Armidale riders put in a great effort at the 50th anniversary Grafton to Inverell race held on Saturday 23 October. Ten riders entered across the grades and races, including 7 doing the full distance from Grafton, and everyone made it to the finish.
Grafton was a picture at the start, with the Jacaranda’s in full bloom as around 500 riders lined up for the start of the epic (over 100 riders in each of B, C and D grades). There were quite a few nerves on show (apparently there is now a petition being circulated in Grafton to make Kirkie bring his own portaloo next time) but these settled once the race started.
Geoff Straub was off first in A grade riding for his McDonagh-Blake Witness team. Geoff was expecting to ride as support for team leader Chris Jongewaard, but had to take the leader’s role himself when Jongewaard was a late minute withdrawal. He rode the fastest time of the day (46:18) up the Gibralter range climb and bravely bridged across to the break before fading to finish in 41st place in a time of 6:54:51.
Mick Hoult had a great ride in B grade, saying afterwards that it was his most enjoyable Grafton ever. He finished in 28th place not too far behind the leading riders in a very fast time of 7:06:35. And his time of 50:12 on Gibralter was excellent.
In C grade John Scott-Hamilton lost touch with the leaders on Gibralter, but managed to get home in a respectable time of 8:21:08. That’s a second finish in as many years for John.
Our other C grade rider Phil Thomas sat up and waited for his brother Tony who was graded in D, and in so doing sacrificed his chances of a fast time. They made it to the finish and were very pleased with their efforts, especially given that Tony was ready to throw in the towel at Glen Innes.
In D grade we had three top 20 finishers, with Andrew Kirk 9th, Rob Tindale 13th, and myself in 16th. The first part of the race went well for me, settling into the Gibralter climb together with Rob and Kirkie among the leading riders. About two thirds of the way up I started to suffer big time, and it became clear to me that I was one of the weaker riders in the group.
I really had to grit my teeth but as we got closer to the top I just managed to hang on. But probably due to digging too deep I started to cramp badly from the summit onwards. The cramps got progressively worse for the next 50km, and eventually just outside of Glen I had to wave goodbye to the bunch and hop off the bike and stretch.
Rob was also suffering from sore feet and had to hop off briefly at the second feed station before continuing.
So only Kirkie was able to hang on with the leading bunch. The attacks started from Wire Gully and continued all the way into Inverell, but he hung on and was able to get an excellent 9th place in a time of 7:46:04.
Meanwhile Rob had found his rhythm again and was riding exceptionally well, and made it to the finish shortly after Kirkie’s bunch in 13th place in a time of 8:00:52.
I was also able to get going again after the second feed station just outside of Glen, and was able to work with a couple of strong riders to stay ahead of the next bunch on the road – despite the cramping the effort on Gibralter actually put me in a good position on the road. It was an unbelievable feeling to finally get to the end of the false flat outside Inverell with 5km to go before flying down the hill to the finish. Totally knackered but on top of the world!
We also had Ayllie Allen and Kath Gywnne in the women’s B grade event from Glen to Inverell. Ayllie managed 15th place (3rd in her age group) and Kath was a very cheerful Lantern Rouge.
Ayllie wasn’t able to hold on to the leaders up Waterloo Range so ended up in the middle of the field. Emma Carrigan (sister of Sara) waited at the top as she had fallen off too and they worked well together for a few kilometers and had the bunch back in sight, but when they hit the next hill Ayllie rode away from her.
From that point on Ayllie rode the race alone but managing to keep a Central Coast girl in sight, gaining on her on the hills and then seesawing back again. On the Wire Gully hill Ayllie put in an extra effort and got close enough to eventually overtake her for a very satisfying finish.
Although the riders get the results, one thing that was highlighted to me was that this was a real club effort. None of us would have been able to finish without the efforts of our support crew, including Roger Munday, Nick Myhill, Col Maciver, and Peter Wilkinson (I would have been lost without the encouragement of Wilko and Nick when I was doing it tough in the middle part of the race). But even those who weren’t there on the day play a role in supporting the riders, riding and racing with us throughout the year. Thanks everyone!
Finally, this was a great event to be part of, and the organisers did a fantastic job making sure everything ran smoothly and making sure the riders needs were looked after. Thanks go to Rob Munday and his organising committee, the Inverell club, Cycling NSW, and the many volunteers handing out drinks and gels on the mountain.