Testing the very best
THE veins of many a cyclist quiver in fear at the sight of the Gibraltar Range.
A 17.3km stretch of the Gwydir Hwy snakes its way up "the great chunk of rock", forming the most daunting feature of Australia's toughest single-day road race.
Rising from an elevation of 120m above sea level to 1050m, the Category 1 climb has an average gradient of 5.4%.
Spare a thought, then, for Bryan Crispin.
The 46-year-old has been the manager at Hanging Rock cattle station for three years.
For 364 days a year the property lies nestled beneath a mountainous sanctuary of World Heritage listed Gondwana rainforests.
On the other day - which rolls around every October - it trembles in the shadows of a menacing, gravity-defying wall of fear.
Crispin has had plenty of time to stare up and contemplate the course.
"I live at Hanging Rock Station and the turn-off to it is 5km from the bottom of the range," Crispin said.
"I've never raced it before so this will be the first effort.
"Obviously I do it in training. It's pretty much climbing the whole way. There are a few flat sections, but she's a pretty tough climb."
Crispin will be one of 66 starters in C-grade in the 228km Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic today.
"Once we get over the top of the range, if you're not in the front group your race is pretty much over and it's still a long way to go," he said.
"It's going to be tough. It's supposed to be the toughest one day race in Australia."
The Gibraltar Range is just one of four peaks in the King of the Mountains points classification, and just one of 14 categorised climbs, including seven before cyclists even consider "the big one".
Indeed, while it is the longest, it is not the steepest climb on the course, with the 820m stretch up to Jackadgery Gap testing riders' legs with an average gradient of 6.7% just 38km into the race.
Crispin has cycled "on and off" for three decades. However, he decided to enter his first Grafton to Inverell only four weeks ago.
"I've been on and off the bike for 30 years," he said.
"Mostly off, probably - I've had a fair few comebacks.
"It's a race I've never done. Asa young fella I wish I had. So I thought it's about time I did it before I get too old and it gets tobe too hard.
"I've never ridden this distance before. I've done a few 150km rides and last weekend I did a 200, which was just for this race, but obviously there's still another 28km to go after that.
"Now I've really got back on for the enjoyment of it and next year the world title race is in Australia so it works out great to be in training for that as well."
There will be 190 cyclists start the cycle classic from Memorial Park, Grafton, at 8am today.