1895: An Australian Bicycle Race Establishes Momentum for a Long-Lasting and World-Renowned Annual Competition

December 16, 1895

In Australia, the second race of the now-famous one-day road bicycle classic between Melbourne and Warrnambool in the British colony of Victoria took place. (Victoria became one of the states of the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.) The first of those bicycle races had occurred just a little over 10 weeks earlier.

The idea for the competition came from Don Charleston after he undertook a solo bicycle ride for approximately 165 miles (266 kilometers) from Melbourne to Warrnambool. Charleston’s journey along the rugged terrain between those Victorian communities inspired him to help initiate what has become one of Australia’s major sporting events.

The first race was held on October 5, 1895. A total of 24 bicyclists participated in that west-east race from Warrnambool to Melbourne, with Andrew Calder winning in 11 hours and 44 minutes with a two-hour handicap start.  This event proved to be so popular in Warrnambool that its residents quickly raised sufficient prize money for another race in the near future.

The December 16 race, which had 13 bicyclists participating, was run instead in an east-west direction from Melbourne to Warrnambool. William Nicol won the competition in 13 hours and 34 minutes with a 90-minute handicap start. The races have since achieved iconic status within Australia and beyond. For the most part, the competition has occurred annually (although it was not held for various reasons in 1899, 1900, 1912-1921, 1927, 1928, 1934, and 1940-46); the 1895 races have been the only ones to take place in the same year.

The Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic is second only to Belgium’s Liège–Bastogne–Liège Classic as the oldest-existing major one-day road bicycle race in the world. The second 1895 race has been credited with helping to encourage the momentum for the event early on; in addition, that race retains the record for the slowest-ever winning time in those competitions.

For more information on the second race of the Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic, please check out the 16 December 1895 Argus article “Long-Distance Cycling” at https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/8884350

Additional information on the Melbourne to Warrnambool classic is available at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melbourne_to_Warrnambool_Classic

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