This weekend see's the 103rd running of the Melbourne to Warrnambool classic, and another chapter in a story that began in 1985. This makes the 'Warny' the second oldest race in the world after the monumental Liege Bastogne Liege. It is a race that has seen a lot of history and a lot of change. The roads were dirt and the direction often the other way in the early years, and the race itself a handicap until 1995.
The story goes that in 1895 local rider Don Charlston conceived the first race after riding from Warrnambool to Melbourne in a personal time trial. The idea captured peoples imagination and the first race was held on 5 October 1895, won by New Zealander Andrew Calder in 11 hours 44 minutes, with a 2 hours handicap start for the 165-mile trip. The fastest time during this first race was recorded by Jim Carpenter from scratch who took 10 hours 52 minutes and finished in 4th place. Of the 50 riders that entered, 24 started and only 7 finished the race.
So fired was the imagination of a cycling mad public that money was raised and a second race occurred ten weeks later over the same distance, with Jim Carpenter again fastest time off scratch. He went on to win overall line and fastest time in 1896. So began a tradition and story that continues to this day. From 24 riders in the first year, by 1908 over 400 (!) entrants are recorded. Many famous names honour the victory roll, including Sir Hubert Opperman, Dean Woods, Peter 'Bulldog' Besanko, Billy Guyatt, Graeme Gilmore, Mario Giramondo and Simon Gerrans.
The race has had its ups and downs and many a change over the years. The start and the course have evolved, and the handicap was replaced by a mass start in 1996. There has also been a vigorous debate over the past few years over its future, all driven by a reverence for the history and iconic status of the event. Lots of ideas have been floated, some tested and no doubt the evolution and development of the great race will continue if it is to endure, prosper and grow.
What has not changed is the desire of the best racers to win it, and the epic nature of the longest race in the country as wind and weather take their toll and determine the shape of the race. We have a respect and passion for the long history and tradition of cycling and cannot but feel a strong affection for the Warny and a desire for it to thrive in the years ahead. See you at the start!
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