Melbourne to Warrnambool 2023

8 February 2023

Race report by Ben Hill.

The second oldest and longest race in the world with a race distance of 269km this year. After a few years of relatively calm conditions there was a bit of buzz around the bunch with chatter of winds above 30km/h forecast that could potentially shape the race. We were, however, riding into the wind for the first 200km before turning onto the coast for the final 70km into a cross wind so our team thought it was unlikely to split until then. Though the wind was a significant talking point it was somewhat overshadowed by the presence of a 4 times Tour de France winner, Chris Froome. Although he is not renowned for his ability in the flat, windy, one day classics he is still one of the biggest names in the sport and he would surely impact the race in one way or another.

Ben Hill and Chris Froome. Photograph by Con Chronis.

The race

Summary data for the race:

  • Distance: 269.3km
  • Duration: 7h:11m
  • Max power: 1130w
  • Average power: 228w
  • Adjusted power: 282w
  • T-score: 406
  • Energy (kJ): 5902

After the flag was dropped the attacks started. My team, Blackshaw Racing, was active at the front getting in the moves. Even though we did not expect the early break to win the race we still needed to go with the attacks to put ourselves in a stronger position later in the race. I did not imagine teammate Torben Partridge-Madsen’s attack 1km into the race would be the start of the winning move. During the next hour of racing more and more riders jumped across to Torben’s break including two more of our Blackshaw teammates Ben Spenceley and Mackenzie Edwardson. We were happy with this situation, however, I was not aware that 29 riders managed to make it out of the bunch. I blame myself for not paying enough attention and essentially I let the race go away in the first hour. 

The screenshot below shows my power file for the first hour of the race. You can see many spikes above threshold as I failed to pick the break.

After the first hour we moved to the next phase of the race where besides a few short crosswind moments, it was more or less a gentle stroll to the coast. I averaged 189 watts for the next 4h:18m. We had mixed reports filtering through with time gaps to the front of the race. Anything between over 10 minutes, where they were threatening to pull the bunch out of the race and less than 5 minutes. Although we were going slowly, it was a headwind and historically when large groups get away there is rarely cohesion. I still kept eating and drinking in the hope that the long day into the wind would tear the break apart giving us a chance to get back into the race. 

By the time we got to the coast after nearly 200km of racing I was unsure how many riders were ahead and what gap they had. 

We got over the top of the final KOM and I was chatting to my mate, Matt Rice of CCACHE X PAR KÜP when a small group attacked. It had Froomey and a few other strong riders in the move. I thought it looked like a serious move and I should probably follow so after quickly wrapping up the chat I jumped across. 

It felt nice to start racing again and for a short time our group was working well together and riding away from the bunch. However, this did not last long as the Bridgelane rider decided he should not pull turns anymore. Once this started the break lost its cohesion and it was just Chris Froome who was still happy to keep pushing the pace. Froomey was simply pulling a turn on the front, as the rest of us were arguing amongst ourselves who had more right to be skipping turns, when he just started to ride away. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to be in a break with Chris Froome, I jumped. The others did not react at first and I got to Froomey and we started swapping off. Froomey did not seem as excited as me to be in a 2-man break with 60km to go into a cross/headwind and said “I guess no one else is going to be joining us”, as I was pulling hard turns trying my best to keep anyone from coming to join us. I wanted to have the Froomey time all to myself. 

We were working well together and started to pick up some dropped riders from the break. Froomey said “if we keep going we might be able to ride ourselves into the top 20”. This was the first time I knew there were more than 20 riders in front. I said “I’m not sure what the gap is to the front or behind but I’m just happy to be in a 2-man with Chris Froome, so let’s just swap off to the finish”. The time gaps were coming down and he had excitement in his voice when he said it was less than 3 minutes to a podium spot. He lifted the pace for the next few turns. However, as we got closer to the finish his turns were getting shorter and slower and he apologised for not being able to do more. He said he’d done 350km during the previous 2 days so was feeling pretty tired. I said I don’t mind if we just give it our best, that’s all we can do.

By 10km to go he was properly cooked and mostly sitting on. We caught a small group 5km from the finish and I rode straight past while he stayed with them. I ended up riding into 8th place +4:51 from the solo winner, Tristan Saunders and +1:47 from the podium, not too bad considering we were more than 13 minutes behind 29 riders with 70km to go. Froomey came in not far behind in 12th. 

Here is the power file of the section we raced from the final KOM to the finish. I averaged 317w for the final 1h:48m. This was broken down roughly to the majority being rolling 1m:30s turns at around 350w and recovering 30s on the wheel at 250w. 

At the end of the day I’m a bit disappointed with myself not getting in the race but happy with how the team rode giving our 3 guys a good opportunity to race for the win. And to have the experience of riding in a 2-man break with 4 time Tour de France winner Chris Froome for 60km is one I will never forget.