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1992 Olympic gold medalist Kathy Watt won the first women's World Heritage Way Ladies Challenge from Grafton to Glen Innes with a bold solo attack in the latter part of the race.
Watt, who is leading the national women's road series and appears to be in top form, broke away from her group at the top of the Gibraltar range in pursuit of Queensland rider, Jennifer Finlay, who attacked and built up a substantial lead. Watt then managed to hold off a fast dwindling chasing bunch for the remainder of the event.
Jessica Ridder of Bathurst was second and Laura Bortolozzi of St George was third.
It was the first time a dedicated women's event has left from Grafton and scaled the Gibraltar range, following the same course as the 44 year old Grafton to Inverell Classic (the women's race finished in Glen Innes, rather than Inverell).
A field of 19 riders lined up on the start line in Grafton, to be waved off by special guest, newly crowned Athens Olympic gold road race medalist, Sara Carrigan.
Finlay broke away before the bottom of the range and built up a strong lead. Watt then chased her down and reduced the gap to a minute and half by the top of the climb. After the scaled the climb, Finlay looked to be struggling, while Watt was still very powerful. She passed the Queenslander outside of Glen Innes and continued on solo until the finish.
Meanwhile behind her, Ridder had teamed up with Bortolozzi and the two rode together, also reeling in Finlay and then sprinting for the minor placings.
With the head wind, they continued to lose time on Watt, who was incredibly strong. Claire Baxter also passed Finlay and came in for fourth while Watt also took the KOM and sprint titles.
Later, she said she had felt good, but was worried by Finlay's move and knew she would have to go for it from the bottom of the mountain. Finlay, meanwhile, admitted that it always been her plan to attack Watt on the climb, but Watt was too strong on the day.
The new Grafton to Inverell women's classic had the makings to be the best one day stage race in the world, founding committee member, long term president and rider Jack Griffin said at the start of the 44th edition of the men's race in Grafton today.
Griffin, who has never missed a single year of attendance at the Grafton to Inverell men's event since its birth in February 1961, believes with financial support and television coverage the race famous for its Gibraltar Range climb to 1105 metres from 100 metres in 17km, should become one of the most sought after races of the world.
"The terrain is perfect," he said. "It's a steep climb with changing weather conditions and a good challenging distance. It's got a great future. I reckon it's destined to become, especially if it is covered live on TV, the greatest one day women's event in the world. I can visualize TV crosses live to a big screen in Inverell. All it needs is the support of the women; if they supported it then it will attract the money in needs to get the TV coverage. "
Jessica Ridder agrees. "This is the most like the terrain that women face when they go to Europe," she said. "I think it's a must for any woman aiming to race professionally, to come and do the Grafton."
(Editor's note: Although women have entered the full, 228km 'Grafton' in previous years (and continue to do so), the organisers have to limit the elite women's race distance to 140km due to UCI regulations. Previously, the women's field raced from the top of the Gibraltar Range to Inverell, but for 2004 and beyond, the organisers decided to include the ascent of the range, with the women starting in Grafton and finishing in Glen Innes.)
Images by Mark Gunter/http://pbase.com/gunterphotograph
1 Kathryn Watt (Blackburn Cycling Club Inc) 5.38.31 2 Jessica Ridder (Bathurst CC) 8.02 3 Laura Bortolozzi (St George CC) 8.03 4 Claire Baxter (Hawthorn Citizens Youth Club) 14.42 5 Jemma O'brien (St George CC) 14.45 6 Jennifer Finlay (Hamilton Pine River Wheelers) 20.00 7 Jane Despas (Sydney CC) 25.06 8 Elizabeth Hickey (Canberra Cycling Club) 27.43 9 Natasha Harrigan (St George CC) 29.19 10 Emma Lovelock (Sutherland Shire CC) 29.20 11 Fiona Mills (Manning Valley CC Inc.) 33.59 12 Kate Nichols (St George CC) 36.31 13 Kate Lyon (Eastern Suburbs CC) 14 Lynne Vaughan (Southern Highlands CC) 40.48 15 Jessie Mclean (Canberra CC) 16 Vicki Kennedy (Port Macquarie) 54.46 17 Sarah White (Bicisport) 57.54 18 Megan Wilkie (Illawarra CC) 1.05.39 19 Lesley Cathcart (Ipswich Amateur C C) 1.57.42 DNF Judith May (Canberra CC) DNF Zoe Southwell (Parramatta CC)