Once you have been doing the one thing for a week you well and truly settle into a routine. Ride, eat, sleep, repeat. Ok, there’s more eating than that. But one of the beautiful things about stage racing is how normal it ends up feeling when you’re racing your bike. Everyone likes routine.
Today was a little different for the Croc – and not only because we started at Skybury Coffee Plantation, where they opened early so we could enjoy fresh coffee with our camp breakfast – or even supplement our supplied food with some banana bread and papaya. Arriving at Skybury at the end of stage 7 had offered a real reprieve from camping – even though we still were camping, having a large airy building to sit in, enjoy the view and have a milkshake, coffee, or whatever you like – made a difference. It offered a reprieve not previously available near the end of the Croc.
At dinner, we’d received news that put stage 8 into question. There was a bush fire burning on the proposed route. It should be under control by the time we would come through – but we’re in Tropical North Queensland. Anything can happen. So our start time was put back to 10am, and quad bikes were sent out early to check the route. We’d know by 9 whether we were racing to Wetherby or going in a bus. Even the most tired riders wanted to race the 100km stage. There’s no sense of accomplishment in a bus shuttle.
But the call came out, and the race was on. Probably a huge relief for the guy who was in kit already before 7am.
One thing has been constant this Croc – wind. Every day, and just about every night, it’s been windy. So when it was on from the gun today, it hurt. We were right into the wind on a slight down hill from the plantation, and the group was strung out, then split, and echelons formed. Getting tired legs to spin gears to go 45km/h is hard work after a week of racing. But everyone was digging deep. We were likely to have 100km with the wind in our face. No one wanted to drop off.
A little over 10km in we hooked into a cattle track, filled with bull dust, stumps and rocks. Riders were popping off, or their tyres were popping. Back onto more dirt road and I’d dropped off the back, bridging up to Adrian Scott with Leander Hamelink. It was pancake flat, corrugated at times, and windy. Through soft farm roads we crossed the farms, eating up the kilometres at about a 30km/h average. Depot 1 came and went, and a bigger group was growing on the horizon.
Later, we were about 12. Turns rolled, and by chance I was near the front when we hooked into an old quad bike track. The group split and soon enough Yuki Ikeda was off the front.
“I couldn’t quite see past you” is the polite version of, “your line was crap and mine was faster.”
Yuki pretty much rode away slowly, gaining time on us until we hit the river crossing, coming across a fuming Ondrej Slezak, who was again plagued by flat tyres.
Through the State Forest we could smell smoke, and soon enough we were engulfed in it. Flames on our left, smoke in our eyes…. this fire was still happening. Appraching the 2nd depot we were almost taken out by a fire engine. Previously, we’d had close calls from old cars screaming up the dirt road to check on their crops I guess.
The rest of the stage was just hard. The Quantum Racing combo of Andrew Lloyd, Michael Kafka and Jindra Knot were driving a fast pace on the fire trail through the rain forest and open bushland. Add an aggressive Adrian Scott to this and it was a tough finale.
With about 10km to go Scott leapt away, followed by Knot. I chased, and with about 5km to go we figured we’d ride in together. No one was letting up.
And so we have arrived at Wetherby Station – a working cattle station with the barbed wire fences, farmhouse, and gates to go with it. The vibe is really chilled out now. Most riders stayed in kit far longer than normal. Riders dissected their race. Drank beer, got more sun… with 30km to go, everyone’s switching off.
Ivan Rybarik won the stage, and Cory Wallace was second. He put some time into leader Greg Saw, but not nearly the amount of time required. Imogen Smith was fastest woman again, fighting on to be one day closer to the finish.
Full results are online.