groups have worked with great passion to ensure that the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic has survived the many challenges which has now become the most celebrated one day cycling race in the Country.

We are indebted to those pioneers of the Classic for their belief in, their commitment to and that great passion for what has become a National Sporting Icon.

To acknowledge the efforts of many of these pioneers an honour board carrying the names of all life members and past executive members was erected at the finish line. This honour board donated by past chairman Wayne Nelson was unveiled during the pre finish celebrations of the 2001 classic. Wayne Nelson received a Life Membership of the Warrnambool Citizens Road Race Committee during this year’s finish celebrations.

The Melbourne to Warrnambool has had a long association with Radio 3YB now ACE Radio 3YB. For 42 concessive years the team from YB have relayed the story as each years race has unfolded. From Panmure to the finish they provide an on the spot broadcast of the race, its tactics, its challenges and the excitement that bring thousands of people to cheer on route and at the finish line. This live radio coverage is one of the wonderful traditions of the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic.

Cyclists from all over Australia and now some from overseas place the ‘Warrny’ on their ‘must do’ events. Not to win but to finish.

Each finisher in the allotted time receives a ‘Time Medallion’ presented by the Warrnambool City Council in recognition of their effort. To cyclists this ‘Time Medallion’ is a treasured trophy.

Traditionally the Melbourne to Warrnambool captures the imagination of spectators along the route, which this year commenced at Altona and makes its way through the hills of Ceres and through the many cities and towns along the Princes Highway to Warrnambool.

Olympic representative Dean Woods holds the record time for the race of 5 hours and 12 minutes in 1990.

For the Classic’s centenary in 1995 a monument was erected in the race’s honour, unveiled by cycling’s great Sir Hubert Opperman. This is a monument to all the winners over its long history and is situated at the finish line on Raglan Parade. In 2001 an honour board was erected to acknowledge the many volunteers who worked tirelessly to ensure the longevity of the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic.

Over the race’s history the financial struggle to run the race has not abated. Prize money, other race expenses and the desire to present a carnival atmosphere for the riders and spectators at the finish provide the organising committee with ongoing challenges.

The Warrnambool City Council has over the years made a financial and inkind commitment to the Classic. This contribution has been vital to the survival of the race. The Classic has had a number of major sponsors over its long history. TABCORP through its three Warrnambool Tabaret Venues, the Whalers Inn, the Warrnambool Bowls Club and the Warrnambool Football Club joined the Classic as a Supporting Sponsor in 2000, increased their commitment in 2001 to become the naming sponsors of the Classic. The ‘Tabaret Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic’. In 2002 TABCORP and the Tabaret Venues made a further commitment to the Classic. They increased their financial and professional involvement and committed to the major sponsorship until 2004. This has been a major boost for the Classic.

Major supporting sponsors ACE Radio 3YB, Win TV, The Standard, Kooringal Golf Club, Telstra Country Wide, Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, and Calco Timbers have been great financial and inkind sponsors for a number of years.

Classic Winner: Jaime Drew Article
Jamie Drew in the Melbourne to Warrnambool

History beckoned for Warrnambool rider Jamie Drew in the 83rd running of the Classic. Only one Warrnambool rider had triumphed in the 104 year history of the race-Michael Lynch off scratch in 1986.1999 was a memorable year for Jamie Drew, became the 2nd Warrnambool rider to win the Melbourne to Warrnambool cycling classic, and was 3rd in the Australian road titles.

As Drew won his second Warrnambool Classic in 2002 others have come close including runners-up Jim Dart and Terry Stacey, but it has been a long time since the city has counted on one of its riders among the favorites. The 2002 Cycling Classic was won by Jamie Drew, in a time of six hours nine minutes and 57 seconds.

Classic Winner: Michael Lynch Article
Michael Lynch in the Melbourne to Warrnambool

After 71 races, ‘The Warrnambool Cycling Classic’ was finally won by one of its own in 1986 when Olympian Michael Lynch was the first back to his home town. It was Lynch’s first ride in the Classic, having turned professional earlier in the year after missing selection to the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. It was a bitter blow for the 23 year-old Lynch, but he set about proving the Australian selectors wrong.

First he won the state amateur title. ‘The next week I turned pro and won the state pro title,’ he said. Days later he also had a second place in the Australian pro title. In the lead up to the 1986 Melbourne to Warrnambool, Lynch also had a successful Tour of Tasmania and was the fastest in the Melbourne to Yarrawonga.

The 1982 Commonwealth Games silver medallist and 1984 Olympian was clearly riding in rare form. He was also enjoying the comaraderie of the pros, which he said contrasted greatly with the cliques and the power plays of the amateur scene. ‘In the pros, every one got on well.’

Lynch’s final motivation for the 1986 Classic, was that he was from Warrnambool and never had a Warrnambool rider been first home. ‘For years I had ridden with Warrnambool riders at training and they all talked about the ‘Warrnambool’.’

The scratch bunch of 11 was well-credentialed, but they would have their work cut out in 1986. A week earlier the scratch riders threatened to boycott the race over the handicaps. It was the 33-strong bunch off the 38 minute mark which caused most annoyance, as the race had been won previously in 1985 by B. Leach riding off 30 minutes.
Lynch said a couple of scratch riders dropped off shortly after Geelong. Second scratch was caught at Winchelsea. In those days of smaller bunches, Lynch said common mythology had it that if the scratch bunch was more than 20 minutes behind at Colac, it would not catch up. ‘We were 23 minutes behind.’

‘A few of the boys were getting disillusioned, we just kept driving them along,’ he said.At Terang, they caught the danger bunch off 38 minutes but were still about 15 minutes behind the limit markers. However, the experienced riders knew they would finish far stronger than those out front. ‘We started to get a bit excited.’

A group of seven, including Terry Hammond who in 1983 and 1985 had the fastest time, broke up the pack as they left Terang. It was the cream of the scratch bunch, but Lynch said some were soon starting to slow down.
‘I was getting a bit impatient,’ he said. ‘I took off at Cudgee at the pumping station. Terry Hammond came across.’
The pair got a psychological lift near Kraft when they spotted the convoy accompanying the limit markers. Lynch and Hammond caught the brave front markers at Premier Speedway.

‘When we caught them, I went straight past. He (Hammond) hesitated a bit but came across to me. That was an effort he didn’t really need.’The two were set for a cat and mouse finish with Hammond expected to have an edge if it came to a sprint to the line, but some of the signs started favouring the hometown favourite. ‘He ran out of drink which was good encouragement,’ Lynch said.

‘The only real chance I had was coming up the hill (in Raglan Parade). Hammond is very hard to jump away from.’ Lynch said he made his move as Hammond bent down to tighten a toe strap. At the top of the rise Lynch had a 50-100 metre break and at Fletcher Jones ‘I knew he wasn’t going to catch me’.

The Warrnambool rider was not only ahead, he was on familiar turf. He had ridden this stretch since he was a kid and was being welcomed by a parochial crowd, which included his father Lionel, who Lynch spotted at the Banyan Street corner. ‘I had tears all down my face at Raglan Parade. I had dreamed about doing this since I was a kid.’