By Paul Verkuylen
Saturday saw the 47th running of the Grafton to Inverell classic, one of Australia's oldest and most gruelling events on the calendar. As is always expected the event drew a quality field with teams from all over Australia, vying to make one of their riders the 2007 champion. The FRF-NSWIS squad is by far the strongest on paper. The team captain, Peter McDonald, was lining up hoping to become only the second rider since Jamie Drew to win the classic twice.
An attack by McDonald on the 17-kilometre climb over the Gibraltar range decimated the field, but with 140 kilometres remaining it was still anyone's race as the heat and wind would take their toll on the riders out front. With only 20 kilometres until the sprint through the town of Glen Innes, two riders, Cameron Hughes and Patrick Shaw, attacked from a chase group of 12, and quickly bridged the gap to the three leaders. From the moment the two riders joined the leaders, McDonald looked to be struggling and it didn't take long for the 35 year-old personal trainer, Hughes, to launch his race winning attack with some 70 kilometres remaining to win by a convincing 3'48" from McDonalds FRF-NSWIS team-mate Robert Cater and VIS recruit Patrick Shaw.
Hughes was exhausted after the event but was beaming, "I have always wanted to win this event. I won in 1996 in B grade, and since then have ridden the event only sporadically; I'm stoked, this is a great win," he told Cyclingnews after the finish.
It was his biggest win, and also marks an important victory for his newly formed Ord Minnett team. "The team was created to help the younger riders gain experience and learn in a productive environment," Hughes remarked. The team has been steadily improving over the past few months, and after Hughes finished fifth overall in the Tour of the Murray river a few weeks ago. The team was looking to take the results to the next level, and win a national series event.
Favourite today McDonald was visibly disappointed, "I blew pretty early actually, I couldn't get any water, as they didn't have a neutral for it, so I ran out pretty early and had to wait 20 kilometres till the next feed," he explained, the hot conditions obviously taking their toll.
"My attacks were to help Robbie. He was going well today, so I just did what ever I could to help him out," was how McDonald explained his attacks, when asked why he tried so many times after he had said he had had it.
Brian Fuller (Murwillumbah) was the top-ranked B Grade rider in the escape, and took the classification's win. He was happy with his ride today, even though he hoped he would be allowed to ride A grade. "I felt pretty good and strong. I am a triathlete and am training for that, but I really enjoy the road and want to do more of it," he noted.
When asked what the future would hold, he replied, "Well, I want to race more on the road; maybe someone might offer me something for next season now."