The Melbourne to Warrnambool is more than just a race. It’s a legend. The iconic ‘Warrnie’ began as a handicap in 1895. It was held as a massed start road race in 1996, in 2004 it became the world’s longest road race (at 299km), and to this day it is the world’s second oldest road race.
The Warrnie is no longer the world’s longest road race, but at 277km, it’s not far off. Last year marked yet another milestone for the Warrnie – the inclusion, for the first time, of a women’s category on the start list. This year, on Saturday the 15th of October, twelve brave women lined up in Werribee for the toughest race on the Cycling Australia calendar.
The raced was marred with gale-force winds, crashes and mechanicals and as the NRS men drove the pace on the front, the group began to splinter. The final battle for the Women’s Warrnie was won by Tessa Fabry, a Brunswick Cycling Club member riding for the High5 Dream Team. We caught up with Tessa after the race to ask about the motivation, preparation and determination that led to her impressive victory.
Podium Girls: What motivated you to sign up for the notorious Melbourne to Warrnambool, knowing that you were in for 277km of pain in most likely strong winds?
Tessa Fabry: I only decided to enter about a week and a half before the race – it was a pretty last minute decision. I was a bit hesitant at first as I had not done any specific preparation for such a long race, but it’s something that I’d always wanted to do so I thought why not give it a go!
PG: Coming into the race, you had two strong team mates in Rebecca Wiasak and Kendelle Hodges which put the three of you down as race favourites. How did you adapt when your team mates both succumbed to mechanical failures? What thoughts went through your mind when you realised you were essentially left to your own devices?
TF: With the massed start it was hard to have a clear team plan as we were never going to be in control of what was going to happen during the race. It was mostly going to be a matter of trying to hold on and help each other out where possible. After Bec and Kendelle were forced to abandon the race I guess it was a bit of a “oh great, it’s all on me now” feeling. I guess what kept me motivated during the race was that I had to keep going for the team.
PG: The men and women started together, meaning you could draft off people you weren’t competing against. It’s not often that you have a ‘race within a race’ like this – what effect do you think that had on the competition?
TF: With the massed start it does become somewhat a race of attrition for everyone except the NRS men. This makes the race for everyone else a bit less tactical than a normal race, however racing skills such as good positioning and being able to stay out of the wind as much as possible become even more important.
PG: In the end, it was down to just you and Fiona Yard in contention for the win. What was your strategy to make sure you could clinch the win on a potentially crowded road coming into the finish?
TF: We were in a small bunch that was working well together. Towards the end of the race I knew my only option was to stay with them and sprint. Had the two of us been on our own, it could have played out quite differently. Luckily, as the group we were in was quite small, it was reasonably easy to position myself to get a clear run to the finish.
PG: We often hear about riders doing ‘Warrnie kms’ – hour after gruelling hour of long endurance rides. Did you feel that you could have prepared better, given that you entered so late and that we’re now already a few weeks into criterium season?
TF: As I decided to enter so close to the event, I had obviously not done anything different in training to what I would normally do. I don’t think my endurance was necessarily a problem and I don’t think you necessarily have to do 7 hour training rides to prepare. That said, I do think I could have benefited from doing some longer, more intense bunch rides just to prepare mentally for basically staring at a wheel in front of me for half the day.
PG: You’re working a few days a week as a cycle courier. Do you think those long days of slow kilometres helped you in the latter stages of the race?
TF: Although it is somewhat lower intensity compared to racing, I do think being used to spending all day out on a bike helped. I found thinking of the race as 8 hours on a bike (which I do all the time) as opposed to 277km (which I never do!) made it a little less daunting.
PG: Would you consider racing the Warrnie again? What advice would you give to other women considering competing next year?
TF: For sure! I would like to see if I could improve how I handle the race, particularly the never-ending crosswinds. I would also like to see the women’s race grow bigger and would love to continue to be part of that. For any women considering joining me, don’t be put off by the distance. You can race 277km, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.