If there’s one thing that defines the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic it’s the sheer length of the race. In years gone by it was as much as 300km from start to finish, but in recent times that’s been trimmed to a still-monstrous 250km. A lot can happen in a 250km bike race, especially when you throw in another defining feature of “The Warrny”: crosswinds.

After a largely wind-free opening 40km, a group of 19 riders got away, including five Drapac riders. Robbie Hucker from the Drapac squad told CyclingTips it was a plan from the start to be heavily represented in all the moves.

“We wanted to be aggressive — we always perform best when we’re on the front foot and that’s what we did.”

It wasn’t long until the famous crosswinds of western Victoria started to take hold and riders were fighting for position. Euride Racing had missed the break of 19 riders so they set about chasing it down, a task they achieved with 120km of racing completed. With more than 130km still remaining in the race, it was time for the teams to reset, assess the damage and plan the second half of the race.

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Roughly 30km later a small group snuck way from the peloton. Jason Spencer from the Charter Mason Drapac Development Team was one of the riders in that move.

“We originally got away with a group of eight with probably 100km to go. We quickly pulled out a two minute gap in no time at all in the tailwind section and I guess the bunch sat up because the eight riders were from eight different teams.”

The three Continental teams — Budget Forklifts, Drapac and Huon-Genensys — all had a rider in the move and left the pacemaking to the remaining five riders in the break. Frustrated at the lack of lack of help they were getting, Jason Spencer and Scott Law (GPM Data#3) went off the front together. Spencer admits he didn’t think they would be able to stay away.

“We knew it wasn’t a move that was going to work but I thought ‘Well, if I can make it to the KOM first before we get caught then that’s something we can get for the day hopefully.’

Spencer turned up the heat on the KOM just after Camperdown and took the honours ahead of Law before descending into the final 70km of the race.

Jason Spencer (left) and Scott Law (right) on the Camperdown KOM.

Jason Spencer (left) and Scott Law (right) on the Camperdown KOM.

Behind the two of them an elite group of four riders had formed on the climb, including NRS leader and Tour of Tasmania winner Jack Haig (Genesys), former national champions and Drapac teammates Darren Lapthorne and Will Walker.

Meanwhile, back in the peloton, it was panic stations for Budget Forklifts who had missed the move. Sam Horgan told CyclingTips:

“Me, Michael Vink and Jake Kauffmann were there but we were outnumbered in the bunch and there was the group up the road. Michael in particular did a heap of work to hold that group, to not let them get too far up the road. Lapthorne and Haig … launched up the climb. That was really dangerous and a bit of a key point for our team.”

Shortly after the KOM Spencer and Law were caught by the Haig group and then by the group behind them, creating a group of about 20 riders at the head of the race.

Jason Spencer explained how he got into the next move shortly after his first was shut down.

“The group of 20 was probably split into three different groups at one stage and I ended up making the front group of 10. I think Floris [Goesinnen] attacked with [Jack] Haig on his wheel, got a bit of a gap and I jumped across to it. Both my legs started to cramp as I got across to them. I was like ‘I can’t believe there’s still 50km still to go!’ But I figured I might as well give it everything; there’s no point attacking half-committed.”

It looked like it could have been the winning move. Jack Haig had been in sterling form coming off his win at the Tour of Tasmania, and Floris Goesinnen showed his class this time last year when he won the Warrny, the backed it up the next day in winning the Shipwreck Coast Classic. And, with Drapac and Genesys represented in the move, two of the strongest teams in the race wouldn’t have to do any chasing.

Both Haig and Goesinnen would say after the race (see video below), that they thought they’d made the winning move. Spencer, meanwhile, couldn’t believe who he’d managed to get away with.

“I was pinching myself when I was up the front with Floris and Jack. I was thinking ‘What’s going on – what have I done to end up here?!’”

Despite coming into the race with great form, Haig cracked on a short climb leaving Spencer and Goesinnen together and putting them at a disadvantage. They now had one less rider to share the work with, and Genesys would soon join the chase from behind.

Spencer and Goesinnen were caught with roughly 13km to go in the race.

“When we got caught I was like ‘Ok, it’s over’”, Spencer told CyclingTips. “I pulled over and had a stretch and even dry retched; I was completely boxed but that’s what the Warrny’s about I guess.”

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While Jason’s day was done, the battle for the race was just heating up.

The group that had caught Spencer and Goesinnen included Tom Robinson (Huon-Genesys), Jack Anderson (Budget Forklifts), Alex Ray (Target Trek) and Robbie Hucker (Drapac). Hucker told CyclingTips that it didn’t take long to realise Goesinnen was fading fast and that he would be outnumbered in the lead group.

“I knew when we caught Floris that he probably wouldn’t have much left in the tank so I tried to just follow the moves as best I could and help him have a bit of an easy ride but it was all about survival mode for myself. With Genesys and Budget having the numbers there I kinda had to do the best I could with following.”

On the third attack by Anderson, Goesinnen had popped and the lead group was down to just four riders: Robbie Hucker, Alex Ray, Jack Anderson and Tom Robinson. It was at this time that Sam Horgan (Budget Forklifts) and Jack Beckinsale (Huon-Genesys). Sam Horgan told us after the race that he saw his opportunity as soon as he reached the lead group, and went for it.

“I noticed the group in front of us spread out across the road, all sort of playing cat and mouse, and I noticed a lull in pace so as soon I caught them I dived up the left-hand side 3km out and got a good gap straight away. Then I just put my head down and went for it.”

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Horgan continued:

“There was a climb at 2km to go … and I turned around and [his teammate] Jack Anderson was coming across right behind me. So I eased up a wee bit, got him there, and then just gave it another big pull up the climb. At that point we had Alex Ray literally only 10 metres behind us, chasing desperately so me and Jack gave a couple of big turns to make sure we stayed away from him. But once we had that last climb he sort of faded back and the win was ours.”

Coming into the finish line Horgan and Anderson had a quick discussion to decide who would take the honours. Anderson said to his teammate “you can have it” and Horgan rolled across the line to win in his first attempt at the Melbourne to Warrnambool. Not only had they gone 1-2, but their teammate Jake Kauffmann had made a late dash behind them.

“I didn’t realise that Jake had made it across to the front group until we crossed the line and I turned around and saw him come in for third — it was unbelievable.”

First, second and third to Budget Forklifts — the first time in the race’s 118 year history that one team or club has occupied the top three positions.

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Drapac’s Robbie Hucker eventually finished fourth ahead of Alex Ray and Jack Beckinsale and said the following about the race winner:

“Sam Horgan definitely deserved to win — I didn’t really see him all day and he rode a really smart race. That’s what you really have to do when it’s 250km. You’ve gotta conserve your energy and he picked his opportunity to attack and it was perfect.”

Jason Spencer offered a similar analysis to Hucker, saying it was Horgan’s poise and experience in the crosswinds that proved vital.

“Horgan is super impressive. There were a few times in the crosswinds earlier in the race [when] Horgan got caught behind the split and there might have been a 50-metre gap to the echelon in front and he’d just ride across to it like he’s not even trying. Sometimes in the crosswinds it seems like he’s on another level. I think he’s really calm in a race like that which is important because he saves his energy for when he needs to use it and so he knows how to look after himself.”

Horgan won the Tour of South West Coast earlier this season in similarly windy conditions. He told CyclingTips that growing up in Palmerston, on the south-east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, helped give him confidence riding in strong crosswinds.

“As a junior I had to go training in gale-force winds. I’m pretty used to it. Being a little bit heavier and having a bit of extra power makes it a little bit easier for me but I certainly feel much more comfortable than a lot of the guys I’m around [when it's windy].”

Horgan’s winning time of 6 hours 32 minutes and 12 seconds is the fastest time since Joel Pearson won the race in 2009. Behind Horgan were 135 other finishers of this historic race, many of which were just happy to make the finish inside the time cut and earn themselves a prestigious finishers medal.

There’s little doubt that the Melbourne to Warrnambool is among the most prestigious and respected bike races in Australia and the 2013 edition proved to be a worthy addition to the race’s long history. Congratulations to Sam Horgan and the Budget Forklifts team and to all those that completed this long and gruelling race.

Thanks to Sam Horgan, Jason Spencer and Robbie Hucker for taking the time to speak to us. Click here for the full interview with Sam Horgan. Click here to see the results from the 2013 Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic. And if you’d like to learn more about the incredible history of the Warrny, check out this great piece from Craig Fry.