Reardon to lead strong contingent of Grafton riders up range
GRAFTON TO INVERELL: Most Saturday mornings Grafton Cycle Club riders belt out a couple of laps around the local Trenayr circuit before settling down for a chin-wag over a coffee at Toast Espresso.
But tomorrow morning will be no ordinary Saturday for no less than 13 local riders, whose thoughts will turn to a mixture of determination and fear as they assemble in the same vicinity of Prince St for he 56th annual 228km Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic.
Peter Hughes won the club's weekly handicap event last Saturday. But he had no thoughts of victory as he looked toward his first attempt at Australia's toughest single day road race.
"I'm not in it to win it," Hughes said. "It's going to be an epic day, getting up the range and nine hours in the saddle.
"Dad passed away 20 years ago this year. He would've been 87 last week. He was sports mad, so I'm having a crack at the big one and dedicating it to him."
In February 2015 the local policeman participated in the Grafton to Inverell Cyclo Sportif - a non-competitive ride along the same course, and earlier this year bravely rode the 160km to Glen Innes just a week after he was knocked off his bike by a truck on the Pacific Highway.
"We did a training ride in March. I didn't make it all the way. That was only about a week after my incident with a truck, so I still had a few injuries from that.
"It was one of those freak things. It's not going to get me off the bike. I love riding and it's my passion.
"I've been putting in some big 'k's of late and we'll just see how it goes."
Hughes jokingly claimed if all else failed he could always swap his helmet for the police cap.
"My goal is just to stay in front of the sag wagon, which is basically the end car. If they get a bit too close to me I might have to bring the badge out and say 'Oi, slow up a bit'."
At the other end of the peloton, Hughes tipped teammate Jye Reardon to seriously challenge for the C Grade title.
The 33-year-old has been doing the hard yards, clearly focused on gaining a result in this year's race.
"There hasn't been a week this year that I've done under 400 'k's," Reardon said.
"Everything's going to plan so far and I've just got to wait and see what happens on race day.
"A few of us Grafton boys will hopefully look after each other and then the range is really where the race starts. The plan is to get over the top with the lead bunch.
"The hills just keep coming, so you've got to be patient and hopefully when you get a bit closer to home you've got a bit in the tank and you feed it to them."
This will be Reardon's third Grafton to Inverell. Last time out he rode alongside his father, Grafton fire brigade captain Garry Reardon, who will contest the race for the 24th time.
Another clocking up a decent tally is Dion Wilkes. He is a previous winner in B Grade, but his training regime has not been optimised towards repeating that feat. Wilkes has instead concentrated on short course and criterium events of late, including winning the A Grade Jacaranda Criterium last year.
"This will be number 11 or 12, I can't remember," Wilkes said. "But I have no expectations. I've been doing a lot of crit racing and short, fast racing.
"But you've just got to do it and see how it pans out; all the dice can roll your way sometimes."
Wilkes is the only local rider in B Grade and has joined Queensland team Crazy Lemon Tenelli Racing for the event. But with Grafton topping double figures in C Grade, the Grafton Cycle Club captain said the number of local entries this year was most pleasing.
"It's a good number from a local club," Wilkes said.
"Everyone's done their own training and made their own decision to nominate and the number who did is probably a bit of a suprise.
"A few guys have done the work and are hoping to do very well."
Bryan Crispin lives at the foot of the Gibraltar Range at Hanging Rock. He failed to finish in his first attempt last year but has decided to give it another crack. He will ride in C Grade for QSM, alongside ex-Grafton boy Andrew Forrest, who now lives in Brisbane.
"Last year I got cramps and clocked off at Glen Innes," Crispin said.
"I've actually done less preparation this time. But I'm just going to give it another go and see how it goes."
Nicholas Stevens, Colton Tooth, Greg Allen, Bradley Cooper, Benjamin Smith, Steven Wiblen and Rick Winters will also line up in C Grade while Laurelea Moss is one of 10 women registered in this year's race.
Meanwhile Yamba's Aaron Watts will contest A-Grade, which doubles as round one of the 2016 National Road Series, with his professional team AMR Renault.
"Aaron has done bucketloads of work and is in really strong form," Wilkes said.
The NRS riders will launch at 7.30am, followed by B Grade at 7.45am and the Grafton heavy C Grade at 8am.