Aussie Focus

Porter wins Grafton to Inverell solo in maiden NRS triumph

Rudy Porter (Inform TMX MAKE) jumped clear in the final 10 kilometres of the 60th edition of the Grafton to Inverell, holding off his former breakaway companions Sam Hill (NERO Continental) and Ryan Cavanagh (St George Continental) to win one of the classics of Australian racing.

Rudy Porter, Inform TMX MAKE, Grafton to Inverell

Rudy Porter of Inform TMX MAKE wins the 2021 Grafton to Inverell. Source: Ryan Miu/Cycling NSW

The 20-year-old has been building a name for himself in recent years, but this was his first big win, one that he got to enjoy as he won with daylight behind him, 25 seconds clear of the chasing duo, with the peloton led home fast by Ryan Schilt (CycleHouse) 40 seconds behind the lone winner. Porter became the youngest winner of the Grafton to Inverell since Lee Godfrey in 2002.

"It was insane, amazing," said Porter. "My first NRS win, to take out the hardest one-day race in Australia with so many great winners from the past... unbelievable. Just soaking it in. I've put in a lot of work for this race. I had a great nationals with the team and to finally get my own win was just great."

Porter found himself clear of the peloton having just crested the top of the Gibraltar Range and with still 120 kilometres to the finish in Victoria Park, Inverell. Despite the 17-kilometre climb just being summited there was still hard terrain to cover, with the infamously dead roads and steep hills of the back half of the Grafton to Inverell always a tough set of obstacles. 

"Michael Vink (St George) and one ARA guy set the tempo on the way up Gibraltar, it was a decent tempo but there weren't any attacks," said Porter. "I had derailleur problems, I couldn't get my chain into the big ring, so eventually I had to lean down and just pull it up into the big ring.From there I spent the day in the big chain ring, I couldn't afford to be in the small.

"Over the top, there were constant attacks, everyone taking a run at each other for about 10 kilometres. At one point there was a little rise, and myself, Sam Hill, Drew Morey and (Kane) Richards attacked and got a bit of a gap. Soon after, Cavanagh bridged and we just put our heads down and went."

The group powered away to a four minute gap through Glen Innes with 70 kilometres to go, with the chase led from behind by the main teams that had missed the break, with ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast, Oliver's Real Food Racing and CycleHouse prominent. With some serious names and indeed some team's top chances for the day present in the move, it was an attack that the peloton took very seriously and began to gradually reel back in on the run to the finish.

"It went from a time check that we had four minutes then we had a minute and 30 seconds with 25 kilometres to go. Everyone in the break went 'come on we can do this' and we kept pushing on. Nath (Nathan Elliott, 2018 Grafton to Inverell winner), my DS in the car, said 'you can definitely win this'. We were in a really good position with so many of my teammates back in the bunch, so even if we did get caught there was a good chance."

The well-known climb out of Wire Gully, renamed Griffin Hill in recent years, is often a key point in the race , but Porter and the break opted to save their energy for later as they knew they'd have to hold off the peloton and Porter bided his time for the right time to break away.

"I was tempted to attack on Wire Gully," said Porter, "but with time gaps coming down so quickly, I thought I might have trouble holding off the whole peloton by myself.

"It wasn't until we got to the flat part before that last climb where I could see the peloton. I was still feeling really good, so I thought that I better do something quickly. I put in one attack that got shut down and then when I was on the front, I flicked the elbow, nobody came through.

"I swung off to the side, got the smallest gap and thought it was my time to go. I wanted to get to the final climb with a gap. My strength's climbing, so I knew if I had a gap it would be hard to chase me down. I had a decent gap and could enjoy myself into the finish."

Porter's win comes as a steady progression through the ranks for the 20-year-old. He was top 10 overall in the 2020 Herald Sun Tour, and then part of a famous 1-2-3 for Inform TMX MAKE at Under 23 nationals. Benton was up the road and took a deserved win, but Porter and Turnbull were arguably just as good as the winner that day as they waited and they attacked clear of the peloton in a show of strength.

With those results and now a win in the race recognised as Australia's hardest, Porter has marked himself as a name to follow and one earmarked for a potential step up to the professional ranks overseas. The Victorian's palmares is building nicely, but is still a bit short of demanding the attention of WorldTour teams in the same manner that Lucas Plapp's summer performances attracted calls from around the globe. That is tough in the current coronavirus restrictions environment, with a planned plan for Inform TMX MAKE riders to head to Europe and ride with Trinity Racing currently without a definite date. 

"Everyone in Australia's in the same position that I'm in," said Porter. "I need to keep focusing on myself and being the best that I can be and focus on grabbing that opportunity if it does come up."

"Getting to Europe and showing my ability would be great. I'm a bit under the radar here. A solid nationals and then winning Grafton, I'm looking for that next step in Europe and see where I need to develop physically as well as with racecraft."

Porter had to overcome a nasty crash in the second half of 2020 to get back to his top condition, a collision with a car while out training on his time trial bike seeing him having to fight back to reach full fitness.

"I ran into the back of a parked car that had done an illegal U-bolt on Beach Rd, I'd looked up to check things were clear, put my head back down (in an aerodynamic time-trial position), then it's pulled in front of me and parked, before I knew it I was through the back windshield," said Porter. "Fractured four thoracic vetebrae and my sternum I was in a brace for three months. It wasn't ideal, I only had six weeks leading into nationals. It was a real experience, I learnt a lot about myself."

"I learnt that I can get through things no matter how hard they seem. I also learnt that the people around me are such a great support network, so many people helped out in those three months and the time leading up to nationals. Pat Lane, Cam McKimm (both from Inform TMX MAKE) and most importantly my parents, making sure that I was in a good place mentally as well as physically."

Perhaps the most telling thing was that Porter was so keen to get back on the bike and back to peak fitness, an attitude that displays just how keen he is to achieve as much as possible in his career in the sport.

"I missed riding the bike so much," said Porter. "I got the phone call that I could take my brace off and within 30 minutes I was back out on the road."

Porter is one of the foremost riders of the current generation, a climber who has steadily developed through racing for years in the National Road Series and is now hopefully set for bigger things overseas. While much of that development path won't be in Porter's hands, recent history has shown that the parts that are in his control are going to be just fine.

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8 min read
Published 10 May 2021 at 2:25pm
By Jamie Finch-Penninger