Canadian cyclist Ben Perry grew up as a young cyclist hearing about this legendary race down in Australia called the Melbourne to Warrnambool. Now he’ll get his chance to ride in it.
It’s a rarity to see WorldTour riders lining up in the Melbourne to Warrnambool, but they make an impact when they do, with Koen de Kort notably making his presence felt in the 2017 edition of the race, making multiple attacks in the final kilometres with eventually broke things up enough for Nathan Elliott to make his own move to take his second consecutive Melbourne to Warrnambool title.
Perry first heard about the race as a teenager in Canada following the professional cycling scene as an aspiring athlete.
“I’ve always kind of known about it as it’s got big coverage in the past and I grew up watching what was going on Cyclingnews back when I was a 14, 15-year-old cycling nerd,” said Perry. “Melbourne to Warrnambool was one there and it is this huge, legendary race.
“I was just trying to feed the cycling bug at that point, there’s not a lot going at certain points of the year but the Australian season gets a lot of coverage then. So, for Canadian riding a trainer in January, it’s all about these Australian races that sound so cool.”
Perry had the ambition to do the event but had to get the logistics worked out and needed to get special dispensation from the UCI in order to race the national level event. That it fitted in so well with the start of the 25-year-old’s 2020 racing season where he lined up for Israel Start-Up Nation’s team at the Herald Sun Tour had him in the right place at the right time.
“I’ve met a lot of Australians across the world but I’ve never been here before this trip,” said Perry. “One of my old teammates, now manager, Zak Dempster won the race about 12 years ago (2008 edition).
“He knew the people organising the and said to me ‘you should stay, do this race. Have a little kick of the can or something and try to win the race. It will be a good workout, they’ll take care of you, you’ll have a follow car and everything’. Australia’s been sweet, so why not stay for another week and do this legendary race?”
Perry wraps up his Australian start with the Melbourne to Warrnambool but has really gotten himself into Melbourne’s cycling culture during his stay down under.
“I’ve been out here since New Year’s Eve,” said Perry. “I came out here for a long time to enjoy Australia and I had all these plans… maybe I’ll go to Noosa, maybe I’ll go to Tasmania or Adelaide for Down Under.
“In the end I just enjoyed Melbourne so much, doing group rides, meeting people here and making friends. I like it here, I like Australia and the cycling community around Melbourne has been really amazing.”
For the race itself, Perry wasn’t feeling the pressure of being the only WorldTour rider present in the field, but rather than downplaying his chances, pointed towards the strength of the National Road Series (NRS) riders present.
“It’s one of those things in cycling,” said Perry. “Some people will say that you’re in this team or that team, or this level and because of that you’re automatically better.
“I’ve done a lot of crits now in Melbourne, the Hell Ride and stuff…. the distance should change things a bit because I do longer races mostly. This will be my longest race ever though. But there are a lot of really strong guys out there if you’re looking at the NRS teams.”
Perry will be racing with the composite team Avalon Airport for the race, initially the Canadian thought it was more of a shared car for feeding, but they’ll be racing as a team for the race with the fastest man in the field in Brenton Jones (Canyon dhb) one of the favourites for the win.
“If you don’t have a team, you’re kind of screwed,” said Perry, “because the road is so open in the beginning that the break will go and the then after teams will block it off and not let anyone else go. That was my thing going in, because if you’re doing it as an individual, if you do miss the break, every time you attack you’ll have one teammate of everyone who’s in the break trying to shut it down. You or anyone who tries it.”
The 267-kilometre course is shorter than many previous editions where the total distance nudged 300 kilometres in length, but in the second year of the new departure from Avalon Airport, there will be new roads for the peloton to race over. Perry ran his eye over the course and his expectations for the event.
“The course isn’t overly challenging in terms of hills and stuff but apparently there’s going to be a bit of crosswind all day,” said Perry. “It’s also going to rain at the start which has the chance to makes things exciting.
“I also took a quick glance at the finishing area and it looks really beautiful down there with the race on the coast. The deeper it gets into the race, the less the parcours matters as some guys will just be on their hands and knees and others will have legs. Hopefully I’m one of those guys that still has legs.”
The Melbourne to Warrnambool has a healthy number of international past winners, with Bart Heirwegh (Belgium), Floris Goesinnen (Sweden), Daniel Schnider (Switzerland), Sam Horgan (New Zealand) and Jonas Ljunblad (Sweden) all claiming victory in the race since it switched from a handicap to a mass start format in 1996. Time will tell if Perry can add his name to the honour roll in the 104th edition of the race.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger