Tamworth’s Mark Jeffrey defied years out of the saddle to pedal his way onto the Grafton to Inverell podium for the first time on Saturday.
In a remarkable effort that earned him the Ian “Bluey” Manton Challenge Trophy, the 53-year old finished third in Division 3.
The remarkable part wasn’t that he finished third, but that it was 28 years since he last competed in the gruelling 228km event, which is regarded as the toughest one-day cycling race in the country.
“I last did it in 1989,” Jeffrey said.
Back then he was one of Tamworth’s premier cyclists, and among his accomplishments won the Muswellbrook to Tamworth. He also had a stint riding with an amateur team in Europe.
“It’s (cycling) always been in my blood,” he said, citing a desire for a healthier life as what enticed him to take the sport up again.
Familiar with the challenge ahead of him, with Saturday Jeffrey’s 10th Grafton to Inverell, he attributed his podium success to “just determination”.
Twice he was dropped from the peloton, but he fought his way back to win the sprint finish for third.
He was first dropped at Wire Gully, but after chasing for two or three km got back on.
“I caught up to the bunch at the wrong time - at the base of another climb - and got dropped on the next hill,” he said.
He caught up to them again just after the Elsmore turn-off. The first two riders had already broken away by then but the race was still on for third.
Jeffrey paid credit to his “handlers” wife Jill and daughter Olivia, who kept him fuelled for the ride, and was thrilled to win the Ian Manton award.
Named in honour of the Inverell cycling stalwart, it is presented to the rider who best epitomises the qualities displayed by “Bluey” in his 24 Grafton to Inverell’s.
“I knew Bluey for many years,” Jeffrey said.
“I cherish the award.”
He said every Grafton to Inverell is different.
“It’s an endurance race and it’s on the day,” he said, indicating that he plans to compete again next year.
“I always said to myself if I finish in the top 10 I will ride it again next year.”
Jeffrey was one of six Tamworth Cycle Club riders to participate in the event.
Riding in Division 2 and in great form after his recent win in the 12 hours in the Piney mountain bike race, Mick Sherwood was unfortunately forced to pull out after reaching the top of the range.
Darren Traill meanwhile finished 31st in Division 3. Not far behind were Joe Kelly (35th) and Robert Wright (47th), who suffered a puncture with 10km to go. Both were making their debuts.
As was club president Min McDonald, who was 12th overall in the women’s race.
The Grafton to Inverell meant numbers were slightly down for Sunday’s club racing out at Loomberah.
Nick Reid on his new wheels managed a win a tough race, with first timer Mia Cottrell-Dormer finishing second. Keeping it in the family Mick Cottrell-Dormer was third.