Ryan Thomas is hungry for a spot on the Grafton to Inverell podium this year after several strong performances in the local cycle race.
Thomas came within inches of his goal last year, thundering into fifth place less than a second behind the winner Nathan Elliot, after battling 45km/hr winds on the Gibraltar Range in one of the toughest editions of the long-running race.
"I want to improve on last year," Thomas said.
"It's hard to go into a race and not want to win it, so I obviously really want to win and I've done everything I can to prepare for that. I think I'm in pretty good shape and I've just got to go for it on the day."
Riding with Drapac, Thomas will have the advantage of a full team of strong riders.
"It makes a huge difference, especially if you've got team mates once you get over the Gibraltar range. If you've got numbers once you get over there, it just makes the racing so much easier. Especially if you're the protected rider, you get to save a lot of energy for the final, when you've got a lot of team mates there to do the majority of the work," he said.
Despite injuries taking him out of the racing scene for two months at the start of the year, Thomas is feeling good about his preparation. The Tour of Thailand was a true test of endurance, with 1000 kilometres over six days. Thomas felt the 200 kilometre stage was the hardest he'd ever faced.
"I think that's been really good prep for Grafton, doing those really long days. It makes a huge difference, and especially racing as well," he said.
With a cold front expected, Thomas appreciated the experience he'd gained facing freezing headwinds in the 2018 cycle classic.
"It was a very different race. It was nearly an hour longer than what was expected. That can change the race completely," he said.
"Every time I've done it, it's been different. There's been a couple of fast ones, but every finish has come down to something different too." He felt his previous Grafton to Inverell experience gave him an advantage, but added that with the unpredictable nature of the course and many strong contenders, it was always best to focus on his own race on the day.
Coaching B Grade rider and previous C Grade winner Callum Dolby, Thomas said the locals were worth watching in both lower grades. He will be keeping an eye on fellow Inverell A Grade front runner Dylan Sunderland.
Thomas relishes the opportunity to cross the line in his hometown, just like his grandfather and great uncle once did.
"It's really exciting, even going through Elsmore and through the feed zone at Mount Mitchell, you always see some familiar faces, people organising and people in Grafton - there's a whole Inverell community over there at the start," he said.
"As soon as you get there before the race, you're talking to a lot of people and it boosts your confidence and your morale a bit too. It just makes such a difference, finishing in your hometown and having that home crowd support."
Still juggling his university studies, after Grafton, Thomas will tackle a pair of Queensland road series events before heading to the Netherlands and Belgium to race.