Preview: Squadron Energy Grafton to Inverell

  • By: AusCycling
  • Apr 27, 2023
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The AusCycling National Road Series (NRS) continues this Saturday with the toughest one-day race on the calendar, the Squadron Energy Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic.

It’ll be a hard day for both the men and women: for the first time, the NRS women’s race will tackle the signature Gibraltar Range climb.

Here’s what to know about the northern New South Wales classic.

The route

At 228 kilometres, the men’s Grafton to Inverell is the second-longest race of the season, but it’s the climbing that really bites: 3,380 vertical metres will test the legs.

The women’s race will tackle the first 119km of the men’s course, with a stinging 2,370m of climbing.

The first third of the course is rolling, with uphill pinches that offer a launchpad for the early breakaway.

The main obstacle of the day is the climb of Gibraltar Range. At 16.3km (5.7% average), it’s a sustained effort that will take over 40 minutes even for the best climbers.

From the summit, there are only 30km to the women’s finish at Mount Mitchell. Don’t be fooled: the climbing isn’t over. A series of hills between the QOM and the finish line will encourage the strongest riders to attack.

The men will continue down the highway along the rolling plateau. In the last 20km, they’ll face the last categorised climb of Wire Gully (1.5km at 3.9%). But with 5km remaining, there’s another pinch (1.5km at 4.3%) before the riders turn back onto the highway and descend into Inverell for the finish on Vivian Street.

The tactics

On such a demanding parcours, the cream always rises to the top in the men’s race.

A decisive split rarely forms on the Gibraltar Range, however. Rather, expect a breakaway to get a headstart before being reeled in on the main climb.

Typically, the counter-attacks will go in the second half of the race, and one of those will be the race-winning move with all the strongest riders. Only the very best will survive to contest a fatigued sprint in Inverell, if there’s a sprint at all.

The past two editions of the women’s race were held on much gentler routes and finished in bunch sprints. This year, that outcome looks extremely unlikely.

Instead, expect the best climbers to whittle down the field on Gibraltar and continue to attack on the short climbs afterwards. With such a selective route, a sprint between any more than a handful of riders would be surprising. This is truly a climber’s race.

The riders

NRS Women

We already know we’ll have a new winning team in this year’s women’s race. ARA Skip Capital won the first two editions but won’t be lining up this weekend with many of their riders overseas.

This makes Team Bridgelane the ones to watch. They’re the new kids on the block, but Bridgelane have hit the ground running in their debut season. After a one-two at the Tour de Brisbane with Haylee Fuller and Gina Ricardo, who’ll return this weekend, they’ll be the team that everyone’s fearing.

The difficulty of this race suits Emily Watts: could the former under-23 national champion grab her first big result of the year? We’ll also be keeping a close eye on young Felicity Wilson-Haffenden: at 17 years old, she’s dominated the junior national road race, national time trial and Oceania time trial this season.

Emily Watts in Grafton to Inverell
Emily Watts in the NRS young riders leader’s jersey last year. (Photo: Bear Liang/Veloshotz)

Perhaps the best sprinter on paper is Lucie Fityus (Cycling Development Foundation), who finished fourth in Brisbane and fifth in Warrnambool this year. If she can survive the climbs, she’ll be tough to beat. Her team also brings junior rider Mackenzie Coupland, who proved at last year’s Spirit of Tasmania Cycle Tour that she can climb with the best elite riders.

Also hunting a top place will be the DRG Knights Liv pairing of Courtney Sherwell and Ella Sibley. Top-10 results at Warrnambool prove they can go the distance.


The motivation will be high for Dylan Sunderland (St George Continental), a local rider from Inverell. In 2019, he was agonisingly beaten to victory in a two-up sprint against Will Hodges (who is himself a late scratching).

Since then, Sunderland has raced two years at WorldTour level. Last month, the 27-year-old scored his first UCI-level win at the Tour of Thailand. Could this be the year he wins his home race? He’ll be supported by Jack Aitken, who was sixth last year.

The big team to watch is, again, Team Bridgelane, who won last year with Drew Morey. Honestly, everyone on their squad is a potential winner, but Rhys Robotham should be their leader, having placed seventh last year and won the Tour of Tasmania since. Otherwise, expect Zac MarriageSam JennerJames Panizza and Matt Greenwood (let’s face it, the whole team) to be at the pointy end.

There’s no former winner on the start list but Sam Hill (Onyva Racing) has made the podium in the last two editions. The Tamworth climber knows what it takes to succeed – could it be the top step this year? His brother Ben Hill (Blackshaw Racing), fifth in 2021, may have branched out into triathlon, but he still has the engine to go the distance.

Sam Hill in the Grafton to Inverell
Sam Hill (front) has been 2nd and 3rd in the last two editions. (Photo: Jason Lindsay/Natural Focus Photography)

South African Brendon Davids (CCACHE x Par Kup) has been riding strongly this season, finishing fourth in Warrnambool. However, the green team might back Marcus Culey, who was in the winning move in 2019.

Other contenders include Brendon Green (Cycling Development Foundation) after his runner-up place in the Warrny, and Max Campbell (Tandem Co Pro Cycling) who was fourth last year. Also, don’t count out the evergreen Peter Milostic: the 48-year-old finished 10th last year.

More information

For race information, visit the Grafton to Inverell Facebook page.

AusCycling will show highlights from the men’s and women’s NRS races on the AusCycling YouTube channel.

SBS will broadcast extended highlights on Sunday, May 7 from 4:00–4:30pm AEST on their main channel.

Feature photo: Bear Liang/Veloshotz

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