WILL Hodges may not have felt great in the early stages of Saturday's Grafton to Inverell, but when the Bathurst rider reached the finish line it was pure elation.
It was because Hodges was the first man to cross the finish line in what is known as Australia's toughest one-day road race.
Not only did it mark the first National Road Series win of Hodges' career, but he became the first New South Wales rider to take the honours in the Grafton to Inverell since 2004.
He took the win ahead of local hope Dylan Sunderland after the two had broken clear. He covered the 228 kilometre course, which included a brutal 3,382 metres of climbing, in a time of six hours, 27 minutes and 12 seconds.
"It's sort of unbelievable at the moment. It's definitely the biggest and hardest race on the calendar and to win it like that was something I didn't expect at the start of the day and I'm lost for words, it's amazing," Hodges, who rides for Oliver's Real Food Racing, said.
While Hodges has been in good touch this season with a win in the Orica Kermesse and fourth placing in the Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic, he admitted the first half of the race was tough.
He had to battle difficult hill climbs, cross-winds, headwinds, and debris and missed the first breakaway move of the race. That lead group pushed their advantage out over two minutes.
But Hodges settled into his rhythm and with 80km the bunch was back together.
Some 30km later Hodges and seven other riders had pulled off the front of the peloton and at that stage the Bathurst rider was looking strong.
As others dropped back to the peloton, it left Hodges, Sunderland and Marcus Culey with a 30-seconds gap as they hit the 10km to go mark.
Hodges and Sunderland then dropped Culey and it came down to a two-man battle.
It was Hodges who prevailed, becoming the first ever Bathurst club rider to win the Grafton to Inverell since its inception in 1961.
"That first 80-90 kay [was tough] where it's really hilly and attacks are going, everyone is still fresh. So I tried to conserve as much energy up there [as I could], rode up the climb," Hodges said.
"I was not worried, but you're always a bit worried that the front of the race will stay away. But we came back in and in that last 100 kays I started feeling a bit better and managed to have the good result.
"Dylan was on my wheel sort of coming through the corner and obviously he's a smart rider so he wouldn't come round. Then I just led it out, managed to get the kick and the jump and sort of held it off."
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Sunderland paid tribute to 22-year-old Hodges after the race, that pair being joined on the podium by Nicholas White.
"Full congrats to Will, he was just stronger and there was nothing I could do about it," Sunderland said.
While the star of the race Hodges was not the only Bathurst rider to conquer the event on Saturday.
D2f Racing's Jodie Martin placed 10th in the Des Femmes category and was fifth in the queen of the mountain standings. Jeremy Ryan placed 11th in division 2B as he clocked a time of 7:17.35, while Steve Dunstall (7:35.22) and Dennis Martin (8:00.07) finished too.