Pros return to fire up the 'Grafton'

Renewed interest in Australia's toughest one-day event

Professional riders such as Trent Wilson (Colombia-Selle Italia), Ben Brooks and Caleb Manion (Jelly Belly) have signaled their intention to line up in next month's Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic, considered Australia's premier one-day race.

Challenging parcours
Photo ©: Mark Gunter

The 228km route features includes several climbs over the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales and always creates a quality selection for the finale in Inverell. In an effort to introduce team-style racing for many of the younger elite riders who contest the event, some 13 elite men's A grade teams will be among the field, according Cycling NSW State Manager Tom Skulander.

Meanwhile, the women entered in their concurrent national series event will get a change of scenery this year, with the inclusion of the tough 17knm climb of the Gibraltar Range. This year, the women's peloton will leave from Grafton, as will the men, but finish over 140km later in Glenn Innes, the major rural centre along the route to Inverell.

Sponsored by retailer Eastmon Camera House, there is $20,000 in prize money at stake in the 44th edition of the race, to be held on September 18. It has also been included as part of the three-race Trek Series in Australia and this "will further boost the profile and act as a major drawcard for teams contesting the national series," Skulander said.

Aussies at the Giro
Photo ©: Olympia

"It has been encouraging at this point and we can expect some leading names to join the race," Skulander said. Among those confirmed are Brooks and Manion from the USA-based Jelly Belly squad, where both of the Australian riders have made their presence felt in the domestic pro scene in that country. Wilson, meanwhile, this year completed his first Giro d'Italia for the Division II Colombia-Selle Italia squad (see his Cyclingnews diary).

"Trent is a big drawcard, he rode the 22-day Tour of Italy this year," Skulander said.

Brooks is a former winner (1998) and will be looking to improve on his sixth place last year, where he was the dominant rider until the jet lag caught up with him on the outskirts on Inverell.

Encouraging younger riders

Skulander said This year's format will see A grade consist of teams of six riders for the Category 1 race.

"We are taking a direction similar to that in Europe where we can create an environment especially for our young riders to join teams and become familiar with senior racing."

Skulander said many young cyclists tend to head overseas at a young age and burnout, become demoralised and suffer from lack of support. "The team approach is a positive move and Cycling Australia plan to build on that by next year," he said.

Race director Peter Sunderland has confirmed the professionals, coming home for the season, will join a team of domestic riders for the 228km race.

Race organisers are expecting the NSW Institute of Sport, Victorian Institute of Sport and the Queensland Academy as well as trade teams to enter.

This year the women's Category 1 National Series race will start in Grafton and finish in Glen Innes. Prizemoney for this year's race has been increased to $20,000 and there is also $2000 on offer for the first rider to break Englishman's Paul Curran's race record of 6.00.49 set in 1985.

Start times

Start 7.20 am C & Masters 4's and Over
Start 7.30am Ladies Category 1 pointscore race
Start 8.15 am B Grade
Start 9.00 am A Grade Grafton Crown Hotel