The women’s race at the Grafton to Inverell is about to receive a major shake-up.
The Squadron Energy Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic, as the event will be known this year, has often been billed as Australia’s toughest one-day classic.
This year, its reputation will be bolstered by the inclusion of the Gibraltar Range climb into the women’s race, which is part of the AusCycling National Road Series (NRS).
Launched in 2021, the standalone women’s race had previously been called the ‘Gibraltar to Inverell’ when it used the last 136km of the men’s route, starting after the top of Gibraltar Range and thus excluding the iconic climb.
This year, the Women’s NRS Grafton to Mt Mitchell will be a 119km race that features the 16km ascent (at 6% average gradient) and nearly 2,500m of total elevation gain.
“The introduction of a new course for the women’s NRS will see a different dynamic of racing from previous editions,” said event director Chris Thompson. “The climb of the Gibraltar Range will play a key role in deciding the outcome of the race as the summit is only 32km from the finish.
“That fits within the brand of the event. For us, the Grafton to Inverell has historically been the toughest one-day event in the country, and we’d like to keep that theme for men and women.”
Whereas the first two editions of the women’s race have been won by sprinters – Ruby Roseman-Gannon and Alexandra Martin-Wallace – the new parcours will swing the pendulum in favour of climbers.
“It will suit a different type of rider; you’ll need to be able to climb,” Thompson said. “We don’t expect to see a large group of riders sprinting for the finish as it will be more of a race of attrition.”
The introduction of the new women’s route coincides with broader changes to the event, which runs on April 29 and 30, now in its 62nd edition.
Saturday will feature the women’s race alongside the Men’s NRS Grafton to Inverell, whose 228km course is unchanged; and a single non-NRS Grafton to Inverell race that will include age category and team prizes for men and women.
Previous editions split these support events into Division 2, 3, and ‘Challenge’ categories. The event organiser cited “resourcing and financial challenges” for merging them together.
“The historical format of graded options with separate convoys for riders has become increasingly difficult to sustain due to the resourcing and financial challenges required to stage a major cycling event on our country’s public roads,” reads an article on the event website.
Thompson said, “We believe the new format is more sustainable for the future and offers new incentives for riders. It provides a clear indication of eligibility for riders and hopes to capitalise on the increasing popularity of team-based events.”
On Sunday, criteriums will be contested by NRS riders at the Lake Inverell purpose-built circuit. There are also social rides planned for Friday in Grafton and Sunday in Inverell.
Entries for the Squadron Energy Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic are now open through the event website, with early bird pricing available until March 12.
Squadron Energy acquired the previous naming partner, CWP Renewables, which continues its association with the event under its new brand.
Photos: Bear Liang