Preview: Men’s NRS Grafton To Inverell Cycle Classic

  • By: AusCycling
  • May 5, 2022
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The men’s National Road Series (NRS) continues this Saturday with the last one-day race of the season, and it’s a big one: the CWP Renewables Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic.

Who will go the distance and etch their name on the Jack Griffin Memorial Shield?

Men's NRS peloton in the neutral section of Grafton to Inverell
Photo: Veloshotz

The Route

In spring, the northern NSW town of Grafton turns purple with Insta-worthy jacaranda trees, but in autumn, it’s best known for hosting the start of the Grafton to Inverell, now in its 61st edition.

Billed by organisers as “Australia’s toughest one-day classic”, the 228-kilometre behemoth includes the climb of Gibraltar Range, a 40-minute ascent through World Heritage-listed rainforest.

The men’s NRS peloton will arrive there after starting from the banks of the Clarence River and navigating a neutral section to the outskirts of town.

Often, the fight for the early breakaway doesn’t settle until well after the first categorised climb of Cattle Creek at 25km.

The day’s main obstacle, the fearsome Gibraltar Range (16.3km, 5.7%), tops out with 141km remaining. Its early placement serves to ramp up fatigue levels rather than provide a decisive attacking opportunity. Having said that, successful breakaways have formed over the summit no less recently than last year, when five riders jumped clear after the KOM.

A long highway section across the Northern Tablelands, including the feed zone at Glen Innes, precedes the Wire Gully climb at 21km remaining – a key launchpad for race-winning moves.

Riders turn off the main highway towards the new flat section on Elsmore Road before the downhill run to finish on a long, wide boulevard in Inverell.

It’s a big day of six to seven hours in the saddle, with the winner expected at around 1:15pm local time.

Key Riders

Despite many NRS riders heading overseas at the reopening of international borders, 104 competitors will take on the 2022 NRS Men’s Grafton to Inverell.

Without defending champion Rudy Porter, InForm TMX Make will likely look to Brenton Jones for leadership. The former criterium national champion and newly appointed AusCycling development coach packs a sprint that beats most in the NRS. The distance won’t be the question (he came second in the Melbourne to Warrnambool); rather, can he stay in touch over the climbs? His team has strongman Mark O’Brien to help control breakaways and versatile riders like Elliot Schultz to mark attacks.

Brenton Jones and Myles Stewart at Melbourne to Warrnambool 2022
Brenton Jones and Myles Stewart finished on the podium behind Cameron Scott at the Warrny. Can they take the top step in Inverell? (Photo: Con Chronis)

Team Bridgelane bring a powerful all-round squad, but it’s not clear who they’ll back as their protected rider. Dylan George is their fastest finisher, but the youngster is untested over this sort of distance. They have multiple options in Ben Metcalfe and Rhys Robotham for the breakaway, while Drew Morey and Rylee Field have the strength to go deep into the race.

Nero Continental return with last year’s runner-up Sam Hill but the Zwift Academy finalist hasn’t quite hit his 2021 levels this season. Young Wagga sprinter Myles Stewart has been improving from race to race and will be a genuine podium threat in a bunch kick. Like Team Bridgelane, Nero Continental brings a solid squad with Ben Carman showing good legs at the Oceania Championships and Aidan Buttigieg riding the breakaway at the Warrny.

Sam Hill takes second at 2021 Grafton to Inverell
Sam Hill (left) survived from the winning breakaway to take 2nd place last year. (Photo: Ryan Miu)

One shouldn’t underestimate Oliver’s Racing, even without their punchy finisher Liam White, who’s currently in the USA. Kurt Eather fills that hole, packing a handy sprint if he can survive the climbs, but Jordan Schmidt is the green machine’s in-form rider. You can always count on Brandon Davids going on the attack at some point.

Ben Hill is never far from an NRS podium, particularly in the longer and harder races. He headlines Team CCS Canberra with a strong chance of a result, returning to the familiarity of road racing after dabbling in triathlon last weekend.

ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast have a depleted roster, with key team members away in Europe. With just four riders against their seven-strong rivals, they won’t be able to control this race as they’ve done this season. Carter Bettles is their best candidate for pulling off an unlikely result.

Also look to mountain-bike crossover rider Tasman Nankervis (St George Continental), mountain man Lachlan Harrigan (Onyva Racing), the indefatigable Peter Milostic (Penrith Cycling Club) and superbike racer Troy Herfoss to be in the mix.

Grafton to Inverell Men's NRS race 2021 - Ben Hill sprinting to 5th place
Ben Hill (riding for Team Bridgelane) sprinted to 5th place last year, with Troy Herfoss (in black) in 7th. (Photo: Ryan Miu)

How To Follow

For race updates, follow the Grafton to Inverell on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

There’s no live stream, but SBS Sport will host a live highlights show on Facebook at 7:00pm AEST on Saturday night.

For National Road Series news and content, follow AusCycling’s dedicated on Road & Esports Facebook page, and our main Twitter and Instagram accounts using the hashtag #NRS22.

Results will be available at the event website, including results from the Women’s NRS Gibraltar to Inverell des Femmes, the Division 2 and 3 races, and the Challenge category.

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