G2I: 228km cycle race comes down to a millimetre
CYCLING: After 228km of punishing climbing across the Gibraltar Range, it was left to a millimetre decision to split frontrunners Nathan Elliott and Raphael Freienstein.
It was a fitting finish to the 58th annual Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic, after the pair had kept themselves in the breakaway group from the very start of the climb.
It was Bennelong SwissWellness rider Elliott who got the nod in the photo finish at Inverell, a hard-earned victory after finishing on the Classic podium twice since 2013.
Both riders had nothing left in the tank after a gruelling climb, which included strong headwinds at the top of the range, but were forced to really work for the result as the lead chasers began to mow them down in the final stretch through Inverell.
Elliott finished the race in 6 hours 44.16 minutes - almost an hour beyond the race record set last year by Neil van de Ploeg - with Freienstein milliseconds behind and Australian Cycling Academy's Cameron Scott four seconds behind him in third place.
"It was bloody tough, I was off the front pretty much all day and there was a block headwind for the whole way, so it made it pretty hard," Elliott told Racing Australia.
The riders faced headwinds of up to 45kmh on the Range, and temperatures as low as 1.1 degrees.
Elliott, who finished second to former teammate Pat Lane in 2016, made the initial breakway at Cattle Creek Station with 20 other riders, and that pack was soon thinned to four as the conditions took a toll.
"We got caught again by about 20 guys, but I managed to get away with a few others just before the main feed zone (at Glen Innes) and Raph and I basically chopped off until about 30 kilometres to go.
"When we looked back down the hill (at Wire Gully), I thought we had it in the bag easy. Then next minute Raph looked over his shoulder and the bunch was right on top of us. It was a bit of panic stations at the end there, but we managed to just stay away."
Elliott let his opponent dictate the final stages, sitting just behind him on the fence as the pair approached the Vivien St finish line, before making a final desperation move with metres to go to the line.
"This is definitely one of my favourite races, and every year I train hard to win this event, so it is very nice to finally crack it."
Former Yamba cyclist Aaron Watts, racing for new team GPM Stultz, finished 10 minutes off the leaders in 34th.
Grafton Cycle Club's best finisher was Brad Cooper, who finished the trek in 9:10.48.