In his debut year as the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic race director, former professional cyclist Scott Sunderland can rest a happy man. The racing, which many described as among the best in the last 20 years, not only produced a race record, but also managed to match, and arguably improve upon last year’s bumper 50th anniversary event.
For Sunderland, the success of the event comes as a reward for the hard work of the greater community, who volunteer their time to make the race happen, and vindicates the organizing committee’s and his own vision to instill a new level of professionalism into the race.
Unlike many of Australia’s other National Road Series events, the ‘Grafton’ enjoys fully closed roads for the better part of the race route, and in 2011 also debuted the use of a full race convoy following the elite men.
"We had two police cars and four police motorbikes this year, and they’re very happy with the way things have gone today," said Sunderland. "The convoy has been something we’ve been trying to bring in for a few years and I think it’s worked really well."
Sunderland’s other key legacy was the introduction of the climb to Gibson’s Hill which critics had argued made a hard race, at least in some people’s opinion, too hard. Somewhat ironically it was on Gibson’s Hill that the race was decided.
"I think today shows that we can do whatever we want [with the course] but at the end of the day it’s the riders who choose how hard the racing is," said Sunderland. "We’ve got a new race record on what was supposed to be ‘the hardest course ever’.
"That said, overall I think we probably don’t need to make any other changes to the race. I think we’ve got the route and the way it’s organised under control. The next step is focusing on the National calendar as a whole."
An optimistic future for the National Road Series
Sunderland’s grand vision is to push to continue improving upon the current National Road Series architecture. Even small steps he argues could build upon what is becoming a better and better series year-on-year.
"Cycling Australia has done a great job so far in getting the ball rolling," said Sunderland. "In the future I think as a race organizer I’d like to see all NRS teams participating at every race to guarantee all events have a minimum size field.
"Having even four rider minimum per team, with every team represented makes it a lot easier for races to approach sponsors with a substantial product. Things like that will only help to further build on the professionalism of the racing here [at Grafton], and across Australia.
"I think if we work hard we can make this series and races like this a real springboard for riders to make it to the next level in the sport."