Former club member Chris Beales (now living in Europe) first conceived of a race from Warragul to the car park at Mt. Baw Baw in 2000, shortly after the Baw Baw Tourist Road was asphalted. Chris used to run mountain bike events on Mt. Baw Baw and while driving up and down the mountain, he realised that the climb would make an awesome road event.
Chris organised a meeting with the Baw Baw shire, and explained the event and got great support. He also pitched the idea to the Baw Baw resort who were great supporters of Chris and also wanted him to take over MTB racing on the mountain from the Fat Tyre Flyers club.
Next, the Warragul Cycling Club was approached as they were the best group to provide marshals, support cars, etc. The WCC was right behind Chris with the idea of a race from Warragul to Baw Baw.
Chris made the first race just over 100ks as he thought nobody would sign up if it was under. Leading up to the race, it turn out that the majority of riders hadn’t heard of Baw Baw or if did, they had not ridden the climb.
The inaugural 2001 race received just over 100 entries and was considered a success. The first year’s race began in a warm Warragul and quickly deteriorated into a wall of rain and fog with isolated patches of hail. At the top, riders finished in snow. Surprisingly, given the bad weather, the first race records only 9 DNF’s.
Having Dave McKenzie win and the Australian under 23 road team enter was a great start to the classic. Dave commented that the climb was equal to the hard ones in Europe. These comments and the race conditions went a long way to establishing the race as a hard ride.
After the first event, former WCC President Peter Finlayson, on the local council’s behalf approached John Craven (the promoter of the then (Herald) Sun Tour) suggesting that he consider conducting a stage up there soon after the road was sealed.
The event has had numerous starting locations from the WCC’s velodrome to Queen Street and the Civic Centre to the main street. The 2009 route was course variant number three. The first course went out via Bloomfields Road and then the main Baw Baw road, then to Brandy Creek Road and then Jindivick, to last years course. Some course variations between grades have been implemented over the years making the main race over around 100km while the lower grades have only a little less. Having all entrants race the one course works best from an organisational stand point.
Ian Maher at Cyclesport Victoria was a huge supporter and got a lot done for Chris and got Cyclesport to get behind the event and helped financially in the first few races as most of the money came from Chris’ pocket (so a huge thanks to Chris Beales who without, we would not have this great race).