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How to ride the Melbourne to Warrnambool road race

by Carl Brewer last modified 2006-10-22 22:06

Carl's guide to riding and surviving the longest single stage UCI road race in the world


I've ridden the Warny in 2003 (267km) and 2004 (299.1km) and have prepared a number of riders for it at sub-elite level.  The following article is a summary of my experience of how the race runs and how to ride and survive it.

How it works

The warny is long, along the way you need to refuel, urinate, fix punctures (unless you're near a service vehicle) and deal with fluctuations in your motivation and towards the end, you'll hurt just about everywhere.

The race starts from the golf club carpark at 7:30am, get there early, if you can, pick up your race numbers during the week prior to the race so you don't have to worry about it on the morning of the race.
I suggest aiming to be there at around 6:45. Gives you time to have a last poo (you don't want to have to poo during the race), get your stuff sorted, sign on and be relaxed and have a bit of an easy warmup. Don't overdo the warmup, the race starts out deceptively easily enough with a 10km neutral zone, that's your main warmup.  Once the race opens up though .. expect it to take off. All that E3 training you've done will now be paying dividends. I hope you did a good carbo load on Friday. You're going to burn some 7,000 to 9,000 kcals.

Your support

You will need a support team (ideally more than one person, so they have someone to talk to!). Their role is to drop you off at the start, be at each feed zone to hand you your musette (feed bag) and meet you at the finish to take you home or to whereveraccident at the feed zone you choose to stay. I highly recommend that you practice handing musettes up with your supporter, if you fluff it, you risk crashing or dropping your food and drink.  Both are undesirable.  An hour invested in just practicing handups is good - make sure your musette is full when you do this practice, a bag with 2 bidons and food can weigh around 1.5-2 kg.  Doesn't sound like much, but snatching it at 30km/h+, it's a lot! Some people choose to use plastic bags rather than proper musettes.  Don't do this.  Musettes are much less likely to break, be missed when you ride through etc. You don't want to drop your food or cause an accident at the feed zone, as seen in the photo on the left.

It's also a very good idea to pre-arrange with your support team for where in the feed zones they will be andinverleigh feed zone what clothes they'll be wearing to stand out from the rest of the feeding teams.  The first feed zone is chaos, and some teams elect to have a spotter at the start of the zone to yell at their rider and tell them where their feed person is.  The photo on the right is a riders-eye view of the approach to the Inverleigh feed zone. Somewhere in there is your food!

They will have a kit that you get with your race numbers etc that has instructions for them for where they need to be and when, and a sticker for their car with your number on it so they can be identified.  They need to be reliable and responsible, they're associated with the race and their behaviour is on display. You need to be able to trust that they will do the right thing! You also must remember that they're giving you at least a whole day of their time to support your racing, and driving a long way (600km or more) to help you, so make sure you reward them for their efforts.

Things you'll need

The warny is 300km, there's three feed zones.  The first feed zone is around 100km into the race.  That's a long way. Really, it's too long, and the layout of the feed stops - 100km, 232km and 260km) is arguably not ideal for an unsupported race. We don't have domestiques fetching bidons from team cars while we ride.

The first 100km, with bikes usually only able to carry 2 bidons, is far from ideal, and the second, a further 130km down the road is even worse. So, what do you need to carry and what do you need your supporter to have in your three musettes?

Here's what I suggest, first that you carry, and then your three feedbags.

From the start

Two or three (carry one in a jersey pocket if it's dry), full bidons loaded with a sports drink.  I prefer aboc C4P, but anything is better than plain water.  You'll need the sugars and salts. Some food, I like to carry a banana, some slices of banana bread or fruitcake wrapped up in greaseproof paper, and maybe an energy gel or an energy bar or two.  You'll want more of these later in the race in your musettes (feed bags).  Some people carry jam sandwiches, but if it rains they're not so nice to eat.

First feed zone (100km)

Two (or three, as above for the initial load on your bike) full bidons, solid food - fruitcake/banana bread wrapped in greaseproof paper, an energy bar or two, some gels if they work for you, maybe a bag of snakes or jelly babies or similar

Second feed zone (232km)

Two full bidons, more solid food, but more emphasis on energy bars and/or gels, and snakes/jelly babies.

Third feed zone (260km)

I've skipped this one in the past, as it's only 40km to go and seems a bit pointless as it's only 30km past the last zone, but as a backup, it's worth having : 2 full bidons, gels and snakes

The finish (299.1km)

the boys at the finish
the finish! This is important if you want to be able to walk tomorrow.  At least one full bidon with sports drink, and some solid food, high GI.  A beer, a bottle of champers ... celebrate!  You've finished the longest one day bike race there is. 

Thank your support crew, you can't do this without them, and they've spent all day driving down boring roads, standing around waiting for you at feed zones, then driving down boring roads to wait for you again!

Misc stuff to carry

I recommend you  expect  to be self suffucient on the road.  If you have a minor mechanical (puncture etc) you need to be able to fix it yourself.  You cannot rely on the neutral service cars being near you if something goes wrong.  They're really only there to look after the leaders and if you're down the back, you'll have little in the way of support. This means your normal training ride kit - a toolkit, tyre levers, pump, tube etc. If the weather forecast is dodgey, make sure you carry a windproof and/or waterproof jacket at least.  You may be on your own if you're unlucky, and it's a very long ride on your own, cold and hungry.

I also suggest you carry a printout of the course route in a ziplock bag so if you end up lost (you won't be the first, bunches have been known to go down quite different roads to those that the organisers intended) this will be invaluable. It'll also remind you of where the hills and feed zones are. Carry a mobile phone, just in case you have to call for help. You won't always have cover, but for the vast majority of the race Telstra mobiles work, I can't say for sure about other carriers.

Natural breaks

Otherwise known as a piss stop.  How does this work?  300km, 8-9 bidons or more, 7-10 hours of nonstop riding. Almost non-stop anyway. What happened on the two Warnys that I rode, was that not long after each feed zone, someone (usually me!) would ask the riders in my bunch if it was time for a piss stop, and they'd all agree.  We'd all stop at once, have 2-3 mins off the bike, and get going again.  This must be outside of any towns or anywhere that the public might be upset by seeing a bunch of people pissing in public (obvious, you'd think?).

You may see some riders being pushed while weeing off to the side of the road, especially early on in the race.  Unless you have practiced this with a team mate, and you're riding with that team mate, I'd suggest this is unwise to do.

Race tactics

For the rest of us, the Warny is a survival race. It's run in such a way as to basically mean that for everyone except the elite pros at the front, your tactic is to hang on for as long as you can, and then hopefully when you get dropped by the leaders, you're in a bunch that sticks together.  It's important to measure your effort early, if you push too hard trying to stick with the leaders, you risk bonking and then you'll really struggle to finish.  Realistically, the Warny as a race for the rest of us is awful, but it is a fantastic thing to finish, and you do want to finish the thing.

If you've been dropped, take it easy. Ride in E1, if you're on your own and you're not the first out the back, you'll get swept up by a bunch, and then you have some company.  Work together, rest when you need to, work when you can. There'll be times when you'll be just able to hang on, don't hesitate to ask your bunch to wait for you and to regroup at the top of hills etc, it's better for everyone if you work together.  It becomes a race again when you get to Warrnambool, with about 5-10km to go, until then, work with your fellow cyclists to finish. 'to finish first, first I must finish', and remember that when you look in the mirror on Sunday, are you looking at someone who finished the longest bike race there is?

Make sure when you finish that you claim your finish to an official.  They're rather ... famous ... for not being all that interested in the lower graded riders, and you don't want to miss out on the finishing medallion or your name on the list of finishers.

Other stuff

The race's homepage is here.

Wayne Flint has done a google maps map for the 2006 event, you can see it here.

The course mocca (race route) for 2006 is here (yes, that says 2005, the race is poorly organised from a website maintenance point of view, and the site is rather out of date ... but the route is the same as it was in '04 and '05).

I made my own musettes from an old sheet, a few bits of velcro and a safety pin (per musette), but you can buy them from Le Knicks in Melbourne, and some other bike shops may also sell them.  If you make your own, make sure that you test them so you know they won't break when you grab them at speed with 2kg in them from your supporter.  Label each one so your supporter hands you the right one at each feed stop, keep them in an esky in your supporter's car (cold drinks .. mmmm good).

I also tossed my empty bidons by the road just before the feed zone (you see it from some distance) so my supporters could retrieve them after we came through and got our food. Bidons aren't free (usually!) and we don't want to litter the road with plastic bottles, this isn't Le Tour and country kids really don't want your bidon as a souvenier! Once you've emptied the musette into your bottle cages and jersey pockets, pop it in a pocket too.  Do the same with your wrappers etc, if you have time you can load up your old musette with your rubbish before a feed stop and turf it with your bidons, but please don't just throw your stuff by the road. It's the wrong thing to do and it brings our sport into disrepute.

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