In this article I will share with you a break down of the 2021 Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic, Australia’s toughest one day classic bike race. This race breakdown comes directly from an RCA member, Bernie I’Ons, who trained hard for the Grafton to Inverell in 2020, only to be met with disappointment on many occasions. In 2020 the race was postponed and eventually canceled (due to COVID). So this report comes off the back of two solid years training for the event. Meaning, plenty of blood sweat and tears with BIG smiles at the end!
Over to Bernie…
First up, my details: Age 54 / Height 183 cm / Weight 74 KG / FTP 285 / LTHR 146
I love a challenge.
So in February 2020 I decided to give the Grafton to Inverell (G2I) a crack.
The G2I is 228km with over 3000m of climbing including the fabled Gibraltar range climb (18 km at an average of 5.4% climb). It is perhaps Australia’s hardest one day road race. I had never ridden that far let alone raced it.
My average weekly training hours were 6-12h, 50/50 MTB and road. I had very little structure except go hard all the time and no rest days.
I had no clues about training zones, threshold, interval training and so on.
Some mates mentioned the RCA to me, so I signed up immediately and they wrote me a 3 month programme. For the first time in my life I started a structured programme with rest days. I trained hard. Then COVID hit.
May 2020 was postponed to September… I kept training hard.
September was postponed to November…I kept training hard.
November was cancelled. I had a break! Let’s just say I was a little disappointed too.
I restarted the RCA’s G2I programme again in Feb 2021 for the May event. I trained hard….and here’s what happened. Division three, mens.
Leading into the Race
The two weeks leading in I felt generally unwell with a low grade cold and high grade anxiety!
However, I knew I had done the hard work and just needed to rest and sharpen the sword, which I did.
I had completed a really really hard weekend two weeks before G2I where I completed a race replication riding at 30 km/hr for 180 km with a big hill (Macquarie Pass) at 70 km in, which is the same as the G2I. The next day I did a 65 km road race at 40 km/hr. With this done I set my G2I goal at trying to ride the race at 30km/hr, with a time of 7h 45.
In preparation for the event I decided to ‘chunk’ the race into four parts and deal with each section one at a time. This made it feel more manageable and not so darn scary! I also made myself simple goals for each chunk:
Chunk 1 – 0 km to 70 km (Rolling country)
My goal was to stick with the pack no matter what and stay towards the front (and out of trouble).
The data below taken from my Today’s Plan training software shows the ‘stochastic’ (on and off) nature of this first part of the ride. My average heart rate was 127 (Zone 3) with a number of spikes into above threshold/V02, generally for 30 seconds to 5 minutes. The average speed was 33 km/hr. I felt good at the end of this section.
*Note that the green line is my power line and the red line is my heart rate
Chunk 2 – 71km to 120 km (Gibraltar range climb + 30 km rolling country, to the first drink station)
My goal was to start towards the front, hold on for dear life and not follow every crazy attack!
The peloton went into the Gibraltar range climb at a steady threshold pace (for me that’s a power of 285 watts and HR of 145) and there it stayed for the next 45 minutes.
After 5-10 mins into the climb the pack split into pieces with about 30 (including me) up the front. A couple of guys went hard and I decided to let them go and stick with the pack (as I was worried about the distance still left to race).
It was a beautiful, hard and challenging climb. I felt good the whole way and actually enjoyed it. I had trained for exactly this type of climb. I crested with the leading pack and the next 30 km to the feed station were pretty darn easy! I really wanted to lift the pace but it wasn’t happening. The small 2nd peloton caught us just before the feed station at 120km in.
The data below shows this ‘chunk’ was done at threshold and above. My average heart rate was 146 (Zone 4) and average power was 240.
Chunk 3 – 120 to 160 km (Rolling country into Glen Innes)
My goal was to hide, rest, eat and get ready for the inevitable. I ‘braced’ myself, talked to myself a lot about what was going to happen. I got my mantras ready: ‘Legs of Iron’… like ‘getting dropped is NOT an option’ …’You will hold the wheel in front of you no matter what!’ I drank and ate…I chatted with others to take away the time.
The data below shows this was a pretty chilled section of the race with my average heart rate at 123 (Zone 3) and my average power was 148 (mid Zone 2)
Chunk 4 -160 to 228 km (Glen Innes to Inverell)
My goal here was to be towards the front at the various punchy climbs and leave nothing on the table when the pressure went on. And the pace was on!
Notice in the data below the last one hour, particularly where there were some intense VO2 Max efforts. There were some brutal climbs 500 meters to 1.8 km in length…not steep, but the pace was on.
Guys were flooring it and there were a number of really hard moments. My mantras were played repeatedly in my head. At this point one guy got away with about 20 km to go. It turns out he made the perfect move at the perfect time…
I hung on and stayed around the front. I was very happy, but alas I did not complete the finish well. I came into the last 500 meters without a plan and without knowing where the finish line was. The result was, I got boxed in and needed to settle with 17th with a big bunch finish.
Regardless, I was very, very happy with the day. 7hr 16 minutes was my time at an average of 32 km/h. I have never ridden so far and so fast.
This was fantastic.
My Race Summary / Strategy
What went well on the day:
1. I felt great, with confidence knowing that the training had worked well. The key components I think were:
a. The relentless low cadence strength work early on (tough)
b. Long rides once a week 5-6 hours
c. 4 or so club races (40-60km) in the last few months, always done with fatigued legs after a long ride in the morning or the day before. These really hurt!
d. Rollers sessions, 20 minutes 3-4 times a week, working on efficiency
e. Threshold and VO2 training in the last ‘block’
f. Mental toughness: i.e. chunking the race, bracing myself for certain sections, mantra’s and focusing on the wheels ahead
a. I used SIS drinks and bars. I aimed at 60-90 g /hr> the first three hours all my nutrition was from drinking
b. I ate every 40 minutes or so
c. In the last 2 hours I had something every twenty minutes (gels)
d. I drank 6 L (there is an agreed wee stop at the bottom of Gibraltar
e. My diet leading up was nothing fancy. Healthy with regular red wine :)
a. Nothing too fancy. Mechanical group-set, Enve 3/4 carbon clinchers etc…IT all worked well.
b. Selle SMP saddle was brilliant
c. Regular MAAP knicks, shoes, helmet. I’m not a weight weeney!
4. Support Crew:
a. My kids handed me bottles at the two feeding stations. I had the bars and gels attached to the bottles with rubber bands. That worked well
b. We had a lot of fun doing this event together
What I would do differently?
a. Not much, it was all pretty darn good
b. Perhaps I will do a little more V02 work, and just maybe I could have gone with the guy who broke away towards the end. But, talk is cheap and its easier said than done!
Bernie with his support crew aka his son! Memorable experiences.