The Crocodile Trophy is one of the longest running mountain bike events in the World. I only know of one other stage race that claims to be older and beats it by a single year. In 2013 the “Croc” celebrated its 19th year and has become one of the biggest and hardest races in the World. It receives television coverage in several countries, including Australia with SBS dedicating an hours show to the event. Some of its former participants have become household names, including Australian Adam Hansen, yet the event has a field of riders that remain mostly European. Throughout the race I questioned people and wondered why more Australian riders don’t enter?
“It’s a road race on dirt”
Perhaps the most common answer from people who have heard of the event. It certainly used to be, with riders completing 12 days and over 1000km with barely any single track riding – and that was just a few years ago. It used to be three weeks! That has certainly changed and almost every day has some interesting terrain that will challenge riders. A road racer can no longer win the Crocodile Trophy; not unless they are also a MTB rider. The first day of the race is essentially a pure XC race on the testing circuit around Smithfield, which will be home to a World Cup in 2014 and World Championships a few years later.
Perhaps the event is considered too hard or too elite?
It is indeed a challenging event, but I also believe that completing the Croc is attainable to the average rider. The balance between terrain and distance is a good one and the main hurdle to overcome is how to deal with the heat of Far North Queensland. People have attempted and finished the Croc with less than a few years riding experience. The vast number of those riding are not elite riders and while the front of the race is hard fought, the majority are there to finish and can take great pride in doing so.
Having an Austrian as the race organiser might seem like a strange idea, but Gerhard has seen a country and an area that has challenging terrain and superb scenery and crafted an event to challenge everyone who enters. Perhaps native Australians are failing to see the beauty there is on home soil. Why travel to Europe when such a great area exists a relative stones throw away?
The entry fee can be hard for some to stomach, but the event delivers a hassle free, well organised riding experience with everything you need included. Having raced other events around the World, the Croc can teach others a thing or two with 19 years of experience to draw upon. With many Australian riders happy to travel to Europe or North America to take part in events, you have to wonder why this home event is often overlooked.
The 2014 event is rumoured to become a UCI category stage race, it will be interesting to see if this will entice more Australian riders to compete. If not, why is the Croc not appealing?
My experience from this years event was without a doubt fantastic. It has an atmosphere among riders that no other event can match, being relaxed and fun with riders from many countries and some real characters among them.
Stage 1, A flat out, lung burning 90 minutes that tested fitness and technical skills.
Stage 2 was a classic, climbing from Copperlode Dam then onwards to Lake Tineroo. Steep climbs, long climbs, fast descents. It is an iconic stage within the event that really sorts the pack out.
Stage 3 and into new territory riding the fantastic trails at Atherton that are a match to anything back home in Wales. The first 30km entirely singletrack, then another 30km of challenging terrain before a fast finish at the small but welcoming town of Invinebank.
Stage 4, leaving Irvineback on an old mining road, described as “Extreme Rough” and the cause of more punctures that any other section of the race. A fast middle section through Mango plantations and then into Pinnacle station, a demanding section with little respite for 30km before finishing at Mt Mulligan with incredible mountains surrounding the property.
Stage 5, the longest and hardest without a doubt. The first 60km was undulating and sapped energy before entering the hardest 50km section of the race. Hot and dry with unrelenting climbs and little rest before the final section that although wider had even less chance to recover. In total 163km that left riders with little left in the tanks.
Stage 6, many peoples favourites. A sedate start to the deserted mining town of Maytown, which was the best place in the World to watch the 2012 solar eclipse. From here the track follows an old gold mining trail, rough, demanding and incredibly fun. The final 30km were flat and into a headwind, but the technical section made the stage the best of the race.
Stage 7 and something new, an individual time trial. Mostly flat, with a little bit of the old croc including some nasty corrugations. For those chasing positions it was a chance to push themselves to the limits for 38km and those there to enjoy the event it could be treated as a recovery day.
Stage 8; the road race. My least favourite, but unfortunately the only way to get out of the area. 115Km from Laura along the rough and tedious “battlecamp road”. There was a nice surprise at the finishing town of Hope Vale however, a swimming pool!
Stage 9, the final furlong and yet the stage that caused more crashes than any other. A short, fast stage that delivered riders to Cooktown and up the killer finish that is the Grassy Hill. Panoramic views around the area and out to the Pacific to greet everyone who finished.
An incredible journey and an incredible race and one that I will look forward to returning to in the future.