Warrnambool Sufferfest Race Report by Stuart Lamble @ 28 Mar 2017
The swim is in the Hopkins River, between the mouth of the river and the Marfell/Hopkins Point Road bridge. This is a fairly tidal area; the water is best described as brackish. Not as salty as the ocean proper, but definitely not fresh, either. Rather murky - probably a little more so than Lysterfield. Six buoys: four turning, two sighting (the two sighting are used by the sprint distance for their turns).
It was a run out of about fifty metres before the water got deep enough to swim. Turn right at the far turn buoy, head to the second turn buoy, third turn buoy. Between the third and fourth turn buoy, the water gets, shall we say, a little bit on the shallow side. As in, it's about the depth where the more serious triathletes would tend to porpoise rather than swim. It then gets deeper again for a few metres before the water gets shallower, just as you reach the fourth turn buoy. For Olympic and long course distance, turn around and do a second lap (they start the long course earlier, then bring the buoys back 100m or so for the Olympic distance). For the sprint, it's just a single lap.
The biggest issue is that it looks like the buoys moved (or weren't placed particularly accurately) - I ended up getting about 1.3km for the swim as the Garmin measures. So it goes.
Run up to transition is up a short set of steps. Nothing particularly hard, and it's a very short distance to get to the racks. Grab the bike, and head out.
The bike course? What makes it challenging is two things: the climbs, and the wind. The climbs aren't that big. Maybe 160m of elevation gain over a single 22.5km lap (so 160m for the sprint, 320 for the Olympic, 640 for the half.) But some - the Hopkins River Hill in particular - are pretty steep; you certainly know you've put the effort in on that one. If you're a strong climber, the combination I had - a 52/36 on the front, and a 12-25 (11 speed) on the back - is very doable (for reference, I was putting out about 240 watts, and a cadence of 50 rpm at the worst bit). For those who are a bit weaker, a 34 (compact) on the front, and a 28 on the back, should suffice. Doing it four times, though... oy vey. It's pretty clear where the race gets the name "Sufferfest" from.
And the wind. Oh, man, the wind. It got pretty strong at times, varying from headwind to tailwind and side wind. The biggest issue for me, riding the TT with my race wheels (85mm at the back, 62.5mm at the front), was that the side wind had a tendency to be unpredictably gusty. That meant I was on the bullhorns a lot more than I would have liked; I didn't feel comfortable trusting my control on the aero extensions. (And coming down the Hopkins River Hill, the wheel wobble was far more than I would have been happy with on the extensions - very happy I decided beforehand to use the bullhorns! Guess I need to get more practice in with the race wheels in adverse conditions...) The race organisers recommend a front wheel with a depth no more than 40mm, advice that I'm strongly inclined to concur with. Ultimately, it's your choice - just be aware, and plan accordingly.
As for the run - there's nothing particularly difficult about it. Lots of undulations, very scenic, went all the way from the Hopkins River (over the bridge) to very close to the breakwater. If you find the Pavilion Cafe and Bar on a map, the run comes within a couple of hundred metres of it.
Overall: not an easy course. If you're used to fairly flat races (read: pretty much all races held in Melbourne), this will definitely test you. The Olympic distance is a bit over-long, with a 45km bike leg, and a 10.5km run leg - all in the name of running it alongside the long course (half iron) race.
Definitely one worth considering, especially if you want to make a long weekend out of it to see the local sights.