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Grafton goes big for 50th anniversary

After a tough, hard year of racing Australia’s top domestic cyclists will go head-to-head for one last time this year at Saturday’s Grafton to Inverell Cycling Classic. The 50th edition of this great race promises to be the most exciting yet, with over a dozen riders capable of claiming victory.

The race starts on New South Wales’ north-east coast and travels some 228km inland to the northern tablelands town of Inverell, the hometown of Cervelo TestTeam professional Heinrich Haussler. While Haussler won’t contest the event he is the ambassador for the race which has attracted 536 entries over seven divisions: the largest field in the race’s history.

Malcolm Rudolph returns to Grafton as the defending champion, having beaten 2009 National Road Series winner Will Clarke in a two–man sprint to the line last year. The 21-year-old enjoyed a successful Under 23 Worlds campaign, where he was instrumental in helping Michael Matthews claim the rainbow jersey.

Rudolph will be suiting up for Jayco-Skins, but with the season at its end his teammates are on a break, leaving Rudolph to fight on his own. Rudolph knows the odds are stacked against him becoming the race’s first back-to-back winner, but says he’s up for the challenge.

“I have been training solidly since the Worlds and the motivation has still been there to train, so it hasn’t been too much of a stretch to continue riding and maintain my form,” Rudolph said. “It’s been a goal of mine all year to return to the race and try and win it for the second time so I will be doing my upmost and leaving nothing to chance to try and win again.”

Rudolph named Nathan Earle, Peter Herzig, Brendan Jones, Chris Jongewaard, Ben King, Chris Jory, Thomas Robinson and Steele Von Hoff as his main opponents. The latter is in brilliant form after claiming victory in the Shipwreck Coast Classic last Sunday.

Von Hoff, just 21 years of age, has enjoyed a great debut season on the road, claiming two victories after previously competing as a tri-athlete and mountain biker. “I’m feeling really good after the big weekend,” Von Hoff said. “My legs are still a little tender but I’m feeling strong. I hope to go up the hills well.

“Genesys has a strong team, so hopefully we can work together as we have been doing so well and get someone across the line first,” he added.

Herzig finished second to Von Hoff at last Sunday’s race in Victoria. He will lead the strong Budget Forklifts squad that has won two out of the last three editions of Grafton to Inverell.

Jongewaard will lead the Sydney-based McDonagh Blake-Witness team and has a strong teammate in Scott Cronly-Dillon. Jongewaard, a former Australian mountain bike champion, was runner-up in the classic in 2006 and 2008.

West Australian team Plan B racing will rely on Ben King and Anthony Giacoppo to deliver it victory. Similarly has Chris Jory and Brendan Brooks, who will be lively during the 228km course.

Other riders to watch out for are Sam Rutherford (Team Bike Bug), Sean Evangelista (GE Plumbing/TDU), David Melville and Michael Cupitt (Merida Data #3) and James Hepburn.

The race is also the final event in Cycling Australia’s teams NRS. Genesys Wealth Advisers currently has a 120 point lead over Drapac-Porsche. With Drapac not sending a squad to the race - instead focusing on the Japan cup - the Tasmanian-based Genesys has sealed the competition, with Virgin Blue-RBS Morgans sitting in third, 240 points off the lead.

Virgin Blue won’t be sending a men’s team to the race, leaving Plan B Racing and Budget Forklifts to fight for third place in the competition. They are currently 30 and 35 points respectively behind the Queensland-based team.

Australia’s female cyclists have both their strongest and biggest line up of the year, with 59 entered in the Celtic Country Classic de femme which will depart from Glenn Innes. Some of Australia’s best riders, including Kirsty Broun, Jessie McLean, Jo Hogan and defending champion Lauren Kitchen, will ensure this year’s extended distance over 112km is tough and competitive.

It’s the last instalment of the women’s NRS where Jo Hogan has an unassailable 328 point lead over Zoe Watters.

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