Grafton to Inverell Cycling Classic
The 1961 event attracted unprecedented media coverage through northern NSW. Local radio station 2NZ covered the race live and have continued to broadcast live commentary of every one of the races held. 2NZ's live broadcast of the Grafton to Inverell has, on several occasions, won the radio industry award (RAWARD) for the best coverage of a sporting event in rural areas of Australia. This is the only cycle race in Australia with live radio coverage from start to finish.
The race was held under a handicap system until 1978 when race organisers adopted the European style massed start format for the 1979 event. It was under this format that the race was run as an UCI international event in 1982, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1989. All these races included at least eight international teams from various countries including Italy, USA, New Zealand and Switzerland.
The early years of the race saw the cream of Australian cyclist take on the gruelling 228km race, which includes an 18km climb up the Gibraltar Range. These riders included Mexico Olympians, Don Wilson from Victoria who claimed first and fastest from the scratch mark in 1967 and Tasmanian Kevin Morgan who took line honours in 1968. Morgan won in a record time of 6hr23m21s, this record stood until 1985.
Three times Olympian Remo Sansonetti Vic claimed first and fastest in 1976. Garry Sutton who is regarded as Australia's best ever cyclist took fastest time honours in 1977.
When the race changed to the massed start format in 1979 an influx of international riders made their mark on the race over the next decade. The New Zealand Commonwealth Games team scored an impressive trifecta in the 1982 race, which they used for training for the Brisbane Games.
Englishman Paul Curran scorched the 228km course in 1985 setting a new record time. His time of 6hr00m49s was set on a day that produced a favourable tail wind and has to this day not been threatened. Curran went on to win the Commonwealth Games road race in 1986.
Victorian Jamie Drew is the only rider to win the Grafton to Inverell twice. Drew won the 1997 race and was back in 1999 with Victorian Institute of Sport squad (VIS). VIS manager Dave Sanders regards the Grafton to Inverell as the unofficial Australian championships. Drew and VIS team mate David McKenzie blasted their opponents away on the wire gully climb just 20km from the finish. The wire gully climb has proven to be a crucial part of the race with many winners making their move there. Drew went on to out sprint McKenzie to go into the races history books.
McKenzie was back in 2001 after a successful year in Europe where he won a stage of the Tour of Italy. McKenzie again made a winning move on the wire gully climb but this time no one could deny him victory. He beat home his break companions to take one of his biggest wins for the year.
Plans are under way to have the Grafton to Inverell listed as an UCI category race. Organisers are hopeful this will attract international riders to the race.
Last years (2003) event received record 180 entries. Riders compete in five different categories including A grade, B grade, C grade, Women's and over 45's. A grade will also contest King of the Mountains and Sprint King titles as well. With the changes to the races format and great support from Cycling NSW, organisers are confident of equalling or bettering last years entry numbers.
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