KNOWING what they face doesn’t make it any easier for Tamworth’s four riders in tomorrow’s 53rd Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic.
Normally finishing the race would be the major aim for Darren Traill, Mick Sherwood, Phil Kelaher and Fraser Ashford.
But this year they believe one of them can win – either B grade for which Ashford, Kelaher and Sherwood are entered, or Traill’s C Grade.
That’s mainly because they have been a part of the new racing team – Team Baiocchi Griffin JT Fossey.
Their two blues livery has become a regular sight at recent races across the region as well as major racing titles such as last weekend’s National Masters in Goulburn where team leader and founder, Ray Griffin, finished with two silver medals.
Griffin won’t be riding tomorrow – instead he’ll be managing the drink and feeding stations for the quartet to ensure they don’t miss out on vital water and food intakes in such a gruelling 228km race.
“It’s vital in a race like this,” Griffin said.
“They must eat and drink if they’re going to finish.”
He’s grown up with the race.
His father, the late Jack Griffin, was one of the founders and rode many before becoming the race promoter and race director.
Early tomorrow morning Ray Griffin will say a few words in his father’s memory before the start of the 53rd race in Memorial Square at Grafton.
Then he’ll wish his Team Baiocchi Griffin JT Fossey teammates a good farewell.
“I think we’ve got enough depth to be a chance in B grade,” Griffin said.
“Trailly’s experienced and should go well in C grade too.”
Griffin believes Ashford “has the best legs” to mount a major assault on the B grade section.
“He’s our best chance I think but there are some seriously good riders in B grade too.
“Steve Fairless is riding B grade too,” he said of a former Australian star, now 50, who conquered Griffin in the Australian Masters criterium in Goulburn last weekend.
Fairless fell on the last lap when Griffin and Fairless had put almost a lap on the field.
However Griffin waited for Fairless to get back aboard, catch him up and then proceed to stage a two-man sprint to the finish.
Fairless was too good but Griffin won the admiration of many who were there for his selfless effort.
Maybe Fairless will reciprocate in some shape on the weekend in a race he has returned to ride in memory of Griffin’s late father.
Ashford, 40, has finished as high as 12th in A Grade.
That was back in 1990.
“This is my fifth or sixth,” Ashford said.
“It’s a bit different having a team behind me this year.
“They are a great bunch of blokes.
“I’ve been training a little bit harder as well too.”
He’s been riding between 500 and 600km the last three weeks – before that, about 400km in his build-up.
Much has been morning rides, getting up at 4.30am and trying to knock off 50 or 60km before going to work as an air- conditioning tradesman.
Kelaher, 35, has been riding since he started as a junior.
He loves being part of the new team.
“It’s great to have three of us in B grade to support each other.
“This is my third Grafton to Inverell.
“I finished ninth in 2001 and then in the bunch in 2002.”
He had “a bit of a sniff” back in 2001 but always remembers “the mountain”.
Climbing that huge 19km incline up the Gibraltar Range is a staggering piece of riding.
“It’s hard,” he said with an impish little grin that belies the hurt he knows is coming his way again.
“It’s a long climb.”
That first huge climb is almost a race in itself.
“That’s the first key,” Kelaher said. “Get up the mountain and then reassess from there.”
They are hoping to climb the mountain in good order, then attack as a group from there.
Traill, 39, rode the Grafton to Inverell for the first time last year.
“I finished down the back in C grade,” he said. “It was a bit tougher than I expected.
“This year I hope to go a lot better. I have been training harder, doing around 400km a week.”
Sherwood is 19. He’s relishing being part of a team to race in big races throughout the state.
He’s hoping to respond to the attacks better this year than last year’s race and hopes his teammates will help him react better.
“All their support has been amazing,” he said.