Carving a place for himself in the elite circuit, Dylan Sunderland is ready to break a 40-year drought in the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic after a stellar start to 2019.
A local hasn't won the difficult one day race since the handicap was removed in 1979. Sunderland won the Tour of Tasmania late last year, came 30th in January's Tour Down Under and finished ninth overall in the Herald Sun Tour, Australia's oldest stage cycling race.
"It was a pretty full on start to the year with 17 race days in the first month," Sunderland said.
"I've had a bit of a spell through the back end of February. It's just been a long building phase up until now."
He remains an A Grade favourite for the Grafton to Inverell after strong past performances, and has upped his chances as a part of Team BridgeLane, who have dominated the cycle classic over the past three years.
"It's good. This is the first year I've been able to race Grafton with such a strong team. In previous years the team I am riding with now is the one I have been riding against," Sunderland said.
"This year every guy in our team is capable of winning the race, so we're going to have many different cards to play throughout the day."
More than one BridgeLane rider has made the Grafton to Inverell podium, and team member Nick White is the Australian under 23 road race champion and winner of the Melbourne to Warrnambool which is the longest race in Australia. Former New Zealand road race champion Joe Cooper has also been named as one to watch, after setting the pace in what was to become the fasted recorded ascent up the Gibraltar Range in 2015.
"So we've definitely got some strength there," Sunderland said.
Sunderland will be keeping a watch on the weather, after last year's punishing 45km/hr headwinds added an hour to the race. Known for his climbing ability, Sunderland knows he'll still have plenty of work to do after the Gibraltar Range.
"A lot of people think the climb is the deciding part of the race. It's always said that the climb - you can't win it from there, but you can definitely lose it," he said.
With his brother a front runner in B Grade and Ryan Thomas a force to be reckoned with in A Grade, Sunderland said many Inverell riders were worth a watch.
Grafton to Inverell is always prominent on his racing calendar, but Sunderland admitted that the hometown aspect added pressure to perform well.
"The amount of experience I gained through the start of the year with the Tour Down Under and being able to race in the top tier of the sport, some of the lessons I've learnt are invaluable," Sunderland said.
"They really help with moving forward and progression in the sport. I'm starting to hit some targets, but there's also a lot of work to be done in the back of end of the year to really be satisfied and happy."
Grafton to Inverell will be a jumping off point for Sunderland, who will head straight to Asia for the Tour of Japan before racing in Europe and the US.