Most of the international peloton had been quick to depart after the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on the final weekend of January, but not Chris Froome (Israel-Premier Tech) who had remained and headed to Victoria’s high country to do some extra training in the Australian summer.
Then just the day before the Melbourne to Warrnambool came the news he would also be lining up at the race that holds an elevated status within the nation’s cycling community and with a four-time Tour de France winner that in the peloton that position would loom even larger.
Just before the race Froome flew into the Avalon Airport, also conveniently the start point, in a small plane which barely had room for anything more than himself and his bike. He jumped out in full kit, shoes and all, and was quickly ushered to the line of the challenging 267-kilometre event, which first ran in 1895.
Froome was racing among a field of around 125 riders, mainly from National Road Series teams, as this was the race that would start a new season of the top-level domestic series in Australia.
Froome may have been an outlier as a professional cyclist – and one with the most envied of palmarès at that – but he also had no team and hadn’t been training toward this event, as many others in the field had. This, was in fact, all about getting in some solid training toward a return to Europe for Froome.
“I came here looking for a hard training ride and that’s exactly what I got. Finished completely cross-eyed over the finish line there….what a day, that was an amazing race,” Froome said in Warrnambool.
The Melbourne to Warrnambool can often be a race where the early moves get caught, legs burnt after a long day out the front as those who had tucked back in the bunch came over the top. It was not unreasonable to think that this may be the case again this year, particularly with a solid headwind at play as riders worked their way from Avalon to the west of Victoria.
However, as the field worked their way inland before emerging onto the Great Ocean Road at Port Campbell three-quarters of the way through the race and then cut in for the final stretch to Warrnambool, the early break held firm.
“Didn’t really expect such a big group to go earlier on,” said Froome. “Everyone told me to be conservative in the first 100, 150kms but it seems as if that was race over in the first 20. A group of 20 guys went up the road with all the teams represented so behind there wasn’t really…
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