Bill Thomas on the changing nature of the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic

Bill, Ryan and Andrew Thomas relax after the race.
Bill, Ryan and Andrew Thomas relax after the race.

Cheering on riders in the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic last weekend was a local who knew a thing or two about the race; Bill Thomas. 

Grandfather and inspiration to A Grade rider Ryan Thomas, Bill took on the grueling challenge in the 1960s.

He watched with awe on Saturday as Ryan and fellow local Dylan Sunderland sped through in 13th and 15th place respectively at just over five hours, 46 minutes, and Inverell’s own Callum Dolby took the C Grade in seven hours, 15 minutes. 

Bill Thomas (grandfather of A Grade rider Ryan Thomas) rode the Grafton to Inverell in the 1960s. Pictured with Janece Fleming after the 2017 race.

Bill Thomas (grandfather of A Grade rider Ryan Thomas) rode the Grafton to Inverell in the 1960s. Pictured with Janece Fleming after the 2017 race.

He said it was different world to the days he took on the track.

“The best I ever rode it was a training run of seven and a half hours,” he said, chuckling at the thought of being left in the dust by his own grandson. 

This year’s Cycle Classic was a record-breaker, with winner Neil Van Der Ploeg clocking in at just five hours, 46 minutes, 26 seconds, a full 12 minutes faster than 2016.

“The very first one was raced in six and a half hours and that stood for 50 years,” Bill said, explaining that the 1979 removal of the handicap changed the race forever.

“We’ve had two local riders win it, but they wouldn’t have stayed with these fellas, they would have been gone in the wind,” he said. 

“(Leo) Cook’s time was 7.20 and Donny Strahley was eight hours.”

Bill was impressed by the cyclists’ dedication and said Ryan was juggling university studies and work commitments with his high level racing.

“I’m real proud of him, the way he’s raced overseas and been to China and Holland...He’s going to Japan this year,” he said.

Ryan’s aunt Janece Fleming agreed. 

“It’s a phenomenal effort. He’s superman,” she said.

She said the whole breakaway group should be praised for their efforts.

“It’s really only that guy that crosses the line first that gets acknowledged for the record, but all of that bunch would have ridden record-breaking times today,” she said.

“They’re all amazing. I think they’ve got rocks in their heads for what they do, but they’re obviously very dedicated and focused and they do a great job.”