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Grafton to Inverell Classic
Course profile
2002 Grafton

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Dauphiné Libéré
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Grafton to Inverell Classic

Grafton, NSW, September 20, 2003

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Complete Live Report

Produced by Gerard Knapp, with reporting by Peter Sunderland

Warm and sunny conditions greeted the record field of 185 riders who lined up this morning for the 43rd Grafton to Inverell. The field has been bolstered by the late entries of promising young NSW riders, Chris Sutton (St George) and Brendan Cato (Illawarra). Although entered under their clubs, the two riders are in the FDjeux.com strip, as they are with the junior development squad initiated by FDjeux's Brad McGee and the NSW Institute of sport.

This edition of Australia's toughest one day race, sponsored by local retailer Eastmon Camera House, will see four categories compete over the 228 km course. The Elite women's race is staged over 140 km, starting after the 18 km Gibraltar Range climb which always creates a selection. The C Grade and over 45s were first to leave Grafton at 7:30am with the B Grade field starting at 8:15am.

There is a slight breeze which may strengthen during the day, as well as slight smoke haze from isloated bushfires still burning in remote pockets of country along the course.

9:30am EST, 5km/223km to go

The A Grade race, which is a category one race on the National Road Series, started at 9:00am and shortly after the neutral section finished just outside the regional centre of Grafton, five riders attacked and built up a lead of nearly two minutes.

The riders are Richard Moffatt (Waggag Wagga), Simon Price (Hobart Wheelers), Geoffrey Cook (Sutherland), Joel Pearson (Warragul) and Anthony Challinor (Paramatta). Quite often a group will try to clear early on to build up a lead that can be quickly eroded on the climb - it's one way for the non-climbers to suffer less and limit their losses on the 18km climb.

The Women's race will start around 10:30am at the Rangers Hut atop the Gibraltar Range. This is also a category one race in the Women's National Road Series. Former Olympic games gold medallist Kathy Watt is a late inclusion in the women's race.

In the men's race, Sydney Olympic gold medallist Brett Aitken is the early favourite for the men's A Grade. He is currently leading the National Road Series and will be looking to consolidate that lead on Saturday. A host of up and coming under 23 riders, including the AIS national under 23 squad, will make their presence felt with many of them in good form leading into the Grafton to Inverell.

Brooks one week earlier in San Francisco
Photo: © Greg Descantes
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Another entry on the start list is that of St George rider Ben Brooks, who last weekend was racing for US pro team Jelly Belly in San Francisco in the T-Mobile International. Brooks put in a very strong performance and only missed catching the winning break, as he and eventual race winner Chris Horner (Saturn) chased down a break in that American race.

11:30am EST, 80km/148km to go

The early break had been reduced to only two riders, Geoffrey Cook (Sutherland) and Anthony Challinor (Paramatta) who've built up a lead of nearly eight minutes on the main field. The two riders are over half-way up the 18km climb of the Gibraltar Range, with the other three riders in the early break just staying ahead of the main peloton.

But as the peloton hit the climb the tempo lifted and after a few kilometres of climbing, some big names were off the back, including Ashley Hutchinson, a member of the Australian 2003 world champion pursuit team, as well as Tasmania's Bernard Sulzberger. Also dropped on later on the climb was Brendan Cato, while fellow world champion team pursuiter Stephen Wooldridge was in difficulty and had to let the main field go, which is climbing at a steady 25-27km/h.

Along the way, Cook took the King of the Mountains climb at the top of the Jackadgery Gap, while Challinor took the sprint points at the Mann River sprint.

In the main field, Brett Aitken was sitting in third or fourth wheel and looking very comfortable, reported Peter Sunderland from the course. An indication of the pace on the climb is that another rider was dropped shortly after, namely Glen Stojanow (Clarence St), who took third place last weekend at the Australian National Road Cycling Championships.

12:30pm EST, 115km/113km to go

The climb has devastated the main A grade field with only 17 riders remaining from the original field of 46. Sitting comfortably in the field is Aitken, while Brooks has been very active in the group, reports Peter Sunderland. He's been moving to the front and lifting the pace - but not really attacking - then drifiting back and urging others in the group to do their share of the work. "I think he wants to keep the group together, but not too easy," Sunderland said. "He did most of the damage on the climb."

Meanwhile, Geoff Cook remains away in the lead in his solo attack, but his three minute lead over the dimished peloton is coming down and he will be unlikely to stay away before Glenn Innes.

However, Joel Pearson has recovered on the climb and is now second on the road, after Challinor was dropped on the climb. Cook took out both the Gibraltar Range and Softwood KOM sprints, with Pearson in second. The other riders in the early break, Price and Moffatt, were swept up by the main field.

The breeze is freshening into a block headwind, which the riders will face all the way to Inverell. "It's going to be a tough one," Sunderland said. "Once they get past Mt Mitchell, they'll be doing it tough."

1:00pm EST, 127km/101km to go

As the race leader approached the highest point of the race at 1190 metres, Geoff Cook remained clear of the remains of the A grade field, that was still 34km from the Glenn Innes. However, Cook had increased his lead to nearly four minutes. "He's riding strongly and at a good tempo, but I think it's more to do with the bunch easing up a little," reports Sunderland. Meanwhile, all other riders in the original break, including Joel Pearson and Parramatta rider Anthony Challinor, have come back to the main A grade group which is down to only 14 riders.

This group includes favourites such as Aitken and Brooks, as well as Richard Moffatt, Christopher Bradford, Pearson, New Zealand rider Scott Lyttle, Chris Thompson, Dane Cheers, Challinor, Hector Morales and Jorge Libonatti representing the Hinchinbrook club, Robert Lyte, and Kieren Cameron.

2:20pm EST, 168km/60km to go

There has been a serious attack by three strong contenders - Ben Brooks, Uruguayan rider Jorge Libonatti and Kieren Cameron, who have pulled a 1.50 lead to the remainders of the A grade field which still includes Brett Aitken. This leading trio were about to start the short and sharp climb of the Waterloo Range and had previously rolled through for the intermediate sprint in the regional centre of Glenn Innes in uncontested fashion. "It looks like they're going to work together," Sunderland reports. Nonetheless, Libonatti took the sprint points, ahead of Cameron and Brooks.

Earlier, the main A grade field had upped the tempo and caught the early break-away rider Geoff Cook. But 25 kilometres from Glenn Innes, there was a split in the main group of then 16 riders, with a group of 10 going up the road. This group included all the favourites and after several kilometres of committed attacking, the pace then eased again and the dropped six riders made contact.

The lull didn't last for long, as 10 km from Glenn Innes the now leading trio of Brooks, Libonatti and Cameron made their move and pulled clear.

3:20pm EST, 206km/22km to go

The three leaders are still clear as they approach the final defnitive climb of the Grafton, Wire Gully, the scene of many successful late attacks by the strongest riders. However, only 35 seconds behind the leading trio of Ben Brooks, Jorge Libonatti and Kieren Cameron, is a group of four riders that escaped the remainder of the A grade field. It appears that this gang of four - including Richard Mofatt, Peter Milostic, Scott Lyttle and the second rider from Uruguay, Hector Morales - is working well and will catch the leading trio.

Brooks is watchful in the leading trio and is looking over his shoulder regularly, reports Peter Sunderland. Meanwhile, Brett Aitken has been suffering in the third group on the road, which is now over three minutes behind the gang of four, putting him ansd the others effectively out of contention for a podium finish.

3:45pm EST, 218km/10km to go

Wire Gully was the scene of repeated attacks among the leading trio. Ben Brooks put in an attack about halfway up the climb and pulled clear. Jorge Libonatti responded and was able to bridge to him, but would not roll through. This gave Kieren Cameron the opportunity to rejoin the duo. Brooks attacked again and once again, Libonatti followed but stayed glued to his wheel. As Brooks eased up and Libonatti wouldn't roll through, it gave Cameron the opportunity to not only rejoin them, but actually fly around them and secure the KOM points on offer at the top of Wire Gully.

Once over the climb, Cameron could be seen shaking his finger at Libonatti for his negative tactics. "I think after they gave him a serve he started to work a bit," Sunderland commented.

Libonatti's tactics may yet cost them the race, as behind the three leaders playing their game of cat and mouse, the chasing four had become three as Peter Milostic, Richard Moffatt and Hector Morales put in some big turns to reduce the lead to only 15 seconds. It appears likely there will be a group of six race into Inverell for a lap of the main centre before the final sprint.

4:10pm EST, 228km/0km to go

The chasing trio of Peter Milsotic, Richard Moffatt and Hector Morales finally caught the leaders but shortly after, Milostic attacked again and the two riders from Uruguay were quick to follow. Moffatt was also able to follow while Brooks and Cameron had no answer and were left behind.

As the leading group of four entered Inverell, it appeared the two riders from Uruguay were going to work over the other two. On the final straight, Libonatti lead it out and Moffatt followed, with Morales next in line. The Uruguyuan rider jumped across the road with 300 metres to go and Milostic followed, but the Australian could not round up Morales, who took the win by three bike lengths from Milostic, with Moffatt in third.

Women's race, other divisions

The 140km women's race was won by Kathy Watt, ahead of Zoe Southwell and Christine Riakos. Watt attacked a leading group of nine riders and stayed away to finish on her own.

The last time that David Perry rode in the Grafton was in 1993 and he finished second. This year, after a 10-year break, Perry was back, this time in the over-45s category and apparently riding so strongly he could have been in A grade. Perry easily won his division, again with the strongest rider finishing alone. Second in the over-45s was Steve Darracott and third Gary Reardon.

In B grade, Michael Hoult attacked his leading group of six riders as they entered Inverell and motored away on his own, staying clear for the final three kilometres with John Ebeling taking out the sprint for second and Brenton Bruce in third. The C grade division was taken out by Phil Gough, with Cameron Hughan in second and at the time of writing, judges were still deciding on the third place-getter.


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