After facing the Grafton to Inverell during its toughest conditions last year and netting a top 10 finish in his division of the 260 kilometre Melbourne to Warrnambool in February, B Grade rider Zak Sunderland has good reason to feel confident for Saturday's race.
"I'm feeling pretty good, and feel like I'm ready to go," he said of the 59th Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic. His success in the Melbourne to Warrnambool has left Sunderland feeling comfortable with the endurance portion of the 228 kilometre ride.
"I died a little bit in the end, but I'm still pretty happy with that race, because it's the longest race I've ever done," he said.
Sunderland has been named as a B Grade front runner by several local riders, but is reluctant to agree.
"I don't know about that! We'll have to wait and see on the day with that one. There's a lot of things that can happen that may change the outcome," he said.
He comes a racing family, with his father having taken on the local race in his younger years, alongside Sunderland's uncle and former professional cyclist Scott. Meanwhile his brother Dylan has been a frequent favourite in the A Grade of the cycle classic.
Sunderland says there is no shortage of knowledge on the Grafton to Inverell in the cycling family, and he makes the most of their advice, as well as his previous experience with the course.
"Doing it a couple of times, you definitely get to know what the course is like. It's very tough and you remember that every single year you do it - it doesn't get any easier!" he said. He felt the punishing headwinds of last year had made him even stronger this time around.
"This year, the way the weather's panning out, it's going to be very similar. I know what I'm in for and I know what it's going to be like in those conditions," he said.
"I think it's definitely made me stronger and more hungry this year to get a result."
He looks forward to riding in to a local crowd.
"Once you hit Glen Innes, you start to get a bit of a boost. You know you're on the downhill run and you're definitely coming into your home roads there, and you know every bit of the road," he said.
Sunderland also appreciates the supportive nature of other local riders, and said the town had many strong contenders to cheer on.
"We all know how each other's going and they're all going very well. It's always good to support all the other local guys," he said.
Cautiously optimistic about his own chances, Sunderland says he'll simply try a do his best on the day, but is hoping to finish in the front group, particularly in the top five.
Sunderland will be relying on strong preparation, training and solid strategy to stay near the front.