The toughest one day road race on the Aussie Calendar is the Grafton to Inverell, covering 228km with 3,383 metres of climbing including the epic 17km climb of the Gibraltar Range. This is the first race in the 2017 NRS calendar and our Mobius Future Racing Riders were looking for a strong start to the season. Scott Bradburn from the team has provided an insight into their race.
The night before the Grafton, Mobius Future Racing sat down to discuss our objectives and plans for the race, it was decided not to second guess the likely race scenario. Grafton is a very unpredictable race and once again, it proved to be so. There was no early break, the racing was fast from the gun and it didn’t really relent at any time.
What we did decide, was to cover only dangerous moves until the climb and focus on getting as many guys as possible over the climb so that we could race with a numbers advantage over some of the other strong teams when the real race started. With the team we had, we thought it possible to have five or six up there if the field was whittled down to 30 or so. They say disappointment is an outcome of reality not meeting expectations. After the climb we were disappointed.
The speed of the climb was reasonably quick but in a very ‘surgy’ way. We had Ethan Berends go with the early move up the climb which allowed the rest of us to sit in while St. George Continental Cycling Team reeled it back. This led to the inevitable counters and after 5km of fairly easy climbing it was on. Isowhey and St George were very active while ourselves and NSWIS NSWIS were covering. We weren’t keen to up the pace ourselves as we didn’t have as many guys up front as we’d planned. At the halfway mark I heard an Isowhey rider behind say quietly to Sean Lake “they look tired, have a go”. I won’t quote my inner thoughts as I realised what was about to ensue. Sure enough, five seconds later Sean is gone and I’m in a position to follow so off I go too.
It’s funny how long it can take to close down 20m. I think it took me about two minutes. It had splintered behind and selections were being made. Some counters kept the speed high for the next 5km and I was very thankful to have Aden Reynolds and Jesse Coyle there going with moves while I recovered from getting ‘Sean Laked’. Towards the top Sam Crome (Isowhey) and Sean Trainor (AMR) rolled off the front as everyone rested for a moment and assessed the damage. About 25 guys were left over the top, and we had three. Not perfect but OK. NSWIS also had three, St George had two, but Isowhey had four and a guy up the road.
Between the top and the feed the pace came off as not enough teams could get coordinated to begin a chase of the front two and to consolidate the gap to the rest of the pelo. This was a little frustrating but with so many teams with so few, to sacrifice a couple of riders at that point was a difficult call to make. The result was that the front guys (now three after a solo bridge by Peter Milostic) built a lead of 3:30 and a large group of about 30 riders made contact from behind us to create a peloton of about 50 or so. I rolled back to see how we were looking and was disappointed to see that our numbers had gone from three in 25 to three in about 55. There is no sugar coating this outcome for us, it was bad and we were not in good shape.
Shortly after the feed, NSWIS, St George and ourselves began to coordinate the chase. Despite several other teams having similar or more numbers than us it was a little disappointing not to get more help but we were there to try to win and you don’t do that by watching a bike race unfold in front of you all day. We helped begin the chase but didn’t have the resources to pull as much as we’d have liked. Dan Bonello from St George was a powerhouse over the next hour and put it on the line for his St George team. NSWIS took the brunt of the responsibility though and were successful in bringing the gap down, and ultimately the break back, just outside Glenn Innes with 70km to go. With Isowhey, quite rightly, getting a free ride everyone knew what to expect and it was delivered.
The Isowhey team began pinging riders up the road and the next hour was incredibly difficult. Jesse and Aden were huge during this period as the three of us took turns going with the moves or closing down those we’d missed. During this period it was again Isowhey, St George and NSWIS that were the most positive with Pat’s Veg aligned riders also in everything and riding in a well coordinated way for a team of individuals (bizarre technicality).
With 40km to go the elastic broke and five riders managed to form a gap and what looked to be a race winning move. Last year’s winner, Pat Lane, was there as well as Brodie Talbot (St George), Ayden Toovey (NSWIS), Matt Ross (Pat’s Veg) and myself. We pulled out a lead of over a minute, however all was not well! Pat had instruction to sit on so we were down to four turning. It was a curious call from Isowhey but with their strength and numbers behind ‘1 in 5’ must not have been a situation they were happy to settle for. Either that or they were playing the old ‘I can’t work because we are chasing’ card while also playing the ‘we aren’t chasing because we have a guy up the road’ card. I still don’t know which it was actually but good luck to them if they pulled off the double card trick.
Up ahead we could see the gap closing and with 20km left we were joined by about half a dozen riders – Sean Lake and Neil VDP were therefrom Isowhey, Jesse Coyle (Mobius), Josh Taylor (NSWIS), Jordan Davies (St George) and a Pat’s Veg rider (sorry didn’t catch who). Being so close to the finish, there wasn’t much coordination and Brodie launched up the decisive Wire Gully climb. This caused a split and once again there were five in front – oddly enough, the same five as in the original break. Jesse bridged across soon after and for a short time we had the numbers but of course the others weren’t loving that and we weren’t able to maintain the gap so there was a re-gathering of sorts with Jordan, Neil and Josh rejoining to form the final race winning break of nine.
Over the final 10km there was a lot of cat and mouse which put things at risk but the break stayed clear. We were happy to have two in it and not be outnumbered by any other team, however Jesse and I just weren’t good enough to pull off the result the team were chasing.
In the end it was Neil VDP who scored a very popular win in a record time of 5:46:26 taking 12 minutes off the previous record, over Matt Ross and Ayden Toovey. I came home in 7th, with Jesse 9th after pulling some huge turns to keep us clear.
Critically, though the results were solid, we didn’t get the result we are capable of and we weren’t celebrating that night (although we weren’t curled up in the foetal position weeping either). The two main positives to take from the race were the way the guys executed the race plan in the lead in to the climb with Peter Livingstone, Ethan, Aaron Bicknell and Aiden all very active to make sure we were represented in anything dangerous and, secondly, the way that we pulled ourselves into a race winning position in the final hours despite the setback of low numbers. With half the team overseas, we were thankful for Aidan Kampers for filling our guest spot and we look forward to working with him more in the future. Also worth a mention are the efforts of Pete, Aaron and Ethan to back up and race after flying home from the US just a couple of days prior to the race.
Massive thanks to Dave and Maree Carman for filling the DS and Feed roles (with Tom Petty in Tasmania with the juniors) and to Marcus Arnold for his help over the entire weekend.
Finally, on a personal note, the Grafton was my final race for the team so I’d like to thank the team management (Tom!), sponsors and riders for the last three years. I look forward to the reallocation of training and racing hours to other enjoyable things, namely family, camping, getting back on the dirt for some recreational mountain biking and food. Lots of food. I’ll be staying on with Mobius in various capacities, not the least of which is making sure none of our food on tour ever contains onion. Finally, massive thanks to my wife for the support over the last three years (words don’t really cover it) and my coach, and very good friend, Aden Reynolds for teaching an old dog some new tricks since taking over my coaching in October. Aden now has a spot available for anyone wanting to up their game – I can’t recommend him more highly.
For more video highlights check out the Nero Racing Video