NICK North’s debut at Grafton to Inverell was one to remember on Saturday when he finished just outside the top 10 in his division during the classic Australian cycling event.
North has vowed he’ll be back for another crack at the 228-kilometre race after coming home 11th in the division two event with the D2F Bathurst team.
The Bathurst rider was part of a chase group that formed during the brutal Gibraltar Range climb, which starts around 70km into the race.
The chase group couldn’t catch the race’s initial breakaway bunch but North showed throughout the day he was one of the riders to watch in his pack.
In a sprint finish North was pipped for 10th place by Tamworth’s Fraser Ashford.
Even from the early stages of the race North was keen to make his presence felt at the front of the field, echoing his approach to the recent Blayney to Bathurst.
“When we were discussing tactics we knew, because of the tough conditions, it was going to be hard to have any plan going into the race. It was just about going in there and seeing what would happen,” North said.
“Being a triathlete I’ve got no cycling smarts … or concern about protecting myself. From the 5km mark I was up at the front and sitting about fourth wheel trying to go with anything that went.
“Unfortunately at the 20km mark the top four got away, and in those conditions no-one thought that break would stay clear.
“The race exploded on the climb. People were going off the front while others were going backwards. I just wanted to be conservative and make it to the top of the hill, because the race really starts there.”
North made it to the top of the 17-kilometre climb and soon joined up with D2F teammate Steve Dunstall.
The pair worked together to catch up to the main chase group that had formed during the ascent.
Even after his workload through the race North was able to be the second person across the finish line from his nine-rider chase group.
North said his confidence wasn’t 100 per cent going into the one day classic, which makes his result all the more special.
“I definitely wanted to tick this race off the bucket list. I had a solid 10 weeks of training but even the day before the race I said to my coach Richard Hobson that I felt unsure about the distance and how brutally hard it would be,” he said.
“I just went with it and that attitude kind of helped. In a sick way, I loved it. It was some of the hardest conditions that I’ve ever raced in. To finish just outside the top 10 in that kind of race I was blown away.
The original four-man breakway showed great cooperation through the race to stay clear of their rivals.
Gold Coast Cycling Club’s Dane Murray would go on to win the final sprint at Inverell.
Hobson (36th) and Ryan O’Donnell (37th) were the other D2F Bathurst finishers.
“Nick was the strongest person in his bunch. At the second feed station he grabbed his bag and said ‘Cheers mate’ while everyone else quiet. He was so fresh,” team manager Mark Simons said.
“It was unfortunate that the guy who pipped him at the line hadn’t done much over the final 50 kilometres.”