By?Andrew Pickering and Sam Moorby Grafton to Inverell, 228km with 3000m of climbing, Australia’s toughest one day race, and with 35+ degree weather only ‘brutal, stupid, crazy and haha really?’ could describe it. This weekend I was lucky enough to have a guest ride for the Phoenix Cycling Collective, in my first year of racing and third ever NRS event. The plan heading in was to watch for the break and hopefully set one of us up in it, after which we were too look after our main man Craig Evers who was looking to better his top fifteen from last year. After taking the back pathways and a sketchy bridge crossing – the advantages of riding with a local – we were all signed on, heavily fed, hydrated and itching to start this daunting race! The teams Avanti bicycles were prepped and Schwalbe tyres aired up. One, no two, caravans zoomed past us in neutral and the red paddle was waved to get the attacks under way. The first KOM was here, 25km in and I happened to drop a chain while being distanced…. It was going to be a very long day. Andrew McCosker and I picked up some others dropped and luckily enough caught the peloton during a toilet break, never have I been so happy to see so many men in Lycra going to the toilet! A break was finally let go and had vanished up the road and soon enough had 15 minutes on the main bunch, we got about positioning ourselves as a team within the bunch for the 17km climb that is the Gibraltar range, while having some great discussions about how bad all race food tastes in this heat. Boom! At kilometer 72 we started the climb, not being a climber of any sorts and having helped to set up Craig well within the bunch, my day was now about just survival and finishing. After a couple of flats and stops for water, 61 riders out of our 90 plus bunch finished including 5 of us from Phoenix – an awesome effort considering the conditions. I’ll pass on the reins now to Sam Moorby to describe life in the Grafton to Inverell convoy. The convoy at this year?s Grafton to Inverell was action packed, in particular the Phoenix Cycling Collective team car. As I wasn?t feeling great on the day, my race on the bike was brief, this meant I got to experience the race from a very different perspective. At first it was hard to be sitting in the car while the race was unfolding but I soon realised that there is definitely a lot more to the convoy than first thought! There is always something happening in the team car. The Comms were very active over the radio so you had to be alert to find out what is happening in the race eg, breaks, teams feeding, road conditions you name it. It was our job (Angus Bell, team DS, Simon Dwyer) to have bottles, gels and bars and basically anything our team riders needed ready for them. Our role started off relatively casually when two Phoenix riders, Andrew McCosker and Andrew Pickering, were dropped on the range. We loaded them up with bottles, gels and bars to hopefully get them through most of the remaining 150km. As the road went up-hill on the Gibraltar Range I witnessed some major splintering of the bunch, with the pace high riders were popping left right and centre. Further up the climb Nathan Booth joined Simon, Angus and myself in the car, then we found two more Phoenix riders Hayden Campbell and Kelsey Boreham. These boys were determined to finish the rest of the race and we loaded them up with supplies so they could finish the race. After feeding our boys we continued up the range to catch up with the convoy, but on our way we made sure to check if any other dropped riders needed any supplies. We figured there was still such a long way to go that we would do what we could to help them out. We were now down to our last rider still in the massively reduced main bunch, our local boy Craig Evers who was doing a mammoth effort to stay in touch up the range and to make it over with bunch. Just before the top Craig dropped back to get some fresh bottles and gels and have a quick chat, it was a very well timed feed because soon after Craig rejoined the bunch the attacks started. At this point in the race the early break was out to 10mins and the main bunch was dominated by Joe Cooper from Avanti Racing shadowing Tim Roe from Budget for the overall NRS championship. At times it was hard to know which bunch was the main bunch with splits everywhere, this meant team cars were at different locations looking after other riders and at times we were the only car supporting a whole bunch, acting as neutral service. This meant that riders from many different teams including Avanti, Cellarbrations, Wormall Civil got to drink our awesome brand of juice from our Avanti bottles and get refueled from our gels and bars. It was at the point approaching Glen Innes where I was actually glad I had jumped in the car because from the looks of the rider?s faces it was an extremely tough race! With the break slowly coming back and the battle between Tim Roe and Joe Cooper, things started to heat up in the race as well as the temperature, now pushing mid to high 30s we could see Evers pushing more and more before getting left behind at around the 35km to go mark which was a super impressive effort! From then we drove behind Evers and another rider continually feeding them bottles and gels to get through to the end of the race. For me being in the convoy was such an eye opening experience, it wasn?t until actually being there before I understood completely of the amount of effort that goes into keeping the bike race running smoothly and the riders fed and happy. Although I already had huge respect for Phoenix DS Angus Bell, this experience makes me appreciate more the work that Angus and all other team DSs do. Personally I am a little disappointed that my race was cut short but? in the end there will always be another race, and I am looking forward to next year! On the other hand I am super glad to have had the experience I did and I really enjoyed my weekend hanging and riding bikes with the Phoenix Cycling Collective.