The Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic marks the end of the stage racing on the 2011 National Road Series, and fittingly, with its' long history as the premier NSW cycling event, introduces the domestic competition to 'Classics' season.
Along with the Melbourne to Warrnambool and the recent Launceston - New Norfolk, the 'Grafton' is one of only a few opportunities on the domestic calendar for riders to compete over more than 200 kilometres and opens up the racing to the barrodeurs and opportunists that perhaps don't get the chance to distinguish themselves in the criterium heavy stage races that populate July, August and September.
The 2011 Grafton is coming off its' most successful edition, the 50th anniversary race last year, which attracted a bumper field of more than 600 riders. Although this year will not match that number, a healthy 300 plus field from all categories will still be at the race start on October 22 hoping to etch their name in history.
Scott Sunderland's arrival to the race organisation as the new race director has seen a few minor changes to the course, though purists can be re-assured to know that the classic keeps much of its former shape.
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The 17.5 kilometre climb at 5.7 per cent from the start of Camp Creek to Heffron Lookout will provide a break with an excellent chance to form, but with more than 100 kilometres after the summit, it will by no means decide the race.
The undulations continue along the route to Glen Innes, Matheson, Elsmore all the way to the finish in Inverell, with the 231.4 kilometre parcours likely to test the best riders endurance.
A final one kilometre rise just outside Inverell provides one last decisive ramp for racers, before a probable small group makes its' way into the NSW township for the Classic finish.
End of a streak?
Amazingly the Genesys Wealth Advisers squad is yet to lose a single NRS race in 2011. Interestingly, the closest they have come to being toppled have both come in Classics. At the Goulburn to Sydney Cycle Classic, Nathan Haas, edged Drapac rider Adam Phelan by fractions of second in the overall, and in Launceston to New Norfolk, it took a mammoth effort from Steele Von Hoff to get past no less than three other Russian riders at the end of the 208 kilometre race in Tasmania.
The all round brilliance of Haas, and the devestating sprint finish of Von Hoff have given Genesys are comfortable safety net all season. That however may be about to change. The team's two lynchpins, along with stalwart Anthony Giacoppo, won't be in Grafton with all three sitting out the Classic in favour of the 1.HC Japan Cup. With the guts of the team almost completely gone, a weakened 'orange train' may no longer have the bounty of options they have enjoyed in previous races.
Well. Almost. Tour of Toowoomba and Tour of the Murray River winner, Patrick Shaw is certainly no slouch, and Kyle 'Ox' Marwood and Joel Pearson both seem on the brink of some 2011 success. Andrew Christie-Johnson's squad is without its' aces - but the team will still take some beating.
At the top of the list of potential spoilers are BikeBug.com and Jayco - 2XU with both teams featuring season long in the NRS. Chris Jory, Alex Malone, Sam Rutherford and Andrew Crawley provide BikeBug.com with plenty of options, with Crawley coming off a stage win in the Tour of Tasmania and Malone returning from Indonesia where he was part of the winning Plan B team. Jory's return from a stint in Europe has also seen him in impressive form, coming close to winning the Goulburn last month.
Jayco-2XU are bringing new recruit Scott Law (fomerly V Australia) to the team for Grafton, as well as the Australian under 23 road champion Ben Dyball. One big surprise in the team is the inclusion of a certain Matthew Lloyd, with the Giro stage winner continuing his return to racing at Grafton after last week's Sun Tour.
Budget Forklifts are also looking to break their NRS duck after a number of close calls this year, with Luke Davison, Peter Herzig and Michael Cupitt all riding well of late.
Garmin-Chipotle rider Lachlan Morton, who is competing in the Classic unattached, could also spring a surprise after a stellar season riding on the US NRC.
The Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic is on October 22.