A RECORD number of riders will face the starter's gun for the 118th Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic.
Cycling Australia yesterday revealed a field of 238 would attempt the 256 kilometres from Werribee Park Equestrian Centre to Raglan Parade, Warrnambool on Saturday.
The figure is eight up on the previous mark of 230 set last year and reaffirms the standing of the time-honoured race in Australian cycling circles.
Among the starters are 2012 champion and popular Dutchman Floris Goesinnen and 2013 National Road Series (NRS) leader Jack Haig.
Classic director Scott Sunderland said he was pleased with the response to the event which has undergone major changes this year.
The course will take the peloton through the You Yangs, Bannockburn, Shelford and Lismore before heading south through Camperdown and Cobden.
Riders will close in on the finish along the Cobden-Warrnambool Road, instead of the Princes Highway.
"We're really looking forward to it," Sunderland said. ''This race has been a part of the history of cycling for a long time.
"It's great to see it's not lagging at all. On the contrary, it's improving.
''It's the oldest race in Australia and the second-oldest in the world.
"The way the NRS is developing, riders are putting this in on the calendar when they're doing their race programs.
"They're earmarking the Melbourne to Warrnambool as one of the big races."
The Melbourne to Warrnambool is the 11th race on the 13-race NRS calendar.
The 128-kilometre Shipwreck Coast Classic is on Sunday, ahead of the 228-kilometre Grafton to Inverell Classic on October 26.
German-born Katrin Garfoot, the women's NRS leader, second-placed Ruth Corset and national mountain bike champion Peta Mullens are the leading female hopes for the Shipwreck Coast Classic.
"For the one-day specialists, this is the block of the year they concentrate their training on," Sunderland said.
He tipped Gold Coast sprinter Jesse Kerrison to claim a breakthrough win. He said riders who could handle tail, cross and headwinds were in the box seat.
"In the first 100 kilometres we've got a lot of direction changes," Sunderland said.
''With the different route and direction changes it throws another dynamic into the race."
Warrnambool Citizens Road Race Committee chairman Brendan Gleeson said the Classic had "stood the test of time".
Gleeson, part of a 10-member committee which helps organise the race, was rapt with the new record.
"I'm delighted the entries are that," he said. ''Last year was a record and to come out and beat it again is sensational.
"I think the riders are voting with their feet.
''If numbers were dropping off year by year, you'd be worried about it."
Gleeson said the race still had an aura about it that appealed to professionals and amateurs alike.
"The Warrnambool has always had that thing about it, people want to finish it," he said. "Out of the field, there are only a certainly amount that could win. The others are happy to complete it."