Copyright The Northern Daily Leader

The 2017 Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic will be the opening event of the men’s Subaru National Road Series (NRS) and is expected to attract a highly competitive field. There hasn’t been a local winner of the race since it transitioned from a handicap event to an ‘open’ event in 1979.

Inverell rider, Dylan Sunderland, has been enjoying great recent form and is hoping that his familiarity with local roads will be an advantage in the battle for the overall title. Sunderland won the 110km Blayney to Bathurst earlier this month and claimed a resounding win the QLD State Criterium Championship last weekend. He recognizes that the Grafton to Inverell will be a step up in distance, difficulty and level of competition; however, after finishing in the top ten as a 19 year old in 2015, he is more than ready for the challenge.

“The Grafton to Inverell is the toughest one day cycling event in the country and suits my characteristics as a rider. You need to be able to climb well and also have the strength to handle the distance” says Dylan.

Although the formidable 17km climb up the Gibraltar Range often decides who is in contention for the race win, the series of small climbs between Glen Innes and Inverell are usually crucial in deciding the final winner.

“I have spent many hours training over these climbs so I know what to expect. The aim is to be still in contention for the win over the last 40km into Inverell” says Dylan.

As the first round of the Subaru National Road Series, a lot of teams and riders will be looking to assert their early authority on the series. Sunderland’s biggest obstacle could be the strength of his NSW Institute of Sport team. The IsoWhey Sports Swiss Wellness team dominated the race last year placing six riders in the top 10. No other team can match their depth and they are expected to bring a strong contingent to the race again this year.

“IsoWhey Sports Swiss Wellness has a number of potential winners in their team that provide multiple tactical options, making them extremely difficult to beat. It is up to the other teams to try and take the race up to them. Not let them dictate proceedings,” said Dylan.

The race is often a good indicator of the future champions of the sport. If Sunderland is successful he will join a host of past winners and placegetters who have gone on to achieve international success in the sport. These include his uncle Scott Sunderland, who finished third in 1986 prior to commencing a successful European- based career including participation in the Tour de France.

Dylan says ‘This race will always have special meaning for me. My family have a long involvement as riders and organisers and it would be great to bring this prestigious title to Inverell.”

Sunderland will be joined in the NRS race by fellow Inverell Cycle Club rider, Ryan Thomas, who will be riding for Olivers Real Food Racing. Thomas, now based in Brisbane, is also a legitimate chance to bring home success for Inverell.

The 57th Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic will be conducted on Saturday 13 May. The race will be broadcast live on radio Sta FM 91.9 which is also streamed live on their website.