Stage 3, Lake Tinaroo – Irvinebank. 111 km, 2700m
The Australian media has called it the “Czech domination” at the Crocodile Trophy and also their fellow riders admit that Ivan Rybarik and Ondrej Fojtik’s performances of the last three stages are to be admired. After today’s wild ride across the rough terrain of the Hasties Swamp National Park, Rybarik kept pushing hard and left Fojtik and the Austrian chasing trio with Hrinkow, Benetseder and Krenn behind. Whilst after almost four hours Fojtik finished second and Hrinkow ended up securing third place, Kate Major was again the fastest female racer of the day, and Werner van der Merve (Subaru-MarathonMTB.com) strengthened his lead in the Masters category.
Although he arrived at the finish with a big smile, you could see the sheer exhaustion from racing at high pace for almost four hours in the Australian Outback heat on Ivan Rybarik’s face. “This was one of the hardest days in my life”, said the new race leader today. “My plan had been to get back the leaders jersey, but it wasn’t easy.”
Belgian rider Mike Mulkens and the Austrian Josef Benetseder tried to break away early, however, Rybarik and Fojtik led up a chaser group including Dominick Hrinkow (AUT), Wolfgang Krenn (AUT) and the Canadian Cory Wallace to catch up. As the pace then slowed and the riders tried to frantically preserve their energy, the two Czech riders, who know each other well, decided to pick it back up. They dropped the group and on the first long descent towards the first feedzone, Rybarik had gained a minute on Fojtik.
“We are really good friends and ride together a lot back home in the Czech Republic, but this is racing after all and we need to be competitive”, explained Rubena Rocky Trail Team CZE racer Rybarik at the finish. “I noticed Ondrej wasn’t riding at a 100% today, so I grabbed my chance and thought ‘This is it, maybe I can get the jersey back’ and I just tried it. I am happy that I could do it, but you never know, there are still six days to go.”
“No water, no power, no legs”
That’s how Ondrej Fojtik described today’s stage as he arrived at the finish with a gap of almost 10 minutes on Rybarik. He looked disappointed and added that it had been a typical Croc stage, that’s long, steep and hot. “This was a hard day. Ivan was just so strong today, I couldn’t keep up.”
First-time Croc racer, young road talent Dominick Hrinkow from Austria, placed third today. “Benetseder, Krenn and I rode well together today and when we were dropped by the two Czech riders, we just tried to keep our pace up. About 20 km before the finish I felt strong and was able to ride away and decided to sprint solo to the finish.” Hrinkow’s goal for the remaining week is set high and he has his eyes on a stage win: “After all, I promised my girlfriend a boomerang…”, he added with a cheeky grin.
With Rybarik again ahead in the general classification, Kate Major has increased her lead in the female category with another stage win today.
Beating the Irvinebank curse
Marc Baechli, winner of today’s M2 category, rolled across the finish line outside the Irvinebank pub particularly relieved. “Last year my cassette broke and I had to run the last 30 km into town. Today was a special stage for me and coming into Irvinebank on my bike was my main goal. To win my age group on top of it makes me really happy.” A strong Werner van der Merwe from the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com team claimed the fastest time in the M1 classification with his second consecutive stage win today.
Whilst the top riders are in for a daily battle for positions in the front, the Crocodile Trophy adventures unfold in the midfield and back. Riders from all over the world have come to Far North Queensland to challenge themselves, to experience nine days on their bikes in the Outback and it’s often groups of friends that are in it together.
“Strike hard, strike home“
This slogan of their Squadron Nr. 349 of the Belgian army keeps the four F16 pilots and their Ridley Team going each day. “This is just an awesome adventure”, said team leader Kris “Jimmy” Hendrickx today. “It’s exactly what we imagined and hoped for – hard, rough and the experience of a lifetime.” The four F16 fighter pilots have also entered a team classification and are content that they manage to ride together every day. “That’s what we planned, we wanted to do this race together and we tried to be on the same endurance level, so we would be able to be out on track, the four of us together.” I had not always been easy to prepare and train for this race, that’s known as the “hottest, longest and most adventurous MTB race in the world”, Hendrickx admitted. “Combining training, racing and preparing for this journey with family, kids and a full-time job requires full commitment”, he added.
That he was a lucky guy admitted also Aaron Lakeman from Sydney, who is leading the two-man “Adventure” classification with Mark Griffin and their Rubena Rocky Trail Racing team after finishing as the fastest team for the third day in a row. “My wife Annie deserves to get one of my stage win-boomerangs, because she let me go on this indulgent tour with my riding buddies.” The two-man team category had been added to the Crocodile Trophy classifications this year and team riders need to cross the finish line within two minutes of each other. “Yesterday, Aaron suffered on the long climbs, but today we both found a good pace and really enjoyed riding and racing together. It’s good, because you get to encourage each other and now that we have a comfortable lead in the team classification, I think, we’ll just make sure we’ll keep looking after ourselves out there and take every stage as it comes”, added Griffin, who said that he is looking forward to bring one of his stage win boomerangs back to Sydney for his godson Josh and tell him all about his mountain bike adventure in the Australian Outback.
Tomorrow’s stage will be another lap race with start and finish in Irvinebank, the lovely old mining town set on a lake in the mountains of the Great Dividing Range. A 26km loop has been marked out and riders will have to ride it four times, covering 600m of elevation per lap with race start at 8am.