• Neil van der Ploeg pips fellow Victorian Mathew Ross by less than a bike length at the 57th Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic (Bruce Wilson/Veloshotz)Source: Bruce Wilson/Veloshotz
Victoria's Neil van der Ploeg (IsowheySports) won the 57th Grafton to Inverell by less than a bike length over Mathew Ross (Carnegie Caulfield CC), with Ayden Toovey (NSWIS) just metres behind in third.
Cycling Central

Cycling Australia
14 May 2017 - 10:16 AM  UPDATED 14 May 2017 - 12:08 PM

The 228 kilometre epic through northern New South Wales ended in a sprint finish of four riders plus a few stragglers. 

"At the end of the Grafton to Inverell, it is just a case of who has some legs in the final sprint," a tired Van der Ploeg said. 

"Full credit to my team, we had such a quality team here. Sean (Lake) has won it twice, Nathan (Elliot) and of course Pat (Lane) won last year.

"We worked really hard in a few moves throughout the day and one paid off towards the end of the race."  

Van der Ploeg pulled clear with a group of around eight riders on the final Grindal-Griffin Hill climb that included team mate Lake, Lane, Ross and Toovey. 

But the race already lay in splinters after leaving Glen Innes for the final 50 kilometres to the finish with a raft of attacks and counter attacks. 

Earlier, Elliot, Leighton Cook (Veris) and Toovey broke away but were reeled back in by the bunch before the top of the punishing Gibraltar range. Sam Crome (IsowheySports) and Sean Trainor (AMR Renault) then attacked and were soon joined by Peter Milostic (Rauland). The trio established a maximum lead of three minutes over the next 30 kilometres but Elliot and locals Dylan Sunderland (NSWIS) and Ryan Thomas (Olivers Real Food) emerged from the feisty main bunch to bridge the gap and form a six-rider lead group. The race then hit Glen Innes and was blown apart. 

Van der Ploeg's finishing time of 5 hours, 46 minutes and 26 seconds destroyed the race record by 12 minutes, the top 46 riders also finishing well within this time.  

The race was also significant for another reason, as it marked Kegan Girdlestone's return to racing 10 months on from a horrible crash that nearly ended his life. 

The 20-year-old finished 55th overall, a remarkably fitting reward for the hard slog of rehabilitation that has characterised his life since he woke up after the crash.  

For full results of the race, click here