SUPPORT CREW: Three Grafton Cycle Club riders, David Hislop (left), Garry Reardon and Howard Avery sit behind the Inverell RSM Division 3 cyclists after making it through the initial climb of the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic at Cattle Creek Station.
SUPPORT CREW: Three Grafton Cycle Club riders, David Hislop (left), Garry Reardon and Howard Avery sit behind the Inverell RSM Division 3 cyclists after making it through the initial climb of the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic at Cattle Creek Station. Matthew Elkerton

Unsung heroes of the Grafton to Inverell

CYCLING: Two and a half hours after Division 1 winner Nathan Elliott crossed the finish line in the David Reid Homes Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic, the lasting memory of the race was created.

With most of the crowd at the finish line thinning out and the pageantry of the finish of the first event in the National Road Series long forgotten, four Grafton Cycle Club members crossed the finish line together, to a standing ovation.

David Hislop, Howard Avery, Owen Turner and Garry Reardon had been the unsung heroes of the Gibraltar Range. The guardian angels of the Grafton to Inverell.

The four men who rode the gruelling 228km trek in the non-competitive challenge category, had sat at the back of the Division 3 field as pacers, making sure each rider who finished was inside the event's cut-off time.

Despite horrific conditions at the top of the range including 40km headwinds and temperatures as low as 1.1C, the four Grafton warriors made sure they accounted for everyone.

For race director Chris Thompson, watching the group cross the finish line four-abreast ahead of the sag wagon, was a memory that will last a lifetime.

"It was a very good human moment," he said. "What they did, taking the time and effort to provide the support to all those cyclists working hard to get under the time limit, that was fantastic."

It was a special moment for Reardon who brought up his 25th trek up the range, having completed the 228km journey on all but one occasion.

Thompson said the idea for the support crew was the brainchild of Hislop, but the humble club rider refused to take the credit.

"This was something that everyone in the club wanted to be part of, much like the bike bus and the Festival of the Bike," Hislop said.

"We weren't prepared to race the event, but we wanted to complete the journey. Helping make sure the other guys got under the time was just a bonus.

"It is a big challenge riding across the range and nobody wants to pull out. But sometimes you just don't know what can happen in the race, so it is good to help out."

Hislop also heaped the praise on Avery, who climbed the range as the lead rider and bore the brunt of the strong headwinds.

"It wasn't that easy for us sitting behind, because Howard would literally ride into a wall of wind and stop," Hislop said. "We had to be ready on the brakes all the time.

"Truly he did a marvellous job of leading us across the range. Everyone just did a fantastic job, and getting to ride across the line together was the icing on top of it all."

This year was the inaugural running of the non-competitive category in the annual classic, and Hislop said he hoped more would take up the Challenge in future years.

Bradley Cooper was the only competitive Grafton Cycle Club member to finish the classic, in a time of 9:10.48.

Garrett Salter, who has been on an incredible journey since first getting into the saddle 18 months ago, was forced to pull out of the race just after the first feed station at Mt Mitchell.

"The wind and the cold got the better of me. After having cramps non-stop from the hairpin on the range, my legs were toast," Salter said.

"I was pretty shattered to not make it, but was equally happy that that I'd made it as far as I did, all things considered. Not finishing this year just makes me want it more next year."