Records tumble as Van Der Ploeg blitzes Grafton to Inverell
CYCLING: For the fourth time in seven years, the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic race record has been broken. But it wasn't just broken by 2017 champion Neil Van Der Ploeg, it was obliterated.
The Isowhey Sports Swiss Wellness rider finished the gruelling 228km journey in a record-breaking 5:46.26, stripping a further 12 minutes off the record time set by teammate Patrick Lane last year - who was the first to break the six-hour barrier.
But it was not an easy win by any stretch for the 29-year-old Victorian as a group of five riders sprinted to the finish line at Inverell.
Van Der Ploeg, who is known as the "Van Der Plow" on race circuits, narrowly edged out Carnegie Caulfield rider Matthew Ross by less than half a bike length, with NSWIS team rider Ayden Toovey rounding out the A Grade podium less than a metre behind the winner.
"There is a bit of a mixture of feelings," Van der Ploeg said. "At the end of the Grafton to Inverell, it is just a case of who has some legs left in the final sprint.
"My legs were absolutely fading - like they were really fading. I was starting to cramp. But this is just a bit of elation and relief."
There was no holding back from any of the 133-rider field, with a breakaway group forming as soon as the chief commissaire waved the peloton out of race neutral along the Gwydir Highway.
While that group returned to the peloton at the top of the range, the race exploded into a litany of attacks and counter-attacks as competitors battled for ascendancy.
But at the final climb it was a group of four riders that emerged from a fast-chasing peloton, including reigning champion Lane.
"Up the final climb we had a group of four that sort of emerged over the top and there was some pretty handy riders there," Van Der Ploeg said.
"It was just cat and mouse stuff; it was honestly like a race on the track. The group was coming from behind, people were sprinting, baulking and then sprinting again. I really love that type of racing.
"I have lost the race a few times in that manner, so it was good to get it right for once."
Aaron Watts was the strongest of the two local A Grade competitors finishing the race in 36th position ahead of two-time champion Sean Lake, while a resilient Craig Evers rounded out the field in his return to racing.
Sydney rider Cameron Judson clinched victory in the Fencing North West B Grade while Inverell local Callum Dolby used his vast knowledge of the final climb at Gibsons Hill to shell the competition and cross the solo to clinch the Inverell RSM C Grade crown.
Murwillumbah's Bree Wilson clinched the inaugural Regional Australia Bank De Femme division with a gripping final sprint over Armidale's Holly Harris.