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Neil Van Der Ploeg has won the 2017 Grafton to Inverell in record time.
Van Der Ploeg crossed the finish line in just five hours, 46 minutes, 26 seconds in one of the race’s closest finishes, a full 12 minutes faster than 2016.
Inverell’s Peter Sunderland called the race from Grafton and said the Victorian racer came home in great style.
“The race record has been eclipsed four times in the last seven years. So, it is just getting faster and faster,” he said.
Van Der Ploeg, from Albury-Wodonga, won the race for the Isowhey Sports Wellness team, which registered seven riders.
“There is a bit of a mixture if feelings,” Van der Ploeg said after the race.
“My legs were absolutely fading like they were really fading. Really sore. I was starting to cramp. But just a bit of elation and relief.
“I have come really close before, and on that very sprint finish and absolutely made a mess of it and ended up rolling fourth. Iy’s really frustrating when yo have got such a long race, but then in t he final few kilometres, you make a few little strategic errors and just lose it.
“I have lost it a couple of times, and today it just went in my favour. It’s just awesome.”
The Victorian racer admitted a tactical error in the final sprint home, which almost cost him the race, but said last year’s winner Patrick Lane, set him up to claim the win.
“Pat Lane was sensational and he sort of set me up for it,” he said.
“He was having a few issues with his bike. So, he couldn’t go in for it himself. He sorted laid it on the line for me.
“It’s so strategic out there, and when you have a small group at the end of the Grafton, it is just great racing. I just love it. You just do not know what’s going to happen.”
Meanwhile, local riders Ryan Thomas and Dylan Sunderland came home in the main peloton, only seconds behind Van der Ploeg.
After the race, Peter Sunderland said it was one of the closest Classics.
“You will generally get a breakaway,” he said.
“Like, last year the breakaway got out to 12 minutes over the peloton, and they sort of got them back to within four or five minutes.”
This year, 11 riders were battling it out for the lead coming out of Glen Innes, whittled to nine at Elsmore station, before a four-way duel for the lead in the final sprint.
“The peloton kept chasing, and they were within striking distance of them at the finish, but just ran out of time,” he said.
At the finish line, Ryan Thomas who finished 13th for Oliver’s Real Food Racing, said he left it all on the road.
“Fatigue is starting to set in a bit, so I’m a bit tired and weary now,” he said.
“It was a very hard race, very fast.
“I think we did the best we could in that situation,”
Meanwhile, Dylan Sunderland said he was somewhat disappointed having not claimed the victory, but walked away from the race happy.
“You have to walk away happy from the race having teammates Ayden Toovey and Josh Taylor in fourth and fifth,” he said.
“(It was) an outstanding race from them.”
Dylan is bound for the US in three weeks for another racing engagement.
“And then he is off to Europe,” Peter Sunderland said.
“And there are a few exciting things planned for him and his team with a training camp with a professional outfit over there.
“All these young kids, Ryan and Dylan and Matt Ross, their aim is to be professionals and race in Europe
“And all these are set up to nurture that. To get the experience like this today, and hopefully, they can do it for a living if they are lucky enough.”