After both Mrs Fitzakerley and Mrs Chick declined their respective invitations to the 2017 Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic, it was just assumed that I would run Support Crew for the Team Infinit contingent that were racing. “Haha, I just told Nathan to go and……” and “I think David was too scared to ask me because he knew the answer wouldn’t be pretty…” were the responses I got from the Team Infinit wives when I inquired as to how they got to stay at home. Not being a massive fan of cycling – more due to zero exposure to it, rather than any actual dislike of it – I wasn’t all that keen to go, but ended up boarding the Infinit Truck on the Friday for the 6 hour road trip to Grafton.

Jase and I had Dave Chick and Nath Fitzakerley rolling in the Infinit Truck with us. The boys let me ride shotgun, which was awesome of them – I think they realised how much they needed me to be there!! The trip down was uneventful. We caught up with Kephren Izzard and Sherry Ey on the Highway at Wild Horse Mountain and convoyed down with them. They had brought Matt ‘Flemmo’ Flemming with them from Bundaberg who had generously donated his weekend to run Support Crew with me for all 5 of our riders.

Check in at the motel on arrival at Grafton, a quick once over for all the bikes and a roll down the main street to iron out any niggles pre-race, and we were all headed down to the pub for the Race Briefing and to register. Everyone was in good spirits and excited about the Race in the morning. A quick stop at the local pizza shop, a major carb load and then we were all off to bed – except Flemmo, who was still polishing off Peroni’s like a man possessed. I was beginning to think Support Crew duties were going to be all on me the next day. I figured he’d be useful to help start the car if we ran out of fuel – those Peroni fumes had to be good for something, right?!?

The 5.30am alarm sounded loud and clear the next morning. A quick breakfast (how Jason throws down a tin of creamed rice pre-race every time blows my mind!), a few quick photos and the guys rolled out to the start line. Flemmo looked surprisingly fresh when he emerged from his Peroni induced slumber which made me feel a whole lot better. I was planning on following him out of town, but quickly punched the race route into my phone after we finished dinner the night before.… just in case!! As Support Crew we had to be out of town and on the road before 7am because they closed the road behind us for the race to begin. This was a bit annoying as I was keen to see the start of the race and get a few action shots of the guys as they took off, but rules are rules.

It was a mild 15 degrees in Grafton on race morning. There was a little cloud cover, but if anything it was clearing and looked to be a spectacular day. Awesome conditions for riding a bike!! The road was a little damp as I pulled the truck out onto the Gwydir Highway for the first leg up the range to the first Feed Station – 120kms away. I took my time knowing that the Division 2 guys didn’t kick off until 7:25am and Dave and Sherry were at 7:35am, so I joined the convoy heading out. To be honest, it was a great drive; some truly stunning scenery as we rolled through the hills heading west. When I hit the first climb I thought to myself, “Geez, they weren’t wrong about this hill – it’s steep!!”, before I realised that I was nowhere near “The Hill”!! The rolling hills soon turned into a straight up climb into the fog and low lying clouds. It was a tough drive in the car, let along punching up it on a treadly!! As I climbed, the temperature dropped. The gauge in the car was reading 10 degrees at one stage – that’s Arctic for this Queenslander!! I passed by heaps of turn offs for waterfalls and lookouts/viewing areas which I would have loved to stop at, but I was more concerned about making it to the first Feed Stop and getting ready for the guys to come through.

Flemmo and I arrived at the Feed Stop at around 8:30am. There was a coffee truck and the local Rotary Group selling tasty treats. Oh, and it was freezing cold. I took my place in the line up for the port-a-loos and tried to stay warm!! It was a good few hours before the first group of riders came through – these were the Elite guys racing the NRS and boy was it an eye opener for me!! It was like the TDF!! There were cars with bikes on the roofs, there was shouting, support crews were running into place, cars were pulling off the road and zooming past one another – and just as quickly as they arrived, they were gone again. It was definitely a flurry of excitement, but what surprised me the most was the sheer size of some the guys riding. I thought my husband was skinny, but these blokes were next level in need of a cheeseburger and fries. How on earth they climbed that hill was beyond me!!

Another hour or so later, the lead riders came through from Division 2. I knew Fitzy would be the first one in our posse that would be heading my way, so Flemmo and I grabbed our little bags with the nutrition bottles in them and set up on the side of the road. The organisers did a great job ensuring that only the required supporters were on the roadside at the right time. The first couple of lead groups came through before I spotted the Fitz. There was another cycle kit on show which was very similar to the Team Farrago kit that my guys were wearing so I had to be on my game – especially if there was a big group!!

Now, for those of you that know Team Infinit athlete Nathan Fitzakerley, you will know that he is the consummate professional. Possibly one of the fittest and most talented guys getting around on the Triathlon scene, and certainly a very strong cyclist. Fitzy doesn’t enter races just to finish, if you know what I mean. I was therefore very nervous about running Support Crew for Fitz. So much so that Jason and I had actually had a chat the night before which basically ended with Jason saying, “If I’m too slow and you need to leave the first Feed Stop to get to the 2nd one in time for Fitzy…..just do it babe. Don’t worry about my nutrition, I’ll be right.” No pressure, right?!?

Anyway, getting back to it….Fitzy looked like death warmed up. I have never seen him like that before!! His eyes were blood shot, his face was pale and he was sweating like a wilderbeast. He looked at me, straight faced, and said two words. “Holy. Moly.” It was at that stage that I prayed I had packed the right bottles into his feedbag and they weren’t the ones filled with just water…. On a positive note, the bag exchange went off without a hitch and Fitz was off up the road with my ever supportive and positive words ringing in the cold air….”Looking strong Fitz!!”

My plan was to stay for no longer than 40mins waiting for both Jase and Dave to come through, then I would head off to get to the 2nd Feed Stop at Glen Innes in time to see Fitzy again. Jase came through about 10 minutes later, riding solo. After the flawless bag exchange with Fitz, I was feeling confident Jase and I could pull off another one without any dropped bottles. We’d also spent the previous morning at home practicing the ‘bag grab’ on the road outside our house, much to the amusement of our neighbours, so I was excited to now be in ‘race mode’!!

So Jason rolls up towards me as I’m holding his bag out…..and suddenly starts to slow, turn his handlebars straight at me and……stops. The man literally stopped dead in his tracks and got off his bike. Whaaaaaat?!? He then proceeded to lie down on the side of the road and stretch his back. I was kinda pissed – after all our practice, he just stops!! And I was 1 from 1 already….I was killing it!! Jase’s back had tightened up on the climb up the hill and he’d dropped off the pack he was riding with, hence him flying solo. After a quick stretch and a bit of a chat (because we all know how much he likes to do that) he spotted a couple of guys coming up behind that he decided to cruise along with. And then he was gone.

Next up – David Chick. Chicka is a machine. Even though he started with Division 3 - 10 minutes behind Division 2, we knew he would be cruising with them by the time he got to the first Feed Stop. I waited for Chicka with Flemmo – who was eagerly awaiting the arrival of both Keph and Sherry – for about 20mins before I decided to pull the plug. I definitely didn’t want to miss Fitzy at Glen Innes. I left Dave’s nutrition with Flemmo, and wouldn’t you know it, just as I pulled back onto the Highway in the truck, Dave came up over the rise, pulling half the field through to the Feed Stop!! Machine I told you.

Glad to be back in the warmth of the Infinit Truck, I gave Jase a beep as I passed him and then headed out onto the Highway again headed for Glen Innes. Unfortunately I got stuck behind a large bunch and it seemed like every car in front of me was too scared to pass the cyclists. This cost me a lot of time and I started to panic. That horrible sinking feeling in my stomach set in as the realisation that I was not going to make it to the 2nd Feed Stop before Fitzy did finally hit me. I knew I’d never hear the end of it, and it was starting to stress me out!! And then there was a gap, and goddamn it, I was taking it. I’m sure the drive to Glen Innes was as pretty, if not prettier than, the first leg, but I was too busy hauling ass to really notice. I’ve attached a photo showcasing the scenery for those of you playing along at home.

So I finally arrive at Glen Innes – and found the Feed Stop with no dramas at all. There weren’t that many people there so I lined up on the grid with a young guy next to me. He said that not too many riders had been through since he had been there, so I felt somewhat confident that maybe I hadn’t missed Fitzy afterall. And then I saw it. A sight for sore eyes. He was resplendent in black and gold – the Team Farrago Kit in all its glory. Holy cow – here comes Fitzy!! I didn’t miss him!! I grabbed his feed bag and stood tall at the side of the road, a wave of relief washing over me.

And then the sun hit the silvery greys poking out from under his cycle helmet and I can honestly say, I have never been so disappointed to see my husband in all my life. With his sore back, I knew Jase hadn’t caught up to, let alone passed, the Fitz, so I quickly had to swap over feedbags from Fitzy’s to Jase’s. But it was all in vain and is if to compound my frustrations, he stopped. Again. Why did we even practice this bag snatching thing in the first place?!?! Ya just gotta ride past me babe!! We had another chat while Jase necked his can of coke and rode off again. Wow. Fitzy’s gonna be pissed. Oops.

I didn’t have too long to wallow in my own self pity though before Chicka came through in a massive pack. I actually don’t think he saw me, and I knew he would be looking for Flemmo, because he handed off Chicka’s nutrition at the first Feed stop. I saw him reach down to grab his empty bidon out of its cage to throw away and realised he really hadn’t seen me at all. I had to yell at the top of my voice to get his attention and, without even hesitating, he looked up and swooped down on that feedbag like a triathlete jumping on a roll down spot. He nearly took my left arm with him, but for a big unit, the man moves with total grace.

Flemmo called me shortly after that to tell me both Keph and Sherry had been through the first Feed Stop and he was on his way to Glenn Innes. He said he was concerned that he would miss Kephren at GI because Keph was a fair way ahead of Sherry, and as a result, he had been held up at the first Feed Stop waiting for Sherry. Kephren might not get the rest of his nutrition. Well, this is where my Support Crew prowess came into play. That morning, Flemmo had given me a can of V Energy Drink to put on ice in the back of the Infinit truck for Keph, and I knew Jase had one more bottle of Infinit that he hadn’t used – ta daaaa!! Kephren’s feedbag was sorted. Now to wait and see who showed first – Kephren or Flemmo.

And you guessed it, Kephren came through before Flemmo arrived with his nutrition. So the ‘make do’ feedbag would have to suffice. As disappointed as I was to see Jason earlier, Kephren was at the exact other end of the spectrum. I have never seen a human being emit such joy at the sight of a can of V. He was still going on about it the next day, and I feel it may be a story that will be passed down through generations of Izzards. Making Keph’s day was my favourite part of the day!!

Flemmo arrived and we agreed he would stay and wait for Sherry, while I headed to Inverell to face the music with Fitzy. I wasn’t keen to leave, but getting lost in Glen Innes gave me a little extra time to think up a good excuse and hopefully to let Fitzy calm down at the Finish line!! I finally found my way out of Glen Innes – it was actually a pretty little town, and the red and yellow autumn leaves were spectacular. Flemmo had given me Keph’s nutrition and told me he had cleared it with one of the Officials to just feed him outside of the designated ‘Feed Zone’. I’m guessing he may have sweetened the deal with some Peroni’s, but I didn’t ask any questions….

It was good fun driving the route and passing all the guys on the way to Inverell. There was one section of the race that diverted off the main road, but for the majority of the way, there were cyclists pushing on to the finish. The locals were out in force too!! Spectators had stopped on the roadside and there was a random BBQ with plenty of cheers and beers in the middle of nowhere on one of the properties. It was awesome to see. I finally managed to get radio service and heard that the winner of Division 2 had just crossed the Finish Line – in record time, so it was definitely a good day to ride your bike!!

I passed Keph and offered him his nutrition, but he was still frothing over his can of V and said he was good to get to Inverell on his mega caffeine hit. Jase had made friends with a couple of randoms and looked to be happy as Larry as he chewed their ears off. Chicka was cycling like a demon and, once again, pulling half the field home with him. Everyone was doing so well!! I figured Fitzy probably wasn’t though….on to Inverell!!

I pulled into Inverell and found a spot close to the Finish line to park the Infinit Truck. I thought there would be a bit more of a show at the Finish and a lot more locals come down to see what all the fuss was about. Instead, there was one tent selling sausages on bread and hamburgers and then there was the stage and the podium. I was super proud of all our guys and really hoped there would be a big fanfare at the end - afterall, it was a BIG day out!! Amongst all the finished cyclists, I found Fitz. He led with the obligatory, “What happened to you?!” and then proceeded to fill me in on how he had to borrow water from a bloke he was riding with after his throat nearly closed over suffering severe thirst and heat exhaustion…..nah, just pulling ya chain Fitz!! He was pretty good about it in the end…..but he did have to ask another rider for water which I do feel really bad about – Support Crew FAIL. I don’t think I’ll hear the end of this for a while!!

The other guys rolled in one after the other and Sherry came home in the SAG wagon. She is one tough chick and did so well, especially given that the SAG wagon was averaging 24kmph and if it caught you, you were in. Turns out that she got pinged just before the 2nd Feed Station, but the bus was full so she rode to Glen Innes anyway. She was keen to ride the next 70km to Inverell by default, but after a stern word from Flemmo, the rain began to fall, and that cemented the deal. After driving that course, I definitely know why they call it the toughest road cycling race in Australia – I would’ve just jumped in the SAG wagon at the start line!! If it’s any consolation, Sherry did win the After Party….You’ll smash it up next year Rooster!!

Definitely a fun weekend with some of my favourites. I will say that I would much rather support at an Ironman though – less jobs, less responsibility, more photo opportunities and MORE ON COURSE BEERS!! I’m pretty sure I’ll be crewing at the next one though…..practice makes perfect, right?!?