The 55th Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic was run last Saturday, October 24 as the final race in the men’s National Road Series. This 228km ‘Mountain Classic’ held in northern New South Wales is considered one of the toughest races on the Australian road race calendar and this year Armidale Cycling Club had two local heroes entered in the B-Grade and C-Grade races.
Prising a story out of Jeff Flatt and Andrew Swan had to wait a day or two – “you’re expecting us to re-live something I’m trying to forget” said Swanny on Wednesday morning, but by the afternoon he was already talking about next year…
Here’s their own very personal story from that day, Swanny first.
Conditions on the day were pretty good, much better than the high temperatures and winds last year, so times were reasonably fast (close to the record in A-Grade). It was the usual shit fight in the first 70km to the bottom of Gibralter – this is the part of the race that I like least – people always trying to move up and push in etc.
On Gibralter, a fairly big group was established at the front of the race, including Jeff and me. It gradually got smaller, but we were both going well. I was actually felling pretty comfortable, but then in the last third, the pace went up. I was at the back of the bunch, and that was bad because people started yo-yoing, and you would have to jump around them (mind you, I was one of the guilty parties!). I finally lost touch 3km from the top – kept going but gradually lost ground. Had I stuck it out for another 5 minutes I would have been in the winning bunch, but it wasn’t to be on the day. Jeff and another guy also lost contact a bit near the top (I could see them just ahead), but they managed to get back after the summit.
I started chasing, but never saw the bunch again. Then two other guys came up from behind, and I expected there would be more arriving soon. But no-one came … and one of the guys faded and dropped off. So what followed for me was a two man team time trial which lasted for 140km, and I would have to say that made it the hardest race I have ever done. At first I was just thinking of making it to the first feed station before being caught. We managed that, and were told that we were only 3 minutes or so behind the leaders (might as well have been 30!)
Shortly after we got the gap at 4 minutes to the leaders, and 4 minutes back to the next bunch. A headwind came up about 10km out of Glen which made it hard with only 2, but we got another time gap of 7 minutes back to the chasers, so we were actually putting time into them (but we were obviously losing time on the group of 19 ahead). After Glen, my mate’s handler (who turned out to be a former Grafton winner) told us that we were well ahead of the chasers and if we kept working together we would beat them home. So that became the incentive – we kept pushing on, and it wasn’t until the last climb out of Elsmore that we engaged limp home mode. We finished about 20 minutes behind Jeff, and I reckon several minutes of that would have come on that climb.
At the finish, I reckon I was on the point of physical exhaustion – felt sick and could hardly move. As I said – hardest race ever for me. Over to Jeff for his story … (what a great ride!)
Cheers – Swanny
Right, here’s my version.
First ever G to I for Jeff, so, after being initially placed in B grade by the state handicapper and presenting a well-worded letter from Col at sign-in, I was regraded into C. After that everything was a relief after what could have happened if I’d stayed in B. My handler and I had an interesting night in one of Grafton’s salubrious 1970’s themed motels, and woke to only a mild stae of panic as soon as the emormity of the day became clear. Strong coffee at 6.00 am did help to accentuate that a bit, followed by a return to the hotel to see that everyone else staying there was in B grade – seemed I’d even booked into the wrong hotel as well as the wrong grade.
C grade set off into a reasonable southerly, which meant the wind was on the left-hand shoulder until the range. So lots of hiding in the pack until the hill loomed, by which time we had a 35 km/hr average thanks to the Data #3 team of three that opted to drive the bunch and then strangely sit up on the hill. So I’d figured I could do the range in the big chainring (’cause it’s only 5.6% average…) and that idea soon got ditched, although one person kept on going in their 53 tooth until about 3 km from the top! So there was about 20 of us that stayed together-ish for the first half of the climb, and then it got grippy as the pace was increased and I slid from the front towards the back. There I saw a rather green looking Swanny hanging on for grim death, which ended up also occurring for me about 2.5 km from the summit. After dropping off I eventually caught Mr big chainring and we crested about 1 minute down on the bunch and then promptly went into two-up TT mode as we could see the convoy ahead. About 8 km later after a 55 km/hr average chase (a very nice tailwind helped a lot here) we made it back to the lead group at which point my entire lower half began to cramp. We’d lost sight of anyone behind (which was apparently Swanny and his companions) and the bunch began to move to the feed station in a very uncoordinated manner with lots of WTF’s getting thrown around as everyone was recovering from the climb. Big lesson from this race – everyone else is suffering as much as everyone else…
First feed station done without major incident and then a crampy grovel towards Glen Innes where masses of eating and drinking occurred followed by a missed second feed due to a crash from someone getting their musette tangled in their front wheel and more WTF’s and then into a headwind for the remainder of the race. Luckily there was excellent motorbike watering, and I sill had food so the missed feed wasn’t too dramatic.
I’d never been on the road from Glen Innes to Inverell, so didn’t have a clue about the terrain. Note to self – Wire Gully is friggen hard after 180 km. At this point there were about 16 of us, with sporadic attacks going off the front followed by blowing up and sliding to the back. Went through Elsthorpe and someone went off into the distance (the eventual winner) and everyone else sheltered behind everyone else as the headwind was blowing. Lots of tired bodies, lots of near crashes, lots of dropped bottles at the neutral water station and then a climb up the final hill before descending to Inverell. Someone else went off the front up what had turned into a hors category climb (the eventual second placed rider) and luckily I hung on until the top and then ended up sprinting in the group for third place. Anyone that races against me knows I’m more of a tractor than a motorbike, so I got my ass kicked in the sprint. 13th overall for the day and 1.51 down on the winner.
Thanks a lot to Swanny for his companionship in training and in the bunch, and to everyone I asked for advice about the ride. This is a really amazing race that is very well run and worth the effort it takes to get ready for it. The main thing I’d change in my training would be to go to Bellingen once a month and do repeats up Dorrigo mountain. If you can crest Gibralter range with the lead group then you’re in with a chance….
Thanks Swanny and Jeff for a cracking insight into 7+ hours of pain and torture. You both rode incredible races and clearly gave it your all until the very end – impressive! Hopefully it will take you a few weeks to recover and we can now beat you in some crits for a while. Check out our Gallery Pages for some more images of the day, including those of Armidale/Tamworth local Mick Sherwood riding for Baiocchi Griffin Private Wealth Cycling.
A big thank you also from Swanny and Jeff to their handlers (Kim and David). “Grafton is very much a team effort and they don’t just hold out the musette bags at the feed stations, but also keep you sane before the race, and during the race you always look forward to those all too brief moments where you see them, if only for a few words of encouragement. Couldn’t have done it without them.”